Whenever the current Celts would go on a 3 game losing streak or something not even that serious and my mentions are filled with people losing their minds, I always wonder how old they are. There seems to be this ultimate doom and gloom about a team that was still on pace for 50 something wins and a top 3 seed. I just figured it was mostly young fans who have been spoiled by the last 20+ years of Boston sports dominance. It's not their fault, they just simply weren't alive for anything different. They were around when Boston was considered a losers city and not the City of Champions.
When it comes to the Celtics specifically, this is even more true. I've always broken things out into several different eras
1. The Russell Era
2. The Havlichek era
3. The Bird Era
4. The Post Bird Era
5. The KG Trade Era
6. The Post 2008 era
Based on when you were alive/grew up, you tend to look at things differently. For example, my Dad and everyone we would sit around at the Garden for my entire adolescence was from eras 1-3. The Golden Years you could call it. A level of dominance the NBA will never see again.
Unfortunately for myself and fans around my age, we weren't alive for the true Bird Era. You were lucky if you got to watch the end of his career in the early 90s as a baby. For most of us, our true Celts memories came via era #4. The post Bird era. This is what I would call the darkest era in Celtics franchise history. They couldn't win more than 36 games to save their life.
The main culprit of this dark time? Rick Pitino
It should be noted that right after he was canned and Jim O'Brien took over, in his first full year in 2001-02 the Celts made the ECF. It truly was a dark, dark time.
By now everyone knows the deal. The Celts missed out on Duncan in the 1997 draft (Pitino's first year) and drafted Chauncey Billups #3 and Ron Mercer #7. Pitino then traded Billups just 51 games into his rookie season along with Dee Brown (and others) for Kenny Anderson and filler. While I love Kenny Anderson, that didn't exactly work out.
Ron Mercer, who Pitino coached at Kentucky, lasted 121 games before he too was traded away for Eric Williams and a 1st who ended up being Kendrick Brown. Again, I love Eric Williams, but god dammit.
What stands out about that 1997 Draft comes via a story from Tracy McGrady. Pretty good player, made the HOF, maybe you've heard of him. He went 9th in that 1997 Draft. So why didn't the Celtics take him?
According to him, Rick Pitino
This fuckin' guy. I already had enough hatred towards Pitino for what he did to my favorite basketball team, but now learning this? That TMac basically tanked his pre-draft interviews just to avoid playing for Pitino? I'm mad all over again. You're telling me this guy could have been a Celtic if they had literally any other coach?
It's crazy to think that after missing the playoffs in each of Pitino's 4 seasons in charge, the Celts have only missed the playoffs 3 times since 2001-02. What an asshole. Now I'm left here wondering what could have been with TMac. Imagine a young TMac paired with Pierce and prime Antoine?
I love NBA "what ifs", but I sure as shit do not love this one. Not that I needed another reason to add to my dislike of Pitino for what he did to my favorite team, and maybe this is actually more on TMac but whatever. It just goes to show you how devastating that Pitino hire really was.