Spring is saved. Our winter sports teams are good again. There will be playoffs and it might not be as bad and bloody as we once feared. The Celtics’ and Bruins’ seasons might last longer than John Farrell as Red Sox manager.
Think back a few months and remember the anxiety. The Bruins were “hoping” to make the playoffs. They fired their GM. The owner admitted the product was sagging. Fans were angry and many called for the firing of coach Claude Julien. Media piled on.
The Celtics? Not talented enough. A playoff bubble team, destined to be one-and-done in a four-game sweep like the one we witnessed last year vs. Mighty LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was all about waiting for the lottery. Bring on Ben Simmons.
The local sports landscape is brighter today. The Bruins just completed a rigorous four-game stretch vs. NHL iron and came away with seven of a possible eight points. A team that was merely hoping to make the playoffs now has a good shot at home ice in the first round. Hot-seat Claude is now a candidate for Coach of the Year.
The Celtics, meanwhile, have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They are a solid 13 games over .500 following Wednesday night’s 116-96 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Green have a 14-game Garden winning streak (OK, it’s not like 1985-86 when Larry and Co. were 50-1 at home, but it beats the Rick Pitino Error).
In this feel-good moment, allow me to ask each of you loyal readers a few questions:
Are you Green and White . . . or Black and Gold? Are you Fabled Parquet or Spoked-B? Larry Bird or Bobby Orr? Lucky the Leprechaun or Rene Rancourt?
Celtics or Bruins?
“Both,’’ you say?
I say, baloney. Sure, you follow both, and want them to win, but this is not like parenting where you are allowed to love all of your children equally.
The Bruins and Celtics have been sharing space on Causeway Street since the Celtics were invented in 1946. Through the decades, they have carved out two separate fan bases. Plenty of New England sports fans root for both, but everybody has a favorite. Deep down, you are either a hockey guy/gal, or a basketball guy/gal. Among diehards, there is no overlap.
Ask folks who work in and around the Garden on game nights. It’s two distinct and different crowds. Celtics fans hail from the western suburbs and the South Shore. Bruins fans come from the North. If the Tobin Bridge went out, you might as well cancel the game. Generally speaking, the Bruins fans are more blue-collar (generally speaking, they also tip better).
Walter Brown was the godfather of the Old Garden and invented the Celtics, but he was a hockey guy at heart. Brown needed basketball for programming (it cost a lot of dough to heat the drafty old barn), but the Bruins were The Franchise.
Red Auerbach was ever bitter about the Celtics’ status as second-class citizens.
“The guys at the ticket windows used to discourage fans from buying tickets to our games,’’ insisted Red. “They’d tell the customer, ‘You don’t want to watch basketball. You want to watch hockey!’ ’’
“It was tough on us,’’ said Tommy Heinsohn before Wednesday’s joust with the Grizzlies. “The best thing about the arrangement was that Walter Brown would have a joint Christmas party for the Bruins and Celtics, and those Bruins would teach our kids how to skate. The rest of the time, it was not in our favor. The Bruins got all the best dates for games. They got all the advantages. Our locker room was tiny and we just had those hooks for our clothes. I’m sure theirs was better. And it was always cold playing over that ice.’’
The Bruins were not particularly competitive when the Celtics ruled the NBA in the 1950s and ’60s, but the championship C’s still had to fight for an audience.
“There was no basketball in Boston in the 1930s and ’40s,’’ said Heinsohn. “We had to work to drive up the fan base. Cooz [Bob Cousy] and I commuted from Worcester and it was a lot of years before we started seeing hoops in driveways around here.’’
Larry Legend wasn’t envious of the Bruins. He went out of his way to find Ray Bourque when the two worked opposite shifts in the 1980s. At the end of his career, Larry told us that when he stood for the national anthem before games at the Old Garden, he trained his eyes on Orr’s No. 4 in the rafters overhead.
The two franchises have witnessed numerous cycles of popularity. At this hour, the Bruins are significantly bigger than the Celtics. Check out the television ratings from last Saturday. The Celtics were playing a marquee game vs. LeBron and Co. in Cleveland. The Bruins faced off against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. It looked like a programming pick ’em, but the Bruins spanked the Celtics in the local ratings.
The 2016 Celtics harbor no ill will toward the Bruins. While the Celtics got ready for the Grizzlies Wednesday, two hockey sticks leaned against a wall outside the Celtics’ training room.
“I think it’s a great thing to share the building with them,’’ said coach Brad Stevens. “I’ve been able to spend a little time with Claude and having the Bruins gives me something to watch on my nights off. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I watch hockey now.’’
The playoffs start in April. Maybe we’ll get a couple of those weekend hockey-basketball doubleheaders.
The Bull Gang will be ready.
And so will you.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy