Me, the other day, to my friend, who likes sports: “Do you remember when the Celtics had big concerts after games? Because the team was so bad?”
My friend: [Silence.]
Me: “It was a whole thing! They had, like, Chris Brown! The All-American Rejects! I had a seat right on the floor!”
My friend: [Long pause.] Did that happen?
Me, in a subsequent e-mail to Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy: “Do you remember the brief time when the Celtics had concerts at the end of games to keep people from leaving early?”
Shaughnessy, in response: “I have no memory of that. Are you sure it’s true?”
Had I invented a Boston sports memory? One where I — an arts reporter in my 20s at the time — sat courtside at what was then the FleetCenter (now the TD Garden), possibly near Donnie Wahlberg, and watched music shows after games?
“It happened,” I assured myself. “I sat right by the court.”
I am correct — it did happen — although many Celtics fans missed it at the time. Or maybe they’ve chosen to forget those years of Celtics history altogether.
The Celtics used to be so uninteresting that the team saw a decline in ticket sales and had trouble keeping people in the arena for an entire game.
The team’s response to the problem is my favorite Boston sports memory, one of the few I have because I don’t write about sports, nor do I care about the games. I love Fenway Park because they sell cotton candy there. I root for the fans, as opposed to the teams, if that makes sense. I like when Boston franchises win because it puts my friends in good moods, and comes with citywide economic benefits.
But from 2005-07, I was very invested in the Celtics and what they offered.
I reached out to two Celtics execs about this era, Mackenzie Henderson, vice president of ticket sales, and Shawn Sullivan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, who’ve been with the team for 20 and 25 years, respectively. Both confirmed my memories of the concerts, and told me there were more than I even remembered — because things back then were a little bit dire. I can’t blame Shaughnessy for missing this; Globe columnist Bob Ryan was also surprised to hear there were concerts. He told me he probably wouldn’t have noticed a post-game show unless it was jazz.
But between 2005 and 2008, the Celtics hosted 10 post-game concerts with the goal of drawing fans back to the Garden. The first was held when the team wasn’t horrible; in the 2004-05 season, the Celtics were 45-37 and made the playoffs. But attendance wasn’t great because the sport was third (or fourth) priority in Boston, with fans more interested in the Patriots and Red Sox (and possibly the Bruins). Someone in the front office (Henderson and Sullivan can’t remember who gets credit) suggested post-game concerts, and on Jan. 14, 2005, Gavin DeGraw played the first show. The event was a success because between the time they booked the singer-songwriter and the night of the game, DeGraw’s song “I Don’t Want to Be” had become a massive hit. It climbed to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 that month.
The show inspired the Celtics to book three more acts for its 2005-06 season — the Click Five, the All-American Rejects, and, in March 2006, Chris Brown, whose first single, “Run It!,” was almost a year old.
If you bought a seat for the game, you got to stay for the short concert for free (Henderson remembers that each act played a handful of songs). The team’s marketing budget funded the bookings, and the boost in box office sales made it a worthwhile spend. The team’s record for that season was 33-49.
“I remember [what really stood out to me] was the Chris Brown show, just because of the lift on tickets for that game. It was incredible,” Henderson said.
I remember that night too. I was on the floor, or close to it (I was always either courtside or near the floor). The players came out to watch Brown at the end. The place went wild. (Yes, it’s unfair that someone like me would ever get a prime seat like that at a game, but you need to understand there were many vacancies. That was the whole problem.)
I vaguely remember Donnie Wahlberg being there that night, but I wanted to make sure. He confirmed, via email, that he’d attended with his son. “The great thing about the concerts was that, in my experience, it probably encouraged parents and kids to go to the games together when they typically may not have.”
Wahlberg said that during those disappointing seasons, he never left early. “EVER. Even when they were losing every game, like in 2006-07, I always arrived early and stayed to the end.” There are two reasons for this, he wrote: 1. He couldn’t afford Celtics tickets as a kid, so he never takes the experience for granted, and 2. “I don’t ever want what happened to my brother Mark at the Super Bowl (leaving before The Pats’ epic comeback against Atlanta) to happen to me. I hate to miss a comeback.”
For the 2006-07 season, the performers were Akon, Paula DeAnda of “Walk Away (Remember Me),” and Augustana, best known for that song where the lead singer wails, “She said, ‘I think I’ll go to Boston!’ ... where no one knows my name.” The band got to play it during the Celtics’ big season finale (that’s what the last game is called, I assume?); at that point the team’s record was 24-58.
After that, though, things changed for the Celtics. The team got good.
They did have more concerts — the following season’s acts were Elliott Yamin of “American Idol,” Plain White T’s (”Hey There Delilah” was a song of the moment), and Natasha Bedingfield — but the shows happened because they had already been booked.
The Celtics were selling tickets again, ending the 2007-08 season with a record of 66-16.
As the games became the focus again, I faded out, leaving room for the people who love basketball.
I still root for the Celtics. The players seem quite nice, I adore the fans (they love to dance!), and there’s beauty in the spirit of the games. I am a huge fan of the kids’ dance team, Lil’ Phunk, and root for them too, from afar.
I don’t think the Celtics will ever lose their audience again. Based on what my friends tell me — and the way they’ll tune in wistfully to the new season, to be played in empty arenas — they’ll never take being in those seats for granted again. They’ll stay for the whole game just because they can.
Meredith Goldstein loves supporting Boston’s sports teams, especially when the arena concessions are good. She can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.