Way back in the last century, when a certain baseball team from the Bronx won things that mattered, fans around here used to have a saying:
My favorite team is the Red Sox — and then whoever the Yankees are playing.
I imagine some, if not most, of you still feel that way, even if the dynamics of the rivalry shifted when an ancient dream — vengeance on the Yankee Stadium soil — became gloriously real on the night of Oct. 20, 2004.
Has something been lost over the last 17 years? Yeah, the Yankees’ claims of superiority. This new world order is much more fun.
The framework of that old saying is still useful, though. We can keep it aimed at New York, too. Boston fans just need to transfer it to a different league and team.
My favorite team is the Celtics — and then whoever the Nets are playing.
You know what that means. We are all Bucks fans, at least until someone gets to four wins in this second-round series, which front-runner deluxe Kyrie Irving and the loathsome Nets led, 1-0, entering Monday night’s Game 2 after breezing to victory in the opener.
I know, it doesn’t come naturally. The Bucks have been a recent Celtics rival, running them right out of the playoffs in 2019. We long ago tired of watching Giannis Antetokounmpo take six steps (OK, five) before Eurostepping for a layup. They’re a nuisance.
But it must be done. The Nets aren’t so much a rival for the Celtics as they are a despised nemesis and a welcome port for traitors. They were the beneficiaries of Irving’s shameless decision to quit on the 2019 Celtics, for which he does not get nearly enough criticism from the national NBA media.
He cooked up his plan to join forces with Kevin Durant at the All-Star Game that year, then bolted for Brooklyn as a free agent that summer. He may as well have been wearing a Nets jersey during his last games with the Celtics.
If that’s not aggravating enough, damned if he doesn’t own the last laugh right now after torching the Celtics in the first round, a series in which one bottle-chucking moron of a fan validated the implications Irving made about the city.
Irving isn’t the only supervillain Net who undermined his former team to get where he is. James Harden weaseled his way out of Houston. Kevin Durant? He merely couldn’t handle Steph Curry being the more popular figure with the Warriors.
Irving, Harden, and Durant are all eccentric basketball geniuses who have played spectacularly together in the playoffs so far. Let me tell you, this development is more annoying than, oh, the concept of a six-hour Derek Jeter documentary put together by a Yankees fan.
I was sure their egos would clash or injury would throw off their impeccable on-court harmony. Durant, who could have come back from his Achilles’ tendon injury with the mobility of Arvydas Sabonis, is instead as close to unstoppable as a scorer ever has been. Meanwhile, Harden decided he’s going to be the facilitator with the Nets, freeing up Irving to play off ball. It’s enraging how good the three of them are together.
What’s that? Why, yes, of course this is about rooting against the Nets rather than pulling for the Bucks. I’ll take it a step further, too. New Englanders should root for any team in the league against the Nets, even if they’re longer-established Celtics rivals.
Granted, that’s an easier admission to make with LeBron James and the Lakers sent home for the summer by the Suns. But the Sixers have a deep and contentious history with the Celtics, and I’d root for them in a heartbeat over the Nets.
There’s some recent history that makes that palatable. Sixers coach Doc Rivers is a person worth rooting for, and he helped put a banner in the Garden rafters. And the Sixers are owed a debt of gratitude for passing on Jayson Tatum in the 2016 draft after Danny Ainge sent them the No. 1 overall pick.
But the Sixers have their own issues with Trae Young and the Hawks right now. The Bucks need Boston’s backing for now.
So go, Giannis. Light ‘em up, Khris Middleton. You do you, Jrue.
Pretend you grew up rooting for Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief rather than Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell, if you must. Swallow your Celtic Pride for a few days and cheer “Fear the Deer.”
Do the right thing and unify in rooting against the NBA’s new villains, a superteam constructed from insubordinate and/or traitorous All-Stars who appear to be on the fast track to justifying all of their misdeeds by winning a title together.
The Nets have never won an NBA championship. They’re the betting favorites to do it this season. Over here, any team that can prevent such a travesty from happening will be our favorite.
Go, Bucks. Be a dear — oh fine, make that a deer — and do the rest of the NBA a favor. Get those no-good Nets out of here.