Len Connaughton used to take his young son, Pat, to TD Garden to watch the Celtics. Traffic after games could be a mess, so before driving back to their Arlington home, the two would usually get some ice cream nearby.
They occasionally saw players leaving the arena, and one day in 1999 they crossed paths with Celtics rookie forward Paul Pierce. Boston had lost that day, and Pierce — ever the competitor — was not happy. But when he saw Pat, who was then just 6 years old, he stopped and signed an autograph.
On Wednesday night, Len Connaughton stood near his seat in Loge 7, Row 15 at the Garden and smiled as he reflected on that moment that still felt so recent. This time, his son was not standing next to him watching the Celtics; he was warming up on the parquet floor and getting ready to play against them.
“It’s surreal to be here right now,” Len said. “You come in and you see your own kid down on that court.”
Pat Connaughton starred at St. John’s Prep and Notre Dame before being selected by the Brooklyn Nets with the 41st pick of last June’s NBA Draft. He was traded to the Blazers on draft night.
His parents are Portland fans now, but when the Celtics began to surge to a large second-half lead Wednesday, their allegiance shifted, if only temporarily. It was not that they wanted the Blazers to lose; it was that they knew if the score became lopsided enough, Pat would get a chance to play in front of his massive cheering section.
And sure enough, with 7 minutes 45 seconds left and Boston leading by 23 points, Connaughton entered the game. He had 7 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in his team’s 116-93 loss.
When he drained a 3-pointer, the hundreds who had flocked to the Garden just to see him roared as if it were a game-winning shot. So many people from so many points in his life were sprinkled in the stands.
His father has seven siblings and his mother has nine, and both sides of the family were represented quite well. A busload of supporters came from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, and it seemed as if half of Arlington had come to see him, too.
After the game, the entire brigade filled Loge 1 in the arena’s lower bowl, and Connaughton came out and took a group picture. Then he spent the next 20 minutes taking more pictures and signing autographs and giving out hugs and kisses to whoever wanted them.
He started near the court, and by the time he finished, he had climbed all the way up to the concourse, near the concessions stands. Eventually, a Blazers staff member wearing a suit came up and alerted Connaughton that he was going to miss the team bus.
“It’s an awesome night,” Connaughton said as he hurried down the stairs. “For me, I think it’s always been about family and friends.
“Family and friends, especially in the Boston area and all across this state, they’re part of what makes you successful. Without them, you wouldn’t be at this point.
“So you’ve got to thank the people and show respect to the people that helped you get here.”
Although it was a joyous homecoming for Connaughton, he does not want it to become a novelty. He understands that if he is to carve out a lengthy career in the NBA, he must continue to grow, continue to develop. He has a total of 19 points in 73 minutes this season.
At Notre Dame, the 6-foot-5-inch guard did a bit of everything, even playing power forward. In the NBA, his position is a bit more set as a shooting guard.
“I just need to keep working on my ball-handling and be more of a 2-guard to have success at this level,” Connaughton said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to have all the skills that a guard has, because there aren’t many 6-5 guys that play anything but the 2.
“But the whole experience has been awesome so far.”
At that, he hurried down a tunnel and boarded the team bus. Back in Loge 1, his supporters were still glowing as they shuffled up the aisles and into the chilly night. It was partly because they had seen one of their own play an NBA game at TD Garden, and partly because it was clear he had not forgotten them.