On the Road: Going to the Garden

The new Boston Garden opened in 1995 and for ten years it was dubbed the FleetCenter, commonly called the “FleeceCenter” after Fleet Bank’s bait and switch credit card scandal. In 2004 Fleet was swallowed by Bank of America and now the building is officially titled the TD Garden, but nobody calls it that. TD Bank bought the naming rights for 6 million dollars a year, but they aren’t local. TD Bank is a subsidiary of Toronto-Dominion Bank, the largest bank in Canada. The building is actually owned by Delaware North, the food concession group headquartered in Buffalo. Delaware North also owns the Bruins, who share the Garden with the Celtics. So Boston’s major sports arena is owned by people from Buffalo and named after a bank from Toronto. Let’s just call it the Garden in memory of the funky original building that housed Bill Russell and Bobby Orr and stood 9 inches away from this new concrete bunker, until the old hall of memories was torn down in 1998.

“Welcome to TD Garden,” said a friendly young man in uniform as we entered the building. He directed us to our escalator and said in a genuinely hospitable voice, “Enjoy the game.” We did. Our seats were incredible. I haven’t sat this close to a basketball game since I was an usher at the Palestra in Philadelphia in the ‘70s. Just watching the warm-ups was a thrill. Evan Turner was working on his shot, moving around the perimeter sinking an uncanny number of jumpers. TV announcers Mike Gorman and Jackie MacMullan were preparing for their courtside, pre-game segment. We were looking at each other like, “Can you believe we are this close?”

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NBA games can look routine on TV. The point guard brings up the ball, the center sets a pick, a really good basketball player takes a jump shot, the ball swishes through the net and then other team takes the ball out of bounds. Repeat and rinse, back and forth, up and down. TV time-out. Especially during the regular season the players appear to be just traveling professionals doing their jobs. Most of the time viewers at home have the same middle-distance viewpoint looking down on the action like bored eagles.

When you are courtside the game looks fierce, a raging battle of supremely athletic behemoths. The setting of picks is like an alley fight. Defenders fly around trying to stay with their man as opponents position themselves like brick walls blocking their way. Arms grab, bodies collide, players ricochet. The refs make no call. Huge guys are diving like maniacs for loose balls, speed merchants are stealing your dribble, sure lay-ups are blocked from out of nowhere. The quickness is unreal, especially considering the size.

When the starting players walked out for the opening tip-off, 6’3” Pistons guard Reggie Jackson bounded over to the hoop nearest us, jumped up, grabbed the rim and then flung himself higher to slap the backboard with two hands. It was a sign that Reggie was in the house, a place he played as a star for Boston College. Reggie had been buried behind Russell Westbrook at Oklahoma City until a month ago when he was traded to Detroit. He looked like a man on a mission.

At halftime the Celtics led 47-41. My son Chris turned to me and said, “Dad, I see a guy from Northampton sitting over there.” Sure enough there was my buddy Bill with his bushy gray sideburns sitting behind the basket. I venture over to say hi to Bill and his friend Taylor. I can remember bumping into Bill at Fenway in the ‘80s. When I tell Bill about Chris’s comment, Bill says, “I’m sure I stick out, like on the big video screen it would say underneath ‘Guy from Northampton.’” We talk about the game and Taylor says, “It’s a really good match-up.” which is a great point. The best games are always about the match-up, whether it is Bird-Magic or your kids rec team against their biggest rival. The Celtics and the Pistons are both struggling squads with young talent and losing records. The Celtics are on the upswing and battling for a playoff spot, but they are missing three of their best players: Jared Sullinger (fractured foot,) Isaiah Thomas (bruised back) and Marcus Smart (one game suspension for a flagrant foul.)

In the second half Boston held a slim edge but the Pistons closed the gap. Rangey veteran Tayshaun Prince, a Celtic a month ago, hit a pair of threes for Detroit.  The C’s had no answer for Andre Drummond, the Piston’s robust, 7’0”, 280 pound center who ended up with 22 rebounds. At one point Drummond backed over Tyler Zeller, Boston’s skinny center like he wasn’t even there, got the bucket and a foul shot and then lifted his arms to show his mighty muscles. Boos rained down on the villain.

In the last minute Reggie Jackson up-faked the big men and scored inside to make it 88-88. The Celtics had the ball with 13 seconds left. Time for the perfect ending. Turner had the ball, drove right, got pressured by Jackson, lost the handle and we went to OT.  Overtime was a disaster- Boston turnovers, a Detroit tip-in and a three pointer from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (aka KCP) who ended up with 27. Turner led Boston with 21 points on 10 for 21 shooting. Final score Detroit 105, Boston 97.

In spite of the ending we walked out with a smile on our faces. The kids had a ball, as did I. The game was exciting and the Garden experience was immensely entertaining on many levels. For one thing, the place was a visual fiesta. Encircling bands of video screens all lit up at once with colorful messages that bathed the arena in a gorgeous glow. There was hilarious fan dancing on the giant video chandelier as ordinary citizens became dancing fools in hopes of being projected 20 feet high. There was a cool, soul-jazz national anthem played on solo sax and a touching moment to honor a hockey player who had been paralyzed twice. There were foxy dancers, buff acrobats and schlumpy contestants attempting shots from half-court.

The excitement peaked when tee shirts were tossed into the stands and dropped via parachute from the rafters.  It is amazing how people go plum crazy in hopes of catching a free tee shirt. You don’t even know what the tee shirts look like, but there you are on your feet timing your jump. Humans become like golden retrievers going after a tennis ball, trying to claim it for our own. I got this rebound.

Celtics-Pistons – March 22, 2015 – Boston Garden

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