Yes, I’m rooting for the Celtics. Blame Nia Long

OPINION: First-year coach Ime Udoka has done an incredible job getting his team to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors. But his fiancé gives him instant credibility in these streets and makes it OK to root for a team that represents a city with a problematic racial history.

Grant Williams, No. 12, of the Boston Celtics talks with head coach Ime Udoka after beating the Utah Jazz 125-97 at the TD Garden on March 23, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Some lines you never expect to cross. Some scenarios are too unlikely to imagine. 

Yet, here I am, pulling for the Celtics. 

Native New Yorkers with no ties to New England don’t root for Boston. That’s worse than rooting for Philadelphia. We don’t care nothing about those I-95 outposts, also-rans not nice enough to be named twice or have two football and two baseball teams. However, it’d be way easier to pull for Philly, like supporting your little play-cousin. 

Boston? That’s like rooting for the racist uncle who married into the family.

Hating on Beantown is a given for most self-respecting Black folks. It’s the default setting for consciousness unless you were born in that region and can’t activate the manual override. The mistreatment of Black athletes there is legendary, a “flea market of racism.” Even those who play for the home team are excused when they confuse Boston with Birmingham. Where else have we seen a flag used like a spear?

But for the first time and probably the last time, I’m rooting for a Boston team. 

Several factors have aligned and the ancestors have consented. This is a one-off exemption, a free pass allowing us to stay Black yet go hard for the Celtics against Golden State in the NBA Finals. Old heads Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green would be the easy pick any other season, but they can take a seat and four L’s this year.

What’s changed? What’s the most significant factor? 

Nia Long.

I mean Ime Udoka. 

He’s the Celtics’ first-year coach, a former player and longtime assistant who endured several interviews and heartbreaking rejections elsewhere before landing this coveted gig. His fascinating journey started in Portland, Ore., where he was born to a Nigerian husband and American wife, and includes founding an AAU team, loading FedEx trucks, playing in 316 NBA games and winning a chip in San Antonio as an assistant under Gregg Popovich. 

All of that is great. But his boo makes him special. 

We’ve been crushing on Long since she played Brandi in Boyz n the Hood. Her short hairdo as Lisa on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air took our affection to another level. By the time she showed up as Jordan in The Best Man, we were beyond gone. Then we discovered Long is Udoka’s fiancé and baby’s mama, giving him instant credibility on these streets and in the Celtics’ locker room. 

She’s also his personal cheerleader.

Long definitely put Udoka over the top, giving us permission to support the Celtics. We never got behind the previous Black coaches and we never gave the franchise credit in that regard. Putting a Black man in charge never erased Boston’s stained image. As far as we’re concerned, previous Celtics coaches were like Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained.

Still, it’s a fact that several NBA teams have never employed a Black coach, while no team has hired more than Boston (six). Bill Russell became the league’s first Black coach in 1966, while still playing, and won two titles in that role. K.C. Jones won a pair of championships and Doc Rivers captured another. Tom Sanders and M.L. Carr will remain outliers if Udoka prevails against Golden State’s Steve Kerr.

But our reversal isn’t solely about the coach. These Celtics are much more likable than previous versions. We’ve watched Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Marcus Smart grow into a formidable trio over several years, and Al Horford has been a good dude for 15 seasons. Role players Robert Williams, Grant Williams and Derrick White are terrific glue guys. Payton Pritchard is Boston’s obligatory white boy who can ball. 

Udoka and the Celtics overcame a rough start to fashion the greatest in-season turnaround in NBA history. It’s a heartwarming story, sufficient to break through the cold shoulders we historically reserve for Boston. Golden State has reached six finals and won three over the last eight seasons. Enough.

Hard to believe, but, yes, I’m rooting for Boston. It goes against every fiber in my body, opposes every instinct I’ve followed as a Black man and a sports fan since birth. Nothing about this feels natural, but it just feels right. 

I blame Nia Long.

I mean Ime Udoka.

Correction, 6/4/2022, 6 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misidentified a Celtic player. The story has been updated.


Deron Snyder thegrio.com

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron

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