7.17.2009

What is a Celtics Type of Baller?

KERMIT WASHINGTON RETIRES
1981-82 Boston Celtics

I began thinking about the term "Celtics' type of ballplayer" yesterday when I heard the news that Kermit Washington had retired in Portland with a set of 30-year-old bad knees. I thought about it because Kermit Washington was a perfect " Celtics ' type of ballplayer."

"Too bad," I said to myself. "He should have played his whole career here. If he didn't get caught up in all those machinations of those bizarre owners in a certain Celtic time, he would have done it. His number probably would have been hung from the ceiling. For sure he was . . ."

He skinned his knees. He perspired a lot. Numbers never fascinated him. He shot when he only should have shot. He didn't mope when he was on the bench. He played hard. Worked. He was caught in the mystique of what he was doing here, even when the team was bad. He was touched by the environment.

I never really have seen a printed explanation of what a Celtics' type of ballplayer should be, but somehow I know the type when I see one. I think most of us do in this city. Show us a kid in a high school gym, a freelancer on a playground, a driver on the Southeast Expressway and we can tell whether or not he is a perfect Celtics' type of ballplayer. It is an easy judgment call.

Kermit Washington was a Celtics' type of ballplayer.

Wilt Chamberlain assuredly never was.

Dr. J has potential. No, check that, he'd be a great Celtics' type of ballplayer.

World B. Free, never.

Charlie Scott, even when he played on a world champion at the Garden, never made it.

Paul Silas was a certified yes.

Paul Westphal always was in doubt.

Dave Cowens, yes, a thousand times, yes.

I suppose the traditional description would have something to do with a selflessness on the job, but that would be a bit too confining. A shrewdness? That, too, but more than that. There is a certain carriage that is expected, a certain enthusiasm. Excellence is part of the package, too. It is hard to explain.

Peter Edward Rose is a Celtics' type of ballplayer, is he not?

Bryan Trottier, but never Mike Bossy.

Bobby Orr. For sure.

Dick Butkus.

Earl Campbell, but never Tony Dorsett.

Jimmy Connors, perhaps, but not John McEnroe.

Graig Nettles, but not Reggie.

Marvin Hagler, much more than Sugar Ray Leonard.

The Celtics' type of ballplayer knows the angles, the corners to cut, the smartest ways to go. Is that the way to say it? The shortest distances between two lines. Is that it? Again, flamboyance seems to suffer. Sounds too dull. Bob Cousy couldn't fit into that and yet he was a Celtics' type of ballplayer even though he was the most flamboyant thing ever to come down the Mass Pike. Even before it was built.

Walt Frazier would have been a Celtics' type of ballplayer. Willis Reed. That whole Knicks' team.

None of those Lakers' championship teams.

Never, alas, any of the recent Red Sox teams.

Even though Rick Burleson and Captain Carl always filled the bill.

Don Cherry's Bruin teams were dominated by Celtics' types of players.

Lombardi's Packers.

The US Olympic hockey team.

Not the modern Knicks.

Never the Dallas Cowboys.

I wouldn't go so far as saying that winning determines whether or not a performer is a Celtics' type of ballplayer, but it would seem the Celtics' type of ballplayer somehow will win in the end. He will squeeze out the result as if it were the last stretch of toothpaste in the tube. He will find a way. I wouldn't say that talent, either, is a primary ingredient, even though it has to be part of a package. I don't know what the prime ingredient is. There have to be bits and pieces, adding up to a whole that is self-evident.

What's a Celtics' type of ballplayer?

Kermit Washington.

Robert DeNiro, but never Burt Reynolds.

Bruce Springsteen.

Dick Gregory, but never Bill Cosby.

Hubert Humphrey.

The salesman who leads the sales board, but not at the expense of his friends.

Ralph Nader.

The doctor who still makes house calls in his Mercedes.

Oh, yes, and No. 33 on this year's team. There are a lot of examples on this team of what we're discussing, but he's probably the best one. No. 33.

He's another Celtics' type of ballplayer.

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