Joyous fans take Garden party to streets

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Levenson and Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / June 18, 2008

A city once accustomed to watching banners raised to the rafters of the Garden burst again with Celtic Pride last night, taking to the streets with lit cigars, green banners, and ecstatic chants of "We Beat LA!"

Around the bronze statue of Red Auerbach in Faneuil Hall, the smoke of stogies drifted as fans paid homage to the legendary coach who helped build the most successful franchise in basketball history. Outside the TD Banknorth Garden, fans mobbed a golden mockup of the Larry O'Brien championship trophy, dancing and running through the streets in merry and sometimes raucous abandon.

The Celtics were back on top, and the city was out in force to celebrate their win over the Lakers and the restoration of a dynasty. From the takeout stands of Mattapan to the pubs of Kenmore Square and Government Center, there was euphoria for the city's first basketball championship after 22 years of tragedy, misfortune, and mismanagement.

"It's a legacy," said John Geib, who celebrated at Quincy Market, "a renewed faith for not only the fans but the players themselves."

In the decades since that last championship, the city's sports landscape had been transformed. The Red Sox had returned to glory, twice, and the Patriots emerged as a dynasty of their own. But as recently as last year, the Celtics were dismal, abandoned by all but the most diehard fans.

Last night and early this morning, the faithful felt sweet vindication, city officials began drawing up plans for a victory parade as early as tomorrow, and anyone under 22 reveled in a new phenomenon, a Celtics team winning the Finals, against the Lakers no less.

"I can't even breathe right now," said Steven Vorres, of Worcester, who turned 21 yesterday. "I've been watching the Celtics since Paul Pierce was drafted, since the absolute worst. . . . This is the best birthday present I could ever ask for."

Other fans hugged the likeness of old Red and shouted "Seventeen!" into the night sky, a nod to the number of Celtics titles.

"I grew up watching the Celtics with my father," said Dennis Hession, 28, whose father, a Larry Bird fan, died on Memorial Day. "This is big for me, because he would love to see this."

The victory had an added sweetness: It was the first championship any Boston team won at home since the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in 1986.

"I wanted to be a part of a victory at home," said Franny Frisbie, a 23-year-old from the North End who was among the throngs near the Garden. "It's an amazing thing."

The blowout also fueled some of the post-game lawlessness that has become an unfortunate part of Boston's return to sports prominence. A crowd traveled from the Garden to Faneuil Hall, with some revelers tearing apart park benches, flipping over flower pots, trash barrels, and newspaper boxes, and trying to light fires with the garbage. A group smashed a window in a building on Canal Street.

Police, dressed in black tactical gear, patrolled across the city on bike and on foot, wielding batons. Officers made a handful of arrests for offenses such as vandalism and disorderly conduct, but a full tally was not available early this morning, according to Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.

The vast majority of the revelry was exuberant but peaceful. In the bars around the Garden and Fenway Park, faithful and fair-weather fans alike high-fived, hugged, and toasted the team's success. They saluted the unflagging intensity of Kevin Garnett, the parade of three-pointers by Ray Allen, the all-around brilliance of team captain Paul Pierce, and the steady contributions of a standout bench.

"It's just a culmination of so much hard work," said Chuck Traganos, 25, who was wearing a Garnett jersey at the Cask 'n Flagon near Fenway.

Outside Game On pub near Fenway, there was an international flair to the celebration. Haavard Askeland, 29, and Kristofer Kragerad, 24, Norwegian exchange students at Boston University, said they knew of the Celtics but had no idea about the depth of the tradition until last night. "First thing tomorrow I'm going to buy a Pierce shirt," Askeland said.

The last time the Celtics won a championship, Bird, McHale, and Parish were king, and Reagan was president. Back then, championships seemed almost predestined.

"It's just nice, because growing up watching them they were so bad," said Adam Ponte, a 24-year-old from Belmont, who saw the game with friends at Boston Billiards. "My father was always talking about how great they were . . . It'll be nice to be actually old enough to enjoy a championship."

Peter Schworm and James Vaznis of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Maddie Hanna, Jillian Jorgensen, and Jonelle Marte contributed to this report.

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