Rafter madness

When the Celtics’ playoff run starts tonight at the Garden, the ‘Super Fans’ will be ready for their close-ups

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By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / April 17, 2011

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Carl Lenhart still thought of himself as Carl, not Chest Pump Guy, the day he made the mistake of leaving his blazer at home. A high school teacher with a snow-white beard, Lenhart first appeared on the TD Garden video scoreboard late in the 2007-08 season, wearing a corduroy blazer over a Paul Pierce jersey. He seized the moment, pounding his chest and pumping his fist in the air. The crowd went wild.

The next game and the game after that, it happened again. Same outfit, same moves, same roaring response. But on a blistering June day during the NBA Finals, Lenhart, a season-ticket holder, left the blazer at home. All around him, people looked stricken. “Where’s the jacket?’’ they asked.

The Celtics won, but Lenhart never went jacketless again. He had officially become a recurring character, one of the dozen or so regulars whose appearances on the Jumbotron send the Garden into a frenzy. The video and sound producers in the ninth-floor control room call them “Super Fans.’’ They are catnip to the crowd.

Every season, thousands of people flash across the larger-than-life video screens that ring the scoreboard, dancing during timeouts, mugging in high-definition, most never to appear again. But the Super Fans, with their distinctive look, singular schtick, and satisfying familiarity, have become stars, fielding autograph requests, hugs, and high-fives. At the Halloween game, people dress like them.

“It takes me an hour to get out of here,’’ said Danny Rose, a Quincy fourth-grader known for wearing an oversized, stuffed basketball on his head and firing his arms rapid-fire to the music, his cherubic face transformed into a mask of concentration. “They all want their pictures.’’

Though few know their real names, thousands will watch for them on the scoreboard when the playoffs start tonight, taking comfort in knowing they are there: Chest Pump Guy, The Dancing Kid, Black Leprechaun, and so on.

Each one triggers a “that’s him!’’ — or her — response, said Michael Bieke, technical director for the production team, stationed in a control room crammed with flat-screen monitors and lined with framed photos of the Super Fans.

“It’s really interesting how powerful that is as a motivator, for the rest of the crowd to get up and make noise and be involved in the game,’’ Bieke said.

They are a diverse group, in their ages and backgrounds and trademark routines. Some began rooting as far back as the Cousy-Russell days; others know only the modern Big Three era of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen.

The youngest may be the most celebrated. Daylon Trotman, now 9, first appeared during the ’07-’08 championship season, when he burst into the aisle along Section 17 and busted out a flurry of moves to Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,’’ winning fans with his agility, style, and megawatt smile.

Until then, he had never danced beyond the living room. And his mom, Dana Clarke, had been trying to keep him in his seat. But Daylon, a Milton third-grader who goes to half the games with his mother, became such a phenomenon that he caught the attention of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,’’ which flew him to California to dance to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)’’ — now another of his signature songs at the Garden.

When he is on screen, the crowd cheers fanatically, then boos when the producers cut to someone else, until he reappears.

“That, like, really makes me sad,’’ he said. “I don’t want to exclude anybody if they want to dance.’’

Balcony dweller Russell Medeiros, 51, used to be the whistle guy, rallying the crowd with a slide whistle. “My daughter said it was annoying.’’

Looking for a new bit, Medeiros dyed his goatee and cascading curly hair Celtics green — first for big games, now for every game, the color matching his classic satin Celtics warm-up jacket.

Medeiros stops at home in Woburn after work to spray on the color and washes out the dye after the game. Despite a late-season slide for the Celtics, he has high hopes for the playoffs. The proof: He just bought 12 more cans of dye.

Night after night, the opening montage at the Garden includes Agnes Nobile, a rare female among the Super Fans. Known for giving the “No. 1’’ sign, Nobile dyes her hair “the color of a basketball,’’ and wears a monochrome outfit: green leather two-piece suit, green Chanel earrings and pocketbook, green Manolo Blahnik shoes, green rhinestone bracelet spelling out CELTICS.

“I keep it in the green family,’’ said Nobile, 59, of Winthrop, who sits four rows behind the bench and likes to high-five Paul Pierce on his way to the court.

Nobile owns a designer consignment shop in Medford and makes every home game. She has had a season ticket since 1995 — the first year of the new Garden, and the first year of the Jumbotron.

Lenhart, the 67-year-old Chest Pump Guy, was born in the same Indiana county that later produced Larry Bird, but he spent most of his formative years in Los Angeles — though the flash of the Lakers never seduced him. He moved to Brookline 13 years ago and commutes to the Cape, teaching Greek and Latin at Barnstable High.

Lenhart talks about the Celtics with a sense of purpose, describes the Garden as a cathedral, and quotes Plato about the duty of a citizen to use his skills to strengthen a community. He knew if he ever got on camera, he would not fritter it away with the twist or chicken dance but use it to rally the faithful.

“This is serious for me. This is life. This is deeper than just being on camera,’’ said Lenhart, whose fist pump and roar is now the last thing that precedes the crowd noise meter before tip-off. He is often shown multiple times a game, usually with his wife, Margot, pretending to be mortified.

And then there’s the guy they call Aztec Gino, who, in truth, is neither an Aztec nor a guy named Gino. He is 47-year-old Nasser Abasali. By day he runs an IT help desk for a design firm. He has hopped the globe since 1997, celebrating Carnival and cheering on the soccer team of his native Trinidad and Tobago, always with the Aztec warrior costume.

A Celtics fan since arriving in Boston for college, Abasali scored a ticket to Game 7 of the ’08 Eastern Conference semifinals. Naturally, he broke out the costume, waving two flags (one for the Celtics, the other for Trinidad) and shouting “Celtics! Num-bah one!’’ over and over in an island lilt.

A Celtics blogger posted his picture online, dubbing him Aztec Gino — the Gino part an homage to the 1977 “American Bandstand’’ clip played at the end of big Celtics wins, featuring a bearded dancer in a skin-tight T-shirt bearing the image of singer Gino Vannelli.

Abasali embraced the name, emblazoning it on his costume and creating an Aztec Gino website and Twitter account. He became a season-ticket holder and landed an endorsement deal with The Greatest Bar, defraying the $6,500 cost of his two season tickets. In exchange, he dances and poses for pictures with fans there before and after games.

Aztec Gino also courts the other Super Fans. He has been glimpsed consorting with Balcony Gino, the Guy who Looks Like Jack Black, and the self-styled Black Leprechaun, whom Abasali calls Bob Marley.

“I ask myself, what is the goal of the Super Fan?’’ Abasali said. “The goal of the Super Fan is to make the Celtics experience a memorable experience, and to celebrate winning Banner 18.’’

Black Leprechaun, the dreadlocked Lynsdale Ford, has his nickname embroidered on his shirt, along with a Celtics insignia and a Marley patch.

“Bob is in my heart, and Celtics is in my mind,’’ said Ford, who grew up in Belize with Marley as his idol and now lives in Revere. He rarely stays in his seat, dancing the game away in one or another balcony entrance. “I’m going there to pump the people,’’ he said.

Ford said he learned to play basketball using a tattered soccer ball and a crate and fell in love with the Celtics watching the NBA Finals on his village’s sole TV. He immigrated to New York in the mid-1980s, relocating to Boston a few years later. A union laborer, he bought Celtics tickets as soon as he could afford them.

After missing a few games this spring, Ford, 43, returned to find Aztec Gino telling him he had to meet a new Super Fan, King Jamrokk, who has a similar Jamaican vibe but more bling, including a crown, shades, and chalice.

“He walks up, and I’m like, ‘I know this cat! I brought him to the game!’ ’’ recalled Ford, surprised to discover his soccer friend Damian Samuels, whom he had introduced to the Garden. “He’s just trying to bite my style, but dude, that ain’t gonna happen.’’

Rose, the boy with the stuffed basketball hat, is the newest member of the Super Fans fraternity. He remembers precisely when he first appeared onscreen: “Last year, Jan. 22, against the Portland Trail Blazers. But it was without the hat.’’ His aunt bought that soon after.

The Quincy 10-year-old was born on St. Patrick’s Day, wears lounge pants covered in shamrocks, and dreams of becoming a state trooper. Shaquille O’Neal recognized him at a Prudential Center Oreo-licking contest in January. “Shaq’s words were, ‘Hey, you’re the boy on the Jumbotron,’ ’’ said his father, Stephen.

A commercial truck driver, Stephen was laid off last season. Money is tight, but they pick up discounted tickets from scalpers after the game starts, or from people with extras. Neither can quite believe Danny now gets free shirts from street vendors who hope he’ll wear them on the big screen, like the “Welcome to Shaqachusetts’’ number he sported for the regular season finale.

During a fourth quarter interview in that game, one fan after another interrupted to salute Rose in the hall on their way out. “Great job out there, buddy!’’ “Nice job, Shaqachusetts!’’ “Take it easy, big dude!’’

He waved and high-fived, nonchalantly, and gamely smiled when two attractive young women stopped to ask for a picture. When they were gone, he bolted back to his seat. It was a timeout, the Celtics were up 14, and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman’’ was shaking the arena. Rose pumped both fists into the air simultaneously, and rapid fire. In an instant, he appeared on the scoreboard, larger than life. The crowd went wild.

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