I’m in the backseat of my Aunt and Uncle’s car, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Illinois, hurtling along the highway at 70 miles an hour.
Right now, the Celtics are playing Grizzlies, and likely at this very moment Jordan Crawford is speeding up the court, about to pull up for deep three, or maybe use his favorite spin move to get to the basket, or even still, find an open teammate with a pass. Whatever he decides to do, it’ll be exciting.
Hours ago, we left Cincinnati, the destination set as a small town where my grandparents live in Northern Illinois. (And later, for me, to my house in Milwaukee.)
Weeks ago the Celtics tipped off their season with the destination set as the 2014 NBA Draft next summer. That might not be what’s officially listed on the itinerary, but each game is really just a connecting flight on the way to next summer’s lottery.
Driving through the middle of nowhere at night is unlike anything else. There is darkness, and then there is middle-of-nowhere darkness. It envelops you. No streetlights lining the highway, no office buildings standing up as towers of light, nothing. Only the headlights of the car, tiny stars up in the sky, and the dim glow of my computer fight back against the dark.
Losing is always tough. The players, front office, fans; no one wants to lose. But obviously no team goes undefeated, so we live with the losses because we know there won’t be many of them, and at the end of the year we have the playoffs to look forward too. Well, that was the way it went the last few years. But this year? Yeah, things are a bit different.
The Celtics are tanking. They can’t come out and say it, but we all know the truth. And believe me, it’s brutal to watch. There are losses, and then there are losses to the Bucks in which you give up a huge fourth quarter lead. And losses to the Bobcats where neither team even gets to 90 points. And 20+ point embarrassments at the hands of far superior competition. There are glimmers of hope – Jeff Green dunking on people’s heads, Avery Bradley playing lock-down defense, Jordan Crawford “steezing” it up, and Rajon Rondo’s upcoming return – but they’re overwhelmed by the awfulness of Gerald Wallace’s moaning about nonsense in post-game pressers.
It isn’t scary; rather it’s a strange, eerie, feeling. I’ve made the journey at night in the past, so I knew what was coming. I knew that if I wanted to go back home to visit and celebrate with my family, this journey was part of the deal. But it doesn’t mean I’m fond of it.
We’ve been here before. 18 game losing streak. 24-58. Only 47 games of Paul Pierce because of “injuries.” 30 minutes a night of Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Ryan Gomes. 2006-2007 was a rough year. It seems like forever ago, but it was only seven years. So we know what to expect this year, we know how tanking works. If we want to get back to the “Anything is possssiibbbbbblllleeeeeeeeee,” days, this is part of the process. But knowing you’re about to endure an awful experience doesn’t make the experience any less awful.
Driving through the pure black of two lane highways in rural Illinois means focusing on what’s directly ahead of you; the 20 feet of road lit up by the car’s headlights. It’s part of what makes the journey disconcerting. You’re pretty sure you know what’s out there, what’s ahead of you, but you can’t see it.
Soon enough, we’ll get to my grandma and grandpa’s. It’s out there, somewhere ahead of us, a refuge from the dark. I’m not sure exactly where we are (the no cell phone service struggle is so real), but I know we’re on the right path, so it won’t be long. And when we get there, we’ll eat lots of food, celebrating Thanksgiving and being together with family. The journey through the darkness has been long and frustrating at times, but the reward at the end will make it worthwhile.
Eventually, this lost season will be over. There’s information and data to be gained, sure, but only a few members of this year’s roster matter for the future. We’re only about a month into the journey, but our initial thoughts have been confirmed. The destination is next summer’s lottery, which is the right way to go. The playoffs are always enticing, but given our current roster situation offer only false hope. And so it becomes a waiting game; the goal of which is finding what small joys we can in these remaining months of misery. This first stretch has been tough to watch, and there is only more to come. But after this summer, it will have been worth the struggle.