It was sometime between “Honey Nut Cheerios” and an overzealous box out when my roommate turned to me and said, “I really forgot how much I HATE the Celtics”. When Pierce drilled that dagger of a jumper, as he so often does, obnoxiously kissing the Garden crowd with that disgusting smirk of his, my roommate got up from the couch – shocking in and of itself-looked into into the mocking eyes of Paul Pierce (through the TV, but that’s besides the point), and yelled, “Goddammit, I HATE YOU” . (If you watch the replay, you can actually see the exact moment when Pierce hears my roommate from our Upper West Side apartment and shudders in terror).
As kids, we are repeatedly told to do everything in our power to refrain from using the word hate. It’s evil, it’s dangerous, and worst of all, in the age of acceptance and information, it’s ignorant. Hate is an irrational feeling in a seemingly rational world
The word hate is more acceptable in sports, though. Part of this is because the irrationality of hate finds a home in the irrational and extremely passionate world of sports. Unless you are a soccer hooligan or a Raiders fan– “sports hatred” never really amounts to anything more than an outrageous barrage of swearing. Sports hatred is the yin to sports love yang. It’s cathartic. It’s fun. It’s agonizing.
But the ability (and right) to hate another team or player must be earned. One can only experience outward “sports hate” when the stakes are high; when the player or team takes something away from you and your favorite team. The strongest form of sport hates boils to the surface when you, the fan, have confidence in your team, and more importantly, have expectations for them.
In 2007, the Knicks walked off the court following a game against this very Celtics team to a scoreboard that read 104-59. 104-59. One HUNDRED AND FOUR to FIFTY NINE. While that defeat was frustrating, embarrassing and quite honestly astonishing, Knicks fans had no one to hate but their own pathetic excuse of a basketball team. The Knicks were going nowhere, the Big Three-Celtics were hitting their stride, and Knick fans could only laugh at their sorry situation (and let’s be honest, it was hilarious) The Knicks and their fans were not worthy of feeling sports hate.
If anything, the hatred we had during the dark decadefor teams like, say, the Heat, was more of a “nostalgic hate”; a longing for the days when we were worthy of hating, and being hated in return.
Which brings me to Monday night’s game.
Despite having played only a fraction of the schedule and sitting with a six-game lead over the Celtics, Monday night was a big one for the Knickerbockers. It was a chance to put Boston to bed early, to extend our lead in the division and to make a statement against a team that has owned the Knicks for the past couple of years. In short, the stakes were high.
When Pierce nailed that jumper to all but put the game away, Knicks fans hated in a way they haven’t in years because, for once, the game meant something: The Celtics have new life and our march to the division title will no longer be a cakewalk. But while the loss was a tough one to swallow, it left me with one thought and one thought only: Boy, it’s fun to hate again.