Bought and paid for

Balls and pucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  June 18, 2008

By the time you read this, I’m almost positive that the Boston Celtics will have defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win their first NBA title since the Larry Bird era, reversing a decline that started when Len Bias, picked second by Boston in the 1986 NBA draft, died from an overdose 22 years ago this Wednesday. How’s that for trivia that makes you feel old, fellow Celtic fans? Hell, Reggie Lewis died almost 15 years ago. God rest both their souls, but thinking about how long it’s been makes my hair feel too gray. Would somebody tell Clyde Frazier to pass the Just For Men?

Whether they won or just came close, it's important to remember that until this year, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen weren’t Celtics. Neither were Glen “Big Baby” Davis and James Posey, so, if (when) they beat the Lakers, Boston haters will say that the Celtics purchased their 17th championship. These sour grapes are inevitable, but in an era where the Red Sox had to pay $50 million (5.4 billion yen) to Dice-K’s former team just to negotiate with him, are there any championships that haven’t been bought somehow?

Plus, buying a championship almost never works. If it did, the Yankees would have more than 23, and the Washington Redskins would have won the Lombardi Trophy every year since free-spender Dan Snyder bought the team. Remember Karl Malone and Gary Payton going to the Lakers, or Sir Charles finishing up with Olajuwon and Drexler’s Houston Rockets? Don’t forget last year’s New York Mets, or the Baltimore Orioles, who tried to buy a championship twice, once in the 1990s with Albert Belle, and again this decade, when they signed Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and reacquired the soon-to-be-disgraced Viagra pitchman, Rafael Palmero.

What teams have successfully bought championships? I can only name two:

1994 San Francisco 49ers This squad had three new free-agent linebackers: Ken Norton Jr., Gary Plummer, and Rickey Jackson, and another free agent in the secondary whom you may remember: Deion “Primetime” Sanders. San Fran’s new defense helped longtime Joe Montana back-up and eventual Hall of Famer Steve Young put a 49-26 drubbing on Stan Humphries, Natrone Means, Junior Seau, and the rest of the San Diego Chargers. This Super Bowl win, Young’s only as a starter, was the 49ers' fifth in 14 years, solidifying their claim as an all-time great team, whether they bought the last one or not.

1994 Florida Marlins Owner Wayne Huizenga busted open the piggy bank for his young franchise’s fifth season, signing Moises Alou and Bobby Bonilla in the off-season, as well as Alex Fernandez, who was added to a pitching staff hat already included Kevin Brown and Al Leiter. At the trading deadline the Fish got Dutch Daulton (a clubhouse leader, metaphysics expert, conspiracy theorist, and believer in the coming apocalypse, as predicted by the Mayan Calendar; check out Daulton’s book, If They Only Knew; it’s very ... err, interesting) and Jim Eisenreich. Despite finishing behind the Braves in the NL East, they dispatched Atlanta in the playoffs, and then broke every Cleveland Indians fan’s heart in the October Classic. The next year the Marlins were dismantled, in one of pro sports' most pathetic fire sales.

What will happen to the Celtics? Unless you’re Dutch Daulton, the future is uncertain, but two things are for sure: there’s nothing like Celtic Pride, and, after two decades, the Pride is back.

Rick Wormwood can be reached

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