An Open Letter to Dan Shaughnessy

Some choice words that deserve to be published here, even if we're a few days out from the news cycle of Mr. Shaughnessy's column.

Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy objects to the confetti that fell after the Cavs’ first win against the Celtics this playoffs. With all the championships Boston has to celebrate, Dan explains, they use their confetti more sparingly. Act like you’ve been there before, he instructs. Oh right, you haven’t been there since 1964 because your city is “dead,” he adds in a way that makes his profession of “love” for Cleveland sound a wee bit sarcastic, perhaps? Shaughnessy follows his critique of Cleveland’s gauche confetti management with a casual reference to Boston’s nine titles in the last 15 years and a humorless autopsy of Cleveland’s failings.

Predictably, the Cleveland boosters have trotted out an equally humorless list of our city’s latest accomplishments, which are beside the point.

The point is this, Shaughnessy. Cleveland may not know how to win, but at least we know how to lose—which is more than anyone can say about you or the Boston Celtics after this series. I’m not talking about the scoreboard. The Celtics proved they can get their butts kicked. I’m talking about how a team and a town handles the frustration of losing.

I appreciate Dan Shaughnessy’s confetti lessons and the extent of his confetti knowledge. He’s clearly had a lot of confetti stuck in his hair. And I’d like to return the favor, if I can. As a lifelong Cleveland fan, I don’t know much about confetti, but I do know a lot about how to take a loss, and Boston evidently needs remedial lessons in that.

The key to taking a loss like a man, Dan, is first to be able to acknowledge it. Which you haven’t, not really, preferring as you do to imply that Boston still “beats” Cleveland on account of our higher unemployment rate.

It hurts to lose. I know. And it feels so much better to say, maybe my team lost but Cleveland is clumsy with confetti and has a lame, ghetto downtown and Boston has championships and Faneuil Hall! And I’m white! But attacking the victor on immaterial issues (and in an implicitly classist and racist way!), makes you look like an insecure, sore loser that can’t admit defeat. And you’re not an insecure, soft, sore loser! You’re Boston! You’re an obnoxious, vaguely sociopathic, gloating winner! You can afford to be magnanimous!

That said, Dan, the Kevin Love injury shows that your columns are the least of Boston’s problems when it comes to taking a loss. Your columns are as truly irrelevant as the economic indices that apparently make you feel justified in continuing to live in Boston even if the Celtics got swept. (Personally, I would move.) In the end, it was not journalists’ failure to accept defeat with dignity but rather the Celtics’ failure to do so on the court that really looked bad. Not knowing how to lose with dignity seemed to pitch the Celtics into a kind of desperate fog of war under cover of which any dirty trick became not only permissible but laudable. Sure, the Celtics were admirably “aggressive” in game 1 when it came to quick doubles on LeBron and cutting off weak side passing lanes. But in the next games, “aggressive” and “physical” gradually gasified into cloudy euphemisms for cheating in order to compensate for inferior talent.

In the case of the 2015 Celtics, I use the term “cheating” in the same loose sense that reporters have used the phrase “got tangled up” to describe Kelly Olynyk trying to pull Kevin Love’s arm off. I use the term loosely because it’s not like the Celtics cheated as bad as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz using steroids to get Boston their World Series rings, or as bad as Bill Belichick spying on opposing teams for seven years until he got busted.

But when Isaiah Thomas intentionally pushed LeBron on an inbounds pass and nearly swung the game to the Celtics, then smirked that he got away with it, he didn’t look particularly dignified to me or my kids. I concede that Kelly Olynyk did not consciously intend to injure Kevin Love when he tried to jerk Love away from the ball by the arm. It was not intent to harm, but more like criminal negligence that flowed inevitably from the Celtics’ mania to avoid losing to a better team at any cost, including dirty non-basketball plays which apologists prefer to call “physical.” The refs and their employer, the NBA, let it all happen, much to their discredit. Kendrick Perkins was better prepared to put a stop to it because he’d learned “bush-league” tactics from his days on the Celtics: when all else fails, shove somebody.

As I am mourning the loss of Kevin Love from our line-up, I keep thinking of that scene from Star Wars where R2D2 plays chess with Chewbacca. Han Solo says, “It’s not wise to upset a wookie.... That’s because a droid don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies are known to do that.”

I know, Shaughnessy, I know. I’m a nerd. You’re “cool.” (I’m again using the term loosely.) Cleveland drinks Pabst and doesn’t have enough white people downtown for your taste. Boston wins championships and is a great place for white people. It’s where Peeping Tom Brady peeps and Bill deflates his balls. Whatever it takes to win.

My point is, Dan, that in your desperation to win with dirty writing and in the Celtics’ desperation to win with dirtier play, you and they look ugly and small. When you lose, be a man about it! It’s not the end of the world to lose. So the Celtics lost this time and demonstrated that their maximum upside is probably a second-round playoff loss. So Kelly Olynyk is maybe not as skilled at professional wrestling moves as we all thought. So LeBron James at 30 has already passed Larry Bird’s career marks. (I know, Dan, not the championships. Lie back down in your bed of Celtics jock straps.) So your most exciting player Isaiah Thomas likes to cheat on national TV in the afternoon with all the kids watching. So your bush-league sniping at the have-nots of the rust belt isn’t going to win you that Pulitzer.

Let’s forget all that and just do me this favor, Dan. Next time the Celtics lose to the Cavs, act like you’ve been there before. Because you have. Your hair may be filled with the detritus of stolen Boston championships, but you’d look a lot more dignified if you learned how to take a loss. Kevin Love’s shoulder would look a lot more anatomically correct if the Celtics had learned the same.
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