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The Celtics Kick Off Their Season Tonight — Does Anyone Give A Hoot?

Peter May: "There are Celtics’ fans out there who care about the team. But in the current New England sports solar system, the Celtics are whatever comes after Pluto." Pictured: Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, left, talks with forward Gerald Wallace during a preseason game in Boston, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Peter May: "There are Celtics’ fans out there who care about the team. But in the current New England sports solar system, the Celtics are whatever comes after Pluto." Pictured: Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, left, talks with forward Gerald Wallace during a preseason game in Boston, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. (Elise Amendola/AP)
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If a Celtics season opened and nobody is around to see it, does it actually happen?

Yes, it does. Wednesday night, to be exact.

With sports talk radio consumed about next Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Broncos — and that obsession started Monday morning — very few words have been uttered about the Celtics opening the 2014-15 season. The Brooklyn Nets are in town, and chances are you have no clue — unless you happen to actually care about the local basketball team, as I do.

As someone who has covered the Celtics since the golden days of the 1980s, I can’t ever remember a season opening with less fanfare than this one. Part of the reason, of course, is the 800 pound gorilla known as the New England Patriots. Part of it is the upcoming Game of the Year against Denver.

As someone who has covered the Celtics since the golden days of the 1980s, I can’t ever remember a season opening with less fanfare than this one.

The World Series? No way. Bostonians do not care about a Kansas City-San Francisco series. And neither does most of the country, as evidenced by the fact that a decent Sunday night NFL matchup (Green Bay-New Orleans) clobbered Game 5 of the World Series in the national ratings.

When Andy Gresh of 98.5 The Sports Hub opened his show Wednesday, he said the early hours would be devoted to the Patriots and the broadcasted news conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (neither of whom typically says anything of note). Then, the station would hear from Bruins fans. Then, well, in Gresch’s words, “we’re one day closer to Patriots-Denver."

There you have it. Not a word about the Celtics’ opener. And their station carries the games!

It seems to me that, unlike the Patriots or Red Sox, the Celtics have to be good — or potentially good — to be a part of the vox populi discussion. It’s not fair, but it is undeniable in an area that worships its baseball team and adores its football team. Sports talk radio feeds this dichotomy (and can justify it by citing listener interest).

The Celtics don’t appear to be very good this year and, thus, are getting little attention as they open the season. And not just in Boston. On TNT’s NBA Preview Show Tuesday night, the Celtics weren’t even mentioned when the group talked about the weak Eastern Conference. The NBA’s “television partners” have pretty much decided the Celtics are not worthy of being Prime Time players (while the Lakers, who will be worse, are apparently must-see TV).

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, pictured on Oct. 11, 2014. (Jessica Hill/AP)
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, pictured on Oct. 11, 2014. (Jessica Hill/AP)

The Celtics are largely unknown, save for Rajon Rondo, the sole holdover from the 2008 championship team. They have a collection of promising 20-somethings that, in a league that eats its young, can be both a blessing and a curse.

They do have an identifiable and terrific coach in Brad Stevens, but it’s never a good sign in the NBA when the coach is one of the better-known and talked-about individuals on the team. Rick Pitino discovered that, but only before nearly having a nervous breakdown.

This is Stevens’ second year on the job. He came to the Celtics from college (Butler), which, in the past, has been a death sentence for an NBA coach. But he appears to be the outlier, helped in part by a patient management (who gave him a six-year deal) and the consensus that he is smart enough, and humble enough, to make it work at the next level.

Stevens won 25 games in his first season as he learned on the fly with a confusing roster and with Rondo hurt. Some basketball fans — okay, me — are eager to see what he can do with a healthy Rondo (who is close to returning after a hand injury) and a team with which he is exponentially more familiar.

...the task at hand is both daunting and intriguing. The former is what’s keeping the Celtics off the grid. The latter is what could bring them back.

The Celtics should be better this season. And in a top-heavy conference with only two good teams, who knows? Could Boston sneak into the playoffs? (Do they even want to sneak into the playoffs? That is a column topic for another day.) Will Rondo, who is headed for free agency next summer, still be around?

The status of Rondo, especially as the calendar inches closer to the trading deadline in February, should push the Celtics into the water-cooler discussion at that time. By then, they will already have endured a brutal November that Stevens said will tell him much of what he needs to know about his team.

There are Celtics’ fans out there who care about the team. But in the current New England sports solar system, the Celtics are whatever comes after Pluto. When your flagship station, which carries your games, teases the identity of NFL officials for a game 96 hours away, instead of your season opener nine hours away, that tells you something.

To paraphrase the great line from Jerry Maguire, “Show me the wins.” That is what it’s going to take — and the task at hand is both daunting and intriguing. The former is what’s keeping the Celtics off the grid. The latter is what could bring them back.


Related:

Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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