Ubuntu, Ubuntu, Ubuntu

Sports quiz time. Can you name the Boston Celtics' new rallying cry? It's something the team chants...not the fans.

The word is "Ubuntu." It comes from the Bantu languages of Southern Africa and means, loosely, "I am because of you."

WBUR's Martha Bebinger explores how this concept is defining this Celtics team.


MARTHA BEBINGER: The men in green chant Ubuntu in the locker room before games, wear it on practice t-shirts and wrist bands and refer to it slogan when it really counts.

GAME ANNOUNCER: Certainly not the sight Celtics fans want to see, Paul Pierce in a lot of pain.

BEBINGER: While Pierce is carried off the floor in game 1 of the finals, Celtics coach Doc Rivers calls the rest of the team together.

DOC RIVERS: What did the guy from South Africa say about adversity, nothing can get you down. That's why we play 12 guys, alright. Let's beat this team.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: In our country we've got something called ubuntu, ubuntu, ubuntu, ubuntu.

BEBINGER: This is Archbishop Desmond Tutu explaining the concept during a lecture to college students last year.

TUTU: In our culture, there is no such thing as a solitary individual. I want you to be all you can be, because that's the only way I can be all I can be.

BEBINGER: Coach Rivers adopted ubuntu at the beginning of this season after a colleague suggested it and Rivers read some of Tutu's work. Boston Globe Sports writer Marc Spears says Rivers needed a way to unify a team with a lot of new players and 3 superstars.

MARC SPEARS: It's given them something to become a unit, to become a family, to put all their egos aside. And I think it's that mentality that has helped them get to where they are right now.

BEBINGER: Not just the mentality, the word has become part of Celtics culture, says former Celtics forward and current commentator Cedric Maxwell.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: If they're playing cards right now, you'll hear one of them go ubuntu dog, so you know they joke about it, but you know they want to win.

BEBINGER: Maxwell, who was the MVP when the Celtics won the NBA championship in 1981, says ubuntu helps Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce focus on a common goal.

MAXWELL: None of the big 3 last year made the playoffs. So as players, sometimes they're like kids, they look for themes, they look for concepts that are going to bring them closer together.

BEBINGER: While Ubuntu may be important to the team...most fans don't know it.

BEBINGER: Have you heard of Ubuntu, the team's slogan? I have not, no, the who, no, no, no at all.

BEBINGER: Outside the Garden, before Sunday's "near miss" I get 37 confused looks before I find Ed O'Neill and Suzanne Nevins from Connecticut.

SUZANNE NEVINS AND ED O'NEILL: I hadn't heard it until he told me, told you what, the ubungo thing, that means oh, that's right. Ubuntu. That means, we're together, we're a team. That's what we're here for. It's not a one on one thing. Not like, we got the big Kobe guy. No, we got big 3, no we got the big 5, no we got the big 12.

BEBINGER: The Celtics aren't marketing ubuntu. There is at least one unofficial t-shirt on line that merges the old and the and white hands clashed over a shamrock with ubuntu in bold letters. Sports Promoter Stephen Brown says it might be best to leave ubuntu alone, for now.

STEPHEN BROWN: At least for this series; if it's a private moment within the team, that shouldn't be commercialized.

BEBINGER: At least, says Brown, until the Celtics give the OK.

So for tonight, Celtics fans will stick with the well known refrain... Beat LA.

For WBUR, I'm Martha Bebinger.

This program aired on June 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.


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