An Amazing Celtics Comeback:

I won't annoy our many California readers by rhapsodizing about it at length - or at least I won't annoy them more than "the public Safety may require":). But I do want to congratulate the Celtics for achieving the greatest comeback victory in the history of the NBA finals, overcoming a 24 point deficit to defeat the favored Lakers on the road. The Celtics were down by 20 as late as the middle of the third quarter. Considering the size of the deficit, the importance of the game, and the quality of the opponent, it's also probably the most impressive single-game comeback in the 125 year history of major professional sports in Boston. Go Celtics!

UPDATE: Judging by some of the comments, I suppose I have to spell out the obvious: For Boston fans, nothing can ever top the Red Sox comeback from 3-0 down in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. However, the Reversal of the Curse was not a "single-game" comeback (a crucial qualification in the original post). In none of those four individual games did the Red Sox overcome a deficit nearly as great as that which the Celtics faced tonight. In the pivotal Games 4 and 5, the Red Sox never trailed by more than two runs. In games 6 and 7, the Sox led all the way. As a series, the 2004 ALCS was a vastly more important comeback than anything the Celtics do in the current series could be. But no single game in that series included as great a comeback as the one the Celtics just made.

Championship No. 17:

For Boston sports fans, nothing will ever equal the joy that we experienced when the Red Sox Reversed the Curse in 2004. But this Celtics win is probably the second most satisfying Boston sports victory in my lifetime. It's great to see the franchise return to glory after all the anguish that it and the fans went through since the death of Len Bias. The Celtics set several records in the process, including largest margin of victory in a clinching game (second-largest in any Finals game), biggest comeback in a finals game (Game 4), most steals in a finals game (18 in Game 6); and most 3 pointers in an NBA finals series (Ray Allen, with 22 - shattering the previous record of 17). And of course it was great to do it against the Celtics historic rival - the Lakers. We don't hate the Lakers like we do the Yankees, and in fact I have great respect for the Lakers players, tradition, and organization. But - in part for that very reason - it still means more to win against them than any other NBA team.

It isn't a great time in politics, law, and public policy - my main areas of interest. But I take some small comfort in the recent successes of my favorite Boston sports teams, the Red Sox and Celtics. I'm only sad that Red Auerbach and Dennis Johnson didn't live to see this victory.

UPDATE: In the initial post, I accidentally stated that the Celtics' record comeback was in Game 2 rather than Game 4. The mistake has now been corrected.

Underappreciated Advantages of US Pro Sports Over International Soccer:

The conjunction of the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals and the European Soccer Championship led me to reflect on two important advantage of US pro sports over international soccer: soccer often promotes nationalist and ethnic violence and provides propaganda fodder for repressive or corrupt governments, while US pro sports (with extremely rare exceptions) do not.

European and Latin American soccer rivalries are commonly linked to nationalistic and ethnic antagonisms (e.g. - England vs. Germany, England vs. Ireland, Germany vs. Poland, etc.). Even the fan bases of teams in internal national soccer leagues often break down along ethnic lines. This conjunction of sports rivalries and nationalistic/ethnic rivalries often leads to violence. The most notorious example is the 1969 "Soccer War" between El Salvador and Honduras - a conflict which might have been funny except for the fact that 2000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. And there are many lesser cases of riots and other violence resulting from soccer games.

Many European and especially Latin American soccer teams are also closely associated with governments. This often allows repressive and corrupt regimes to obtain propaganda benefits from the teams' victories. For example, the repressive Brazilian and Argentinian military governments of the 1970s increased their public support as a result of their national teams' World Cup victories in 1970 and 1978. In Europe, Mussolini, Franco, and the communist government of the Soviet Union derived similar benefits from their teams' successes. On a lesser scale, incompetent or corrupt local governments in Europe sometimes benefit from the victories of local clubs.

In the United States, by contrast, pro sports rivalries are based on geographic divisions that have little or no connection to deeper social antagonisms over race, religion, or political ideology. As a result, even the most heated US sports rivalries, such as the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, rarely result in violence between fans of opposing teams - and never in the form of the large-scale soccer riots that we sometimes see in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The recent incident in which a Yankees fan killed a Red Sox fan was shocking in part because it was so exceptional. It would not have been nearly so unusual in the annals of European, Asian, or Latin American soccer. The key difference is that there is no broader Boston-New York conflict that goes beyond the sports rivalry, while the same cannot be said for many international soccer rivalries.

And because US sports teams have relatively few associations with government (with the important exception of indefensible government subsidies for sports stadiums), politicians don't benefit from their victories. The Red Sox and Patriots' championships in 2004 didn't do anything to help Massachusetts Senator John Kerry's presidential bid. This year's Celtics victory probably won't help Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick overcome his political troubles. And President Bush isn't getting any political benefit from the Texas Rangers' recent offensive prowess.

Obviously, I'm not saying that there is anything intrinsically wrong with soccer as a sport. I enjoy baseball and basketball much more than soccer, but that is purely a matter of personal preference. Nor am I saying that Europeans and Latin Americans shouldn't root for their soccer teams. The problem is not soccer as such, but the social and political organization of the sport in much of the world.

US pro sports leagues are sometimes criticized for failing to engage the deeper loyalties of fans as much as soccer does in other countries. On balance, it's actually a good thing that they don't.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Underappreciated Advantages of US Pro Sports Over International Soccer:
  2. Championship No. 17:
  3. An Amazing Celtics Comeback: