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Turf Wars: Sleeping with the Enemy

“I can go get a drink with my friends after a pick-up game because people don’t pay hundreds of dollars to watch me play basketball.”

Turf Wars: Sleeping with the Enemy

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

After the Brooklyn Nets knocked the Boston Celtics out of the playoffs in five games, Celtics players stayed in Brooklyn to party with the Nets. It also came out that the Celtics and Nets went to the casino together in Boston after Game 3 and played golf together during their off day.

This sparked a huge debate in our writer’s room, with Craig Kaufman and Andrew Mark Wilhelm taking up opposite sides of the issue in this Turf War.

Craig Kaufman (CK): I just heard that the Celtics stayed in Brooklyn and partied with the Nets after Game 5. Apparently the Celtics and Nets also partied together at Encore Casino in Boston after game 3. This really pisses me off.

Andre Mark Wilhelm (AMW): Why? They all have personal relationships with each other.

Ryan Kelly: I feel like basketball is a different sport in that sense. A handful of star players control the league’s power dynamic, and can basically form a championship contender at the drop of a hat. So a young up-and-coming team like Boston probably wants to be on the good sides of Harden and Durant.

CK: Yeah, Ryan you are absolutely right. And I absolutely hate that about the league. I think it’s just disingenuous to the fans as well. You just lost a playoff series to this team – don’t go out and party with them.

AMW: They’re human beings. They’re allowed to hang out with whomever they want. It’s not like it was a “team-sanctioned” party.

CK: I would like there to be at least the appearance that these guys care whether they win or lose this series.

You’ve never gone to a bar after a pick-up game?

A pick-up game is not the NBA playoffs. I don’t get paid millions of dollars to play in pick-up games, and people don’t pay hundreds of dollars to watch me play in pick-up games.

AMW: What they do after the game has nothing to do with people’s dollars. Absolutely zero.

It just strikes me that the first and foremost priority for players who aren’t Kevin Durant is to be buddies with Kevin Durant. Optics, fan reactions all come second. Just the nature of the beast.

I think there’s a middle ground for me. I ultimately understand the way the “off the court” game is played. But it would be equally telling for Boston fans if they heard that Tatum and Kemba and whoever said “no party tonight.”

AMW: I get being annoyed about the one that happened mid-series, but not from a “these are the enemy” perspective. Maybe more of a “couldn’t you be using your time more wisely?” angle.
But after the series is done? Especially a 1st round series?

I think Tatum doesn’t need to be buddies with Durant to be the next Durant. It would be kinda badass if he was like “screw you, we’re gonna get you next season.” But they are also all pals and they all care about max contracts and all-NBA teams and if they get those nothing else matters (and I can’t blame them for that either).

AMW: Tatum has no shot at being the next Durant anyways…

RK: Not with that attitude. Even if he doesn’t get there, I want him to act like he can. And for fans, seeing him party with Durant speaks to the opposite notion. To Craig’s original point I think.

CK: I didn’t watch to the end of game 5, but I knew that these guys would be dapping and hugging and yucking it up on the court with Kyrie and them, and from what I hear that’s what happened.

AMW: Again… so? They’re. Human. Beings.

CK: They just got their asses kicked by these guys (not to mention disrespected by Kyrie) and they’re over there kissing his feet! It’s a bad look.

I don’t want my team made up of a bunch of little fan-boys. I want players who are gonna be pissed that they just lost a series, not fawning all over their opponents and begging for them to look in their direction.

AMW: It’s a game. And they have relationships outside that.

CK: Tatum isn’t going to be able to lead the Celtics to a championship-caliber if he thinks of Kyrie and Durant as his idols instead of his rivals

AMW: Why are those the only 2 options? For the same reason you can’t throw a water bottle at a player, you can’t judge them for who they hang out with.

CK: I think I have an old school mentality where I want it to be like it was when teams disliked each other. Because as a fan, that’s what I care about. I’m not saying I need there to be brawls again on the court, but if I just watched the Celtics get trounced by the Nets and then I hear that the Celtics are attending Brooklyn’s victory party, I think it’s fair to say “what the hell?”

AMW: If it was a team’s victory party, sure. But it’s not. It’s players from each team going out to a bar. Teams don’t have victory parties for first round series

CK: The Nets just won. They went out to celebrate the victory. It’s like if you got dumped and then wanted to tag along on your exes new date.

AMW: I would say it’s like if your coworker and you are up for the same promotion and they get it over you and you still go out and get a drink with them to congratulate them.

CK: Sure that’s pretty good. Except you don’t have a whole city of people invested in whether or not you got the promotion.

AMW: So, because your neighbor might think less of you for going for that congratulatory drink with your friend… you wouldn’t do it?

CK: It’s not just my neighbor that might look down on me – it’s the whole city. In the case of NBA players, they supposedly represent the entire city and fan-base. Whereas in the company example, I only represent myself.

AMW: I don’t think it’s fair to assume all the players represent a city. Most have no say on where they end up playing and even the ones who do make the decisions mostly based on which teams can afford them. Teams (and cities) do players dirty all the time.

CK: They’re paid millions of dollars to represent the city whether it was their choice to represent that city or not. That might not be fair, but I think that’s the gig.

AMW: I think that’s only the gig when they have the jersey on.

Terry Cudmore: Craig, how much of your anger about this is because it’s Kyrie? Would you be as upset if they lost to Milwaukee and then partied with Giannis?

CK: That’s a good question, Terry. I would be upset about that too, but I don’t actually think they would party with Giannis. I don’t think they idolize Giannis the same way they do Kyrie and Durant.

So yeah, part of it is definitely the fact that Kyrie is a tool who quit on the city, then came back and (literally) stomped on the Celtics, and all the Celtics want to do is party with him.

RK: I wonder how much they want to party with him vs. not wanting to be the guys who refused. Also, the more I think about it, stuff like this can only help keep players in Boston on good terms with other players in the league. And they desperately need to bring some talent to the Celtics.

TC: I think there’s something to Kyrie being their former teammate too. It seems like Tatum and Smart have always liked him and Jaylen is the one who really doesn’t.

Our turf war ended in a virtual stalemate, with neither side really willing to move from their position.

When the 2021 All-NBA teams were announced, as Durant and Kyrie were among the fifteen players honored, Jayson Tatum was not part of the club that he wants so badly to be in. Ironically, Irving got one of the last spots to prevent Tatum from getting the honor, which would have triggered a $32 million bump in his contract over the next five years.

If I had to guess, I would bet Tatum didn’t go out and party after he found out he didn’t make All-NBA. He was likely more upset about that than about his team’s knock-out at the hands of Irving and Durant.

Do you think Chris Paul is going to party it up with Giannis if the Bucks take the finals? I doubt it.

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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