Tonight the Boston Celtics continue their playoff run against the Philadelphia 76ers, playing the role of underdogs despite home court advantage and the superior regular season record. They are underdogs because their best player, point guard Kyrie Irving, will not play this spring following knee surgery. Their game-one win, like the rest of their improbable run to the second seed in the East, surprised just about everyone. Since five minutes into the season, when their star free-agent acquisition, Gordon Heyward, fell to a horrific leg injury, this Celtics team has been recalibrating people’s expectations almost night-to-night.
The plot points for the Celtics season have the feel of a sappy sports film. Their big star addition goes down in the opening, throwing a 19-year-old Jayson Tatum into the NBA fray. He steps up and proves he can hang throughout a 16-game winning streak in Act One, but the long grind of the season chips away at this plucky band of youngsters and at the close of Act Two, their other star, Irving goes down, leaving only the kids and “Average Al”- the much-maligned max-contract star to face down a seven-foot tall Greek Freak and then the ascendant 76ers before the climatic (and heroic-tragic) battle with the Big-Bad- The King, Lebron.
But though the broad-stroke outline of the 2017-2018 Celtics season reads like a Sean Astin-in-an-indie-hoops-film, from a fans perspective, it has felt like something else entirely. Like something closer to The Big Lebowski or Friday. A season drenched in psychedelia and funk. The 2016-2017 Celtics season owns the claim to the dramatic archs, with the “King in the Fourth” run for Isaiah Thomas leading to heartbreak and betrayal. 2018 is the Season of the Weird, both for the Celtics and for the sporting world in general. The strange synergy between the raw, young talent in Boston’s TD Garden and the bizarre phenomenon of #weirdcelticstwitter has been one of the most fun experiences of my sports-watching life and, I believe, a foreshadowing of the bold, insane, new world of closer fan-player relations.
It is hard to define exactly what Weird Celtics Twitter is. It’s like porn, I suppose. You know it when you see it (and also, you spend way too much time staring at it after your wife and kids are asleep- A-YO! amirite!). It is definitely certain specific things though. It’s Tito-Three Sticks, Third of his Name. It’s Combat Muscles. It’s Mad Brad and Dabusele, the third eye and Terrygarcia. It is Smarf* and, of course, is Janos. Weird Celtics Twitter is not unlike many other things I have found myself in close proximity to throughout my life. It’s a weird, nerdy niche group that is full of inside jokes and obscure references that only matter to “us,” whoever the “us” might be. I can’t claim to be part of it, but following the antics of WCT has been one of my favorite things in 2018.
*I will go to my grave believing there is a connection between Smarf and the 2013 Over the Monster nickname for Shane Victorino, Shanf. To. My. Grave.
But the thing that has made the Celtics so fun this season and made Weird Celtics Twitter so fun, is that those two worlds, which should be so, so, separated, have been…can I say copasetic. At the very least, there has been interplay and that is the weirdest thing about Weird Celtics Twitter. This should be a thing that only matters to a small group of fans, but it has bled into the mainstream and infected it with its weirdness in the best possible ways.
Celtics GM Danny Ainge has responded to the strange Celtics-and-soup twitter poster Janos, WCT’s OG. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor (a Celtics fan, originally) says he tried to reference Thick-Jacked (a variation of the Combat Muscles meme) in a Ringer article. Terry Rozier even ended up embracing the Scary Terry nickname to settle down the Tito*>T-Ro beef instigated by Sam “Jam” Packard, one of the Locked-On Celtics podcast hosts. Now, the nickname is everywhere. If this isn’t wonderful shit, you and I define “wonderful shit” very differently.
*#TeamTito- for life!
Weird Celtics Twitter is having its moment in part because it is the perfect storm of a team and fanbase. These things happen in sports and they are always great. What makes WCT feel different to me is the way it fits with the new media world that the NBA and its players are so eager to embrace. It is not the world of Michael Jordon in Spike-Lee-directed Nike spots and Warner Brother movies. It is the world where Isaiah Thomas releases the extremely personal “Book of Isaiah” on Youtube through The Player’s Tribune. It is the world where Kevin Durant has burner accounts to argue with twitter eggs about his free agency choice and where he coins the term “blog boys” on a podcast, The Ringer puts it on a T-shirt, and Steph Curry wears it to the next game.
Vertical integration in media is gone. Now everything goes everywhere. If you are a cult player and back-up point guard, you jump on the chance to get a few hundred weirdos who love you to embrace your brand, even if it means donning a scream mask and ditching the nickname T-Ro for Scary Terry. Now, the inside jokes have a path straight into the heart of the culture.
And the memes feed themselves. As Celtics players embraced their own weirdness, WeirD Celtics Twitter embraced them more. Kyrie Irving was respected as an elite talent, but his role as IT replacement and his ridiculous flat-earth comments made fans weary of him as a celebrity. Rather than glad-hand Neil Degrasse Tyson and say, “my bad,” Kyrie steered toward the weird and clarified his flat-earth statements with even more obscura and brought fans through the looking glass until it became a kind of charming psuedo-intellectual-goofball mysticism.
The history of sports has mostly been the history of players distancing themselves from the fans. Back in early days of baseball, fans could talk to the players on the bench, move the home run fences forward and back and even see their guys at the bar or the local hotel. The need for security for the athletes and the sports have pushed the two sides apart, but if Weird Celtics Twitter and the 2018 Celtics are any indication, that separation may be waning in a world where intellectual connection does not require physical connection and the two sides are constantly engaged in a strange kind of dialogue that encompasses what happens on the court, in the media, in marketing rooms and ad agencies and on social media.
It is possible that this is simply a chance occurrence; the story of the right team and the right fanbase coming together, but the Celtics Season of the Weird seems like more than that to me. It seems like the first step in fans and players moving closer together in a way that is unique to the world that social media has created.