June 29, 2022

“All I remember is it felt like an earthquake at the Staples Center,” Stoudamire recalls, “and then it took us about two and a half hours to get out of the arena, because there there were people on the streets. And I remember a bunch of grown men literally crying, because we felt like we had an opportunity and we let it go. You cry about the game, you really do. You mourn the loss. But more importantly, it was a special team. We didn’t win and that team will never be together again. I don’t think people understand that.

Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers won the first of three consecutive NBA titles. After the Game 7 loss, Stoudamire thought time was at least on his side. It was his second consecutive Conference Finals appearance, and the basketball track ahead of him remained long.

But eight years passed before he returned to the conference finals. This time he was 34 and playing for Spurs, and Celtics coach Ime Udoka was his teammate. This run was also discontinued and Stoudamire never found out what it was like at the top.

He didn’t bring up those memories because he wanted to remember the crummy days. He brought them up because he thinks they are relevant.

Now the Celtics are guided by talented young players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This team has reached the conference final in four of the last six seasons and is in its first final, tied 2-2 against the Warriors. For some, it may seem like it will become a habit. But in recent weeks, Stoudamire has spoken of his own cautionary tale as he wants players to enjoy this massive moment.

“I don’t take any of this for granted, because you’re not guaranteed to come back here,” he said. “That Game 7 in 2000 was the most stunning loss of my career, and I tell guys all the time, that I got to the conference finals at 25 and 26 and didn’t get back there until Age 34. These moments just aren’t guaranteed to you, so try to cherish some every day.

“This group will never find that moment again. That’s how I see it. But if we win together, we’ll be cut off together. Our group texts now as personal, as a team, these will be group texts forever. We will share moments as a family because we won together. For me, that’s what it’s all about. »

Last summer, Stoudamire was hired by Udoka, his longtime friend from Portland, Oregon, after spending five seasons as head coach of Pacific. He said that with Tatum and Brown as cornerstones, he thought this team had the potential to be great.

Even when Boston stumbled the first few months of the season, Stoudamire remained confident. He had seen a lot of coaching changes as a player. He knew it just took time.

“Trust and buy-in started to build and we became a team,” he said. “You could see us getting bigger.”

The Celtics put aside their slow start, surged in the second half of the season and secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’ve since knocked down Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, survived three playoff games and handed the Warriors their first loss on the road to this playoff.

“What this group doesn’t get enough credit for is how tough they are mentally,” Stoudamire said. “It’s not easy, man. It’s not easy to do what they did. It’s not easy to go on the road and beat the Miami Heat in Game 7. Do you know how hard it is? Do you know how hard it is to go and win Game 6 in Milwaukee against the defending champions and the league’s best player? It’s hard to do that. So the way these guys did it, it’s just going to make it more enjoyable for them if we can do it. Those are the things I think of when I think of this crew.

Above all, Stoudamire wants this championship for these players. He says they earned it and they deserve it. But he acknowledged that it would also be fulfilling for him. He said when he coached in college just a year ago, he didn’t know if he would ever return to the NBA, or if he even wanted to. Now he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

“It’s awesome, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Getting a ring would be the highlight of my career. And I tried to enjoy every moment of that, because you don’t get that back. I try to remind everyone every day that we have the opportunity to do something special.

Adam Himmelsbach can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

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