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Winter games


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At last the winter games wane which is reasonable given that we are brinking on the month of July. The NBA season might even be over by the glorious Fourth although, alas, it will be immaterial to the Celtics who -- in their latest incarnation -- may have been dispersed to the golf links for good. It's hardly the first era to end with a whimper, which is what is now being widely proclaimed.

But then, does the Pierce/Garnett/Allen edition actually compose an "Era"? It would in most towns. But these are the Celtics we are talking about. Genuine Celtic eras necessarily last a full sporting generation (approximately eight to ten years).

In their five-year run, "the Big Three" reaped one title, one near-miss, three sturdy challenges, and sufficient entertainment to easily validate Danny Ainge's premise in bringing them together which so many initially deemed so rash. That's good enough in most towns. But these are the Celtics. If the three amigos now disband they'll be remembered as the mainstays of what was almost but not quite "a true era."

Paul Pierce will get a victory lap, before fading. Kevin Garnett will do what's best for Kevin Garnett. Rajon Rondo, who muscled his way into stardom making it a "core-four," will be left all alone in his prime.

But can you build a franchise around the mercurial Rondo? That's just one of the huge questions they now face. How lucky they are to still have Doc Rivers to help them do so. It was Rondo's good fortune to play alongside the elegant Ray Allen these years but it's not clear how much of Allen's fabled "class" rubbed off. Watching Rondo stomp away in a snit when it ended in Miami while Allen was lingering on the court congratulating the victors was a reminder of how much the lad still needs to learn. He'd better do so real quick. The next Celtics "era" must certainly revolve around him. Regrettably we bid adieu to Allen, a gentleman who would have graced any of the Celtics' "Great Eras."

In the end, they may have been lucky to have been spared the necessity of engaging the Oklahoma City upstarts in the Finals. The Thunder who systematically rolled over the Mavericks, Lakers, and seemingly invincible Spurs en route are downright scary. The Heat can have them. Loathers of the Miami dandies may yet get their wish. Back in New England, how many will care? How many will even watch?

In the meantime, the hockey season has chugged to a middling, even flat conclusion with ominous storm clouds gathering on the game's horizon much diminishing its annual Stanley Cup opus.

That takes nothing away from the Kings, whose run to the Cup was astounding given that they just barely made the playoffs. The psycho-dynamics of hockey's post-season have become a fascinating study. Teams seemingly lie in the weeds, waiting to spring. It's all about reaching the end-game still healthy and hungry. Such were the Kings, and their gallant goalie out of that hockey hot-bed U-Mass, MVP Jonathan Quick.

It was not a great Stanley Cup festival. There were too many controversies, too many intensely tight defensive struggles, too many squabbles about officiating, too many stretches of dreary play. Given that there was so much venting all season about the dangers of dirty hits leading to needless hurts it was ironic that a dumb intent-to-injure penalty finished off the Devils in the final game. Or maybe it was just fitting.

Nor is it provincial of me to observe that said Finals lacked both the passion and drama that made last year's Bruins-Canucks finale much more memorable. It's nice that Los Angeles got to drink from the Cup after 45 years, but that doesn't mean La La Land will ever be a place where this game thrives.

So the season is done. And now comes Hockey's real showdown, making anything that occurs on the ice, however nasty, seem tame. The game's labor-wars -- in all of their consummate stupidity -- are about to resume.

Officially it explodes when the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires in September, on the eve of next season. The boys will chat in the meantime but pre-game posturing suggests neither side is anxious. All the signs are bad and with the fall-out from the bitter meltdown that wiped out an entire season just eight years ago still hovering the prospect of a reprise hung over this year's usually rollicking Stanley Cup shebang like a cloud of nuclear waste. It's the NHL's gravest hour that now beckons.

The artistry with which the National Hockey League can foul its own nest is simply wondrous. Rightly, the conventional wisdom holds this venerable but shaky alliance can't survive a donnybrook comparable to the 2004-05 lockout.

Yet the ingredients of an equally disastrous meltdown thrive. You have Don Fehr who avowedly earned his stripes as sports' most strident labor-hawk in his 25-year stewardship of the baseball players now firmly in charge of the too long weakly led and badly served hockey players. And you have the owners -- a narrow bunch dominated by Sunbelt entrepreneurs with no roots in the game -- more unified, determined, and possibly dumber than ever. If you sense the die's been cast you may be on to something, Mate.

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