By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
For some, it’s a rocket launcher to the big time. For others, it ends with a detour to the nearest AAA office for passport pictures, or with a thumb hovering over an iPhone screen before calling to inquire about work in Sioux Falls for the winter.
Preseason games reveal green and white jerseys with big numbers, small numbers, combinations and crooked numbers we’re not used to seeing. There are more retired numbers in the TD Garden rafters than in any other NBA arena, which limits the selection for incoming Celtics, particularly at this time of year.
If a roster hopeful grew up a fan of Michael Jordan (or LeBron), sorry, Frank Ramsey’s no. 23 dropped out of circulation during the Kennedy administration. I’m not sure if there was a scramble for former NAIA Player of the Year and C’s walk-on Nate Driggers’ no. 27, but it currently belongs to Daniel Theis.
Let’s take a look at some Celtics newcomers by the digits on their jerseys.
No. 4: Carsen Edwards
Edwards is the first Celtic to don the No. 4 since Isaiah Thomas departed Boston to play the role of basketball hobo from a Bruce Springsteen deep track just over two years ago. By trading in the no. 29 he wore in summer league, it’s perhaps a mission statement for the Purdue product to stick around a while: Four of the team’s single-digit offerings are already in the rafters, with Kevin Garnett’s No. 5 a good bet to be added in the future.
No. 8: Kemba Walker
Granted permission for thousands of over-35 Celtics fans to dig now-skin-tight Antoine Walker jerseys out of boxes in New England attics to take part in celebratory displays of pale, fleshy appendages festooned with shamrocks, leprechauns and Larry O’Brien trophies.
No. 11: Enes Kanter
The big man took Kyrie Irving’s number, and wasn’t shy about doing so. Show me a person who doesn’t appreciate that and I’ll show you a miserable human.
No. 12: Grant Williams
Williams takes over another one usually reserved for a guard (like Terry Rozier). Since Don Chaney wore it for multiple Boston title teams back in the 70’s, nobody’s donned No. 12 for more than three consecutive seasons. It’s pinballed from Jerry Sichting to Bruce Bowen to Ricky Davis and everywhere in between - Dominique Wilkins, Von Wafer, Chris Herren, Otis Birdsong.
I respect Williams’ hustle, but he’ll also have to outrun the stigma of that number selection.
No. 26, Yante Maten and No. 28: Max Strus
The high 20’s are no-man’s land. God bless you, Phil Pressey.
It'll be tough to make the team from that position.
No. 30: Kaiser Gates
Gates takes this one over from Guerschon Yabusele, whose NBA career was the equivalent of a TKO from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! baddie Von Kaiser. Other than M.L. Carr and Brandon Bass, this one’s tinged with the tragic, like Rasheed Wallace’s season-long jog, Sebastian Telfair’s ill-fated stint at the point, the funky but frustrating Mark Blount, and the Thomas Hamilton audition. This doesn’t bode well for Gates.
No. 43: Javonte Green
No. 43 is usually the domain of big men. Kendrick Perkins was the most notable No. 43, Kris Humphries the most recent, and Rec Specs legend Brett Szabo (or, what my 2K create-a-player would have looked like in 1997 had such a thing existed) sported it for a squad that tanked for Tim Duncan and wound up with Ron Mercer and a raw Chauncey Billups. Gerald Henderson stole the ball wearing No. 43; maybe Green can steal a roster spot.
No. 45: Romeo Langford
The Indiana product says he’s rediscovered his silky jump shot following offseason thumb surgery, which would make him an anomaly for these digits. No. 45 is usually worn by try-hards like Andrew DeClercq or the appropriately nicknamed Gerald “Crash” Wallace. Raef LaFrentz had some range, but Langford better have more than that if he wants minutes during his rookie campaign.
No. 51: Tremont Waters
Bench sage Keyon Dooling wore this during one of my all-time favorite Celtics playoff runs (2012).
Waters was the 51st overall pick in the draft. If he can have a career like Dooling, I think everybody would be happy.
No. 77: Vincent Poirier
Count the Frenchman as the latest Celtic to embrace a number more often seen on a hockey sweater. No. 77 is in the rafters for Ray Bourque, but Poirier will be just the second Celtic to wear it. Off-brand digits aren't all that unusual for international bigs, as you might remember Semih Erden in No. 86, while Luigi Datome delighted fans while wearing No. 70 a few years back.
No. 99: Tacko Fall
The No. 99 is another one belonging to a hockey deity (Wayne Gretzky). Jae Crowder did have a nice three-year run with it earlier this decade; otherwise, it’s been the domain of big men Darko Miličić and Roy Rogers (not the cowboy), who played a combined 10 games in green. Fall will be the latest, and perhaps the greatest, if crowd support is any measure of talent.
Fun fact: Yao Ming is the tallest Hall of Famer at 7-foot-6, followed by Ralph Sampson (7-foot-4) and Arvydas Sabonis (7-foot-3).
More from this week's Celtics notebook...
Slam Ya Like Onyx
Setting aside Jayson Tatum’s 20 points, newfound aggression from Gordon Hayward and a fourth quarter Tacko party, the standout from Sunday’s preseason opener was Javonte Green, who poured in 15 points on perfect shooting in just 10 minutes of play.
Six of his seven baskets were dunks, which wasn't actually all that different from anything we’ve seen out of presumptive Rookie of the Year Zion Williamson. The difference is Williamson has to work his way through layers of defense, while Green did his damage by getting loose from or behind his defenders. We'll see if the Magic pay a bit more attention to Green on Friday night.
The undrafted Radford product worked his way from Spain to Italy to Germany before landing on the summer league roster. He can defend, too. But his 6-foot-5 height and skill set makes it hard to imagine him sticking with this roster, much less getting minutes.
In the interim, Green has three more preseason games to make his case.
Alexa, play “Missing You” by John Waite
Following a gruesome postseason exit and a spate of key free agent departures, I promised myself this season would be all about looking ahead. But I'll always have a soft spot for Al Horford.
The 33-year old will suit up for Philadelphia when season kicks off later this month. After 11 playoff appearances in 12 years, Horford's comments earlier in the week cast an eye on his NBA mortality. The big man's departure was rooted in uncertainty that the Celtics could compete for a title without Kyrie Irving. The specter of the team's collapse last year with Irving didn't help, either.
It's a shame that the 2018-19 season wiped out a stack of good will. The Green impressively managed to land on their feet with Kemba Walker, and Horford seemed to acknowledge that factor may have influenced his decision. It's hard not to think of the impact a two-way big man who can stretch the floor would have on the current roster.
Instead, Brad Stevens and the Celtics will have to gameplan for him less than two weeks from today.