BOSTON — From 1993-2007, the iconic Boston Celtics, once the greatest dynasty in North American sports history (sorry, New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens), were as irrelevant as the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Those 14 years brought Celtic fans the stunning death of young All-Star Reggie Lewis, slick Rick Pitino's arrogance, Antoine Walker's hideous shot selection and irritating "Walker Wiggle", and draft day heartache with Tim Duncan ending up in San Antonio, where he is favored to win his fifth NBA title in the coming weeks.
Then, on the heels of that disastrous 24-58 2006-07 season, Danny Ainge made a pair of shrewd deals that had to have Red Auerbach smiling from up above.
He dealt the fifth pick in the 2007 draft along with Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak for Ray Allen, a brilliant long-distance shooter who had recently undergone surgery on both ankles.
Two months later, Ainge swapped young scoring machine Al Jefferson and a lot more in a record-setting 7-for-1 blockbuster deal for disgruntled Minnesota star Kevin Garnett and his massive contract.
Voila, the "New Big 3" was born. And it still lives after last night's gutty 85-75 win over the hungry, young Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Sadly for New Englanders, it may end soon as next up is the Miami Heat with the incomparable duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
That would be the upset of all upsets, but with these three, you never know.
It would be sacrilege around these parts to claim this group was the equal of the original Big 3 (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish).
But this was the next best thing with a title, two appearances in the NBA finals, and five straight years making at least the Eastern Conference semis. This is Year 5 of what was supposed to be a three-year project.
It has been quite a run for Allen, Garnett and 14-year Celtic Paul Pierce, three perennial All-Stars who all had the reputation for being unable to win the big one.
Pierce had 15 points and 9 rebounds last night, KG was immense with 18 and 13 and Allen, who couldn't buy a basket most of the way, hit two big late 3-pointers.
Pierce is signed for two more years but Garnett and Allen are free agents after this season. Given their advanced ages — Pierce (34) is old by NBA standards while Garnett (36) and Allen (nearly 37) are positively ancient — the odds are slim to none all three will be back.
Yahoo Sports reported both Pierce and Allen were nearly dealt before the April trade deadline.
Whenever it ends, there will be so many fond memories for Celtic fans.
That first year, the terrific trio led Boston to the 2008 title, stomping the hated Los Angeles Lakers. It snapped a seemingly interminable 22-year championship drought for a franchise which believewd that a title every couple years was a birthright.
In a sport known for oversized men with oversized egos, these three veterans put their egos in check so each could finally get that coveted championship ring.
Pierce's years in Boston were controversial. In six years together, he and Walker only won two playoff series and infuriated fans with their record number of 3-point shots. They combined for 14.3 3-point tries a game in the 2001-02 season. Pierce was nearly stabbed to death at a Boston club in September 2000. He embarrassed the proud franchise with some childish playoff antics.
But in 2008, he stared down the great Kobe Bryant en route to playoff MVP honors against his hometown Lakers. He's now the old-school veteran with a big heart and a penchant for hitting game-winners like Bird used to.
Perfected through his obsessive-compulsive work ethic, Allen's jump shot is such a thing of beauty it belongs in the Louvre. He set the league's all-time 3-point shot record and he's been so popular that even his omnipresent mother has taken on cult status. A favorite of the female fans, the classy Allen is Hollywood handsome and starred with Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's 1998 film "He Got Game."
The wild-eyed hyperactive Garnett is the snarling, growling heartbeat of the franchise. He might be the league's top defensive big man since the incomparable Bill Russell was leading the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 seasons.
After a couple down years, he's the one still playing at an All-Star level as Pierce (knee) and Allen (ankle) struggled through injuries to keep pace with the quicker, younger Sixers.
Time and again the three future Hall of Famers confounded the critics. If I had a nickel for every time I've written "R.I.P. Big 3" I'd be richer than the Big 3!
With young jet Rajon Rondo and Garnett leading the way, the Big 3 era will continue.
It will end soon, but the New big 3 will always hold a especial place in Bostonians' hearts for reviving a dead franchise and spearheading a five-year run which even the original Big 3 would be proud of.