When the clock neared midnight on Tuesday and the last seconds were squeezed from the NBA Finals, Kevin Garnett a 13-year veteran, 11-time all-star, former most valuable player, and no one's fool made his way through the confetti and the noise to prostrate himself at midcourt of the TD Banknorth Garden and kiss the leprechaun-in-the-circle logo of the Boston Celtics.
There are several ways one could look at this, but Garnett, in the emotion of the moment, in the sweet fulfillment of his longing for a championship, couldn't be faulted.
What it was, indeed, was an impressive reminder that competitive desire is powerful. If you get the right players together for the right reason, even the best of them can lay themselves out prone on occasion for the good of the cause.
"It's like that bully that you go to school with every day (and) you know you're going to see him as soon as you walk through the doors," Garnett said, speaking of his long, frustrating wait for a championship with the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Then one day, you say, 'This is going to stop today.' You walk in ... and (knock him) out. It's like getting rid of the bully."
Garnett would have been happy to free himself of the bully during his time with the Timberwolves, would have gladly crawled through the madness to kiss the lupine logo in Minneapolis. The same goes for Ray Allen and the 11 seasons he spent seeking a shot at a championship with Milwaukee and Seattle. If Glenn Robinson had been able to hit an eight-foot baseline jumper in 2001, Allen might have gotten the chance that season instead of the 76ers.
Then there is Paul Pierce, whose fortune it was to join the most storied franchise in NBA history during a span in which it would record 11 losing seasons in 14 years. The nadir may have arrived in the 2006-07 season, when the once-proud Celtics appeared to tank the end of the schedule, finished with just 24 wins, and were looking for salvation from general manager Danny Ainge, whose previous five years on the job didn't lend much promise to that hope. Without a lot of fuss, Pierce requested that the team either get some better players or allow him to leave in a trade.
So, how did all of that conspire to lead the Boston Celtics to their 17th title on the 17th day of the month, to get happily drenched in that rain of green confetti, and what, if anything, can other teams in the league learn about how to get there themselves?
Someone asked coach Doc Rivers that very question Tuesday night. Even after the team traded the fifth pick in last year's draft and two players to get Allen from Seattle, and even after it traded five players and two future first-round picks to Minnesota to get Garnett even after those two bombs fell how did Rivers make it work? His answer was canny, and a little world-weary, if you know anything about professional athletes and their usual motivations.
"Well, I just think we got them at the right time, honestly," Rivers said.
It was that more than anything, just time and place coming together. Being good is fine, but being lucky is the key.
"You get three guys who have accomplished everything in their careers except for that, and we talked about it a lot," Rivers said. "You know, their money can buy everything except for the trophy."
The Celtics were lucky with who the players turned out to be, with how willing they were to put the result ahead of the methods, but putting the team together required more than just luck. It took amazing courage and that is the real lesson for the other teams. You have to be willing to fail horribly.
This could have exploded in Ainge's face. He took the second-youngest team in the NBA and transformed it into the fourth-oldest. He sold away much of the future to purchase this one chance.
To win the championship, ultimately, the Celtics had to play 108 games, the most in league history. The playoffs, which required a record 26 games for Boston, were a full third of a season. The Celtics got through the eight-month grind without significant injuries to their three core players, however.
Perhaps no other team could have pulled off this kind of makeover. The situation was unique. Could the Sixers have done this for Allen Iverson at some point? We'll never know, except we know that they didn't. Not every team has the guts to deal away most of its roster, or the timing to do so when rebuilding teams are willing to dump superstars still in their prime.
Some general managers are handcuffed by the mistakes of their predecessors, which is part of the challenge faced by the Sixers' Ed Stefanski, who is preparing for Thursday's draft. If the Larry Brown/Billy King front office hadn't passed on Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki in the 1998 draft to take Larry Hughes, things might have turned out differently.
Certainly, they would have been different for Pierce, whose long wait ended on Tuesday and, like dominoes falling, for Garnett and Allen as well.
This is a dynasty that doesn't seem destined to last very long, but at least it arrived, and it lasted long into the Boston night to the accompanying music of shouts and fireworks and car horns.
For the Celtics, so down so recently, it was the coming together of time and place. Like them or not, it was nice to see that such a thing can actually happen, and maybe it could even happen somewhere else, too.