WALTHAM, Mass. — Either somebody was messing with the thermostat, or Shabazz Napier experienced every pole of emotion in a matter of minutes.
It sounds like it was the latter.
Napier, just months removed from leading UConn to the NCAA men’s basketball championship, headlined six 2014 NBA draft hopefuls to work out for the Boston Celtics on Monday. The Roxbury, Mass., native has eight pre-draft workouts scheduled, but this one ranked well above the rest.
“I came in last night to shoot a little bit and for a good five, 10 minutes, I just looked around at the banners,” Napier said, gesturing to the original championship banners that line the walls at the Celtics’ practice facility. (The ones at TD Garden are mostly replicas.) “It’s just a warm feeling. Rooting for the Celtics growing up, when you’re a Boston fan, you get those chills. It took me a few minutes to realize I was actually here.”
Despite the swing from warm-and-fuzzy to goosebumps, Monday’s workout was actually Napier’s third time here, with Sunday’s shootaround being the second. The first came when he was very young, attending an Antoine Walker camp. Needless to say, Napier remembers the lean years as well as the era of perennial title contention with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
He has a familiarity with the Celtics and their fan base that few other players can appreciate. One of his workout mates Monday asked Napier why fans were crying when Pierce was wheeled off the floor during the 2008 NBA Finals.
“I was like, ‘Hey man, that’s Boston,'” Napier said. “You won’t ever understand it until you’ve played in Boston or you’ve lived in Boston. That’s just how we are. We love our teams. There’s no bandwagon fans in Boston. Whether we have a great year or not, we’re going to support them like it’s the best team we’ve got.”
“He was just like, ‘Man, Boston’s crazy,'” Napier added. “I said, ‘That’s just what we are.'”
Napier and the Celtics might admire each other from afar, but it is unlikely the marriage will take place on draft night. Napier is projected to go slightly lower than the Celtics’ second pick at No. 17, no matter how much his family and friends are rooting for him to get drafted by “the only team they know.”
Rooting for a team other than the Celtics might be difficult for them, but Napier said he will quickly adjust. As a competitor, he joked that he wouldn’t shave points or make any plays to intentionally help the Celtics as an opponent. But he admitted part of him will always be the kid who grew up a Celtics fan, just a few T stops from the Garden.
“Of course,” Napier said. “I wouldn’t be able to say I bleed green if I didn’t say that. In the back of my mind, if the Celtics are in a championship game and my team’s not playing, of course I’m going to root for them. That’s who I am. I’ve been brought up in this destiny. When people say ‘Boston,’ I just say, home of champions — Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics. That’s just something we’re brought up in from a young age. I wouldn’t be able to say I’m from Boston if I wouldn’t root for them.”
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