He may be a 14-year veteran in the NBA, one of the senior members of this Celtic team, but in a lot of ways Jermaine O'Neal is just another wide-eyed tourist getting his first taste of Boston. That being the case, he took some time Sunday afternoon to enjoy a typical Bostonian rite of passage with his new Celtic teammates: his first duck boat ride.
Looking back a day later, O'Neal recalled his initial reaction to the boat hitting the water.
"I was thinking, like, 'Man, how fast can I get to these safety jackets?'" O'Neal joked Monday. "The ride wasn't going very well at first."
Eventually the ride smoothed out, though, and O'Neal and his Boston teammates got a taste of scenic Boston.
They're hoping Sunday won't be their last such ride this season.
Duck boats are a part of sporting championship lore in Boston — they evoke images of rolling rallies down Tremont Street before thousands of screaming fans. For the guys who have been around the Celtics since before the championship run of 2008, the memories were all too familiar.
"Guys spoke about it," O'Neal said. "Some of the guys that have been here, guys spoke about it. And for me, as a player, this is my 15th year, man. And when they talk about the fan support, talk about some of the stuff that goes on in this town when they win a championship… I just dream about it."
The Celtics have already taken plenty of opportunities this week to bond off the court. They enjoyed countless meals together in Newport, they were constantly cracking jokes and playing pranks, and they even arranged a screening of the new Robert Downey, Jr. flick "Due Date," which isn't even released to us commonfolk until next month. For a guy like O'Neal, a well-traveled veteran adjusting to a new situation, it's the off-the-court stuff that helps him fit in.
"That's the type of stuff that really brings a team together and really builds that chemistry," he said. "Times are going to get tough over the course of an 82-game season. And those movie dates, those duck boat rides, those luncheons, that's something that I think Doc and the organization do a really good job of. And it's something that I haven't done, quite frankly, over the last three or four years. That's huge."
But the duck boats deserve their own separate category. Movies and meals are fun, but when you're cruising around Boston in one of those vessels, it takes on another meaning entirely. It's about digging deep for motivation — motivation to get back on that boat again in June, celebrating a championship.
For O'Neal and these Celtics, that's still a long way off. But there's a lot to be said for the C's starting this season with their eyes on the ultimate prize.
"All those veteran guys have won championships," O'Neal said. "I'm the only one that hasn't won one. So I'm going to do whatever needs to be done. Just going out there and maybe not even taking a shot. Getting rebounds, blocking shots, taking charges — whatever it is, that's what I'm going to do. Because you don't get this opportunity very often. And we're in this situation where we have a two- or a three-year plan. Guys might not be playing in two or three years, they may be retired and off to the next part of their lives. We want to take full advantage of this."
Every ride is a little bumpy at first. Whether you're climbing into a boat or starting a new chapter in your NBA career, it's always natural to start out with some jitters.
But the ride eventually smooths out. Jermaine O'Neal is hoping to sail from here to his first championship ring.
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