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Cigars, champagne and ski goggles: Inside the Celtics' unforgettable locker-room celebration

Andrew Callahan, Boston Herald on

Published in Basketball

BOSTON — It’s late Monday night, less than an hour after the Celtics clinched their latest championship by blowing out the Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The postgame party at TD Garden is underway.

In the back of Boston’s champagne-soaked locker room, a tall, slender man stands for a few moments above the fray in a navy blazer and black undershirt.

He watches, through team-distributed ski goggles, all of the champagne pop; every puff of smoke emerge from each cigar; dozens of Celtics players and coaches and managers and staffers and front-office members celebrate together in a space that’s easily at double capacity, while music blares and vibes soar to an all-time high after the long-awaited arrival of Banner 18.

His name is Benas Matkevicius, and he is Boston’s international scout. Matkevicius is simultaneously celebrating his 10-year work anniversary, a stint that began when he met Celtics assistant GM Austin Ainge in Poland. Work keeps him overseas for half the year, sending him sometimes as far as Australia and often chasing basketball talent all over Europe.

But tonight, for a little while, the chase is over. Matkevicius is still.

That is, except for the moments he’s posing with the Larry O’Brien trophy and his beloved Lithuanian flag. Or taking pictures with colleagues. Or folding his open hands over his face in disbelief. Or downing separate sips of tequila and wine, then beer.

What’s next? Who knows. Who cares? He is a Celtic, which means tonight is his night for as long as he can hold on. From the back of the locker room, this is what he sees.

As reporters invade the oval sanctum from one end at 11:45 p.m, Celtics players bounce in the middle of the room in a tight huddle. Most wear black NBA Finals T-shirts and white championship hats. Some wear ski goggles. Jaylen Brown does not, but nothing can hurt him now, standing in the middle of the huddle, cradling his Finals MVP trophy.

A table holding Michelob Ultra bottles and champagne rests on the left side of the room at hip height. Opposite the table, on the other side of the huddle, tubs filled with ice, more booze and beverages sit on the floor. Clear plastic tarps hang over the walls.

The room is packed, like a college bar on $5 pitcher night that doesn't charge cover or give a damn about fire codes.

Freed from his press conference, Joe Mazzulla joins the party. He's dry — for now — and well-prepared.

Goggles strapped tight to his face, Mazzulla stops for a brief interview with longtime NBA reporter Rachel Nichols. Mazzulla's young son stands in front of him, and once the interview is over, beer rains down on the little boy. Mazzulla holds his son from behind, a hand on each shoulder, then bends at the waist and cranes his neck to see if he's OK.

All smiles.

Kristaps Porzingis swings through the back side, conductor of the crowd. He dances with a Miller Lite in one hand, then points to a friend, who breaks down himself. From a distance, a member of the Celtics' PR team points at Porzingis, indicating it's time for his press conference.

Porzingis wags a finger back: no.

So Brown is next. But it takes an NBA communications staffer three attempts to pull him from the party. Between tries, Brown daps people up, stops for a picture, extends for a hug and stares into someone's phone. It could be for a photo or FaceTime or livestream.

 

Again, who knows. Who cares?

Brown still holds his MVP trophy close, and takes his exit.

Enter Charles Lee. Boston's top assistant, and soon-to-be Hornets head coach, raises a championship wrestling belt bearing the Celtics logo high above his head with one arm. He lets out a scream, primal and victorious, as beer sprays from a shaken can a few yards away.

Some of that beer may have reached owner Wyc Grousbeck, who stops puffing from his victory cigar to conduct a couple interviews with print and TV reporters. His blazer and white button-down are drenched. Boston's most popular sports owner, the man who recently declared he will "be paid in parades.” is literally soaking it all in.

Meanwhile, the Larry O'Brien trophy pings around the room, like the ball on a second-half Celtics possession in Game 5. The Celtics are still in a flow state. But Derrick White turns into an out-of-character ball stopper.

He grips the trophy with both hands curled underneath its base and leans old Larry against his chest. White won't let go for minutes. Not for pictures or interviews or the passersby he greets with his eyes and a smile, flashing his newly chipped front tooth. His grip stays tight.

Perhaps White has taken one of the locker-room mantras a little too seriously. At the front of the room, above the white board where Mazzulla scribbles his halftime adjustments, three words are engraved: Every Possession Matters.

Below, a more important message now lives half-erased: noon flight to Miami. The Celtics' plane leaves tomorrow.

First-round rookie Jordan Walsh looks ready for South Beach. He has two unlit cigars poking out of his mouth, while ex-Celtics forward Grant Williams, who has the undistinguished honor of being traded by both Finals teams in the last 12 months, pops in. So does Harry Giles III, a 2017 first-round pick, two-way player with the Lakers and longtime friend of Jayson Tatum.

Then Porzingis returns and submits to an interview in Spanish for ESPN. Like Porzingis, backup center Luke Kornet meets with reporters in the middle of a champagne storm. He patiently takes questions for more than five minutes, bending over each time to listen amid the surrounding noise, then stands back up while delivering a thoughtful answer.

Kornet describes the night as an out-of-body experience.

The party rolls on, close to 1 a.m., but it's announced the media must leave. The Celtics will continue dancing and drinking, hugging and holding the trophy all by themselves, long into the night and later this week.

Even for the most storied franchise in NBA history, the taste of victory is still sweet. And the smell, of course, is a lit cigar.

How about the color? There's no question.

For the 18th time, it's Celtics green.


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