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Celtics enjoy sights, sounds and hope for win in London

Boston Herald

January 10. 2018 11:44PM
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) drives to the basket during last week's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third quarter at TD Garden. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

LONDON — A self-described French YouTube star named Wass, two-man video crew in tow, pretended to play a riff on his unplugged electric guitar while mugging for the camera with Jaylen Brown following Tuesday’s Celtics practice.

Marcus Smart gave the wild-haired, bearded Wass a once over, then made eye contact with Brown and shook his head in a faux pout. Assistant coach Jamie Young, standing next to Smart, also shook his head.

“This is weird,” Young said. “I’m getting out of here.”

And so the C’s were welcomed back to Europe, this time in that underdeveloped NBA market of England, for another round as a participant in the NBA Global Games.

Though the English aren’t nearly as far along as NBA fans in nations like Spain and Italy, today’s game between the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers at O2 Arena has long been sold out. And as one of the most popular teams in Europe, the C’s are once again on the international trail, two seasons after playing the Sacramento Kings in Mexico City and touring Italy and Spain during the exhibition season.

Coach Brad Stevens used the opportunity to break out his deadpan humor when asked how far he thinks the C’s can go this season.

“Well, London’s the furthest. (Los Angeles) probably next. I don’t know after that,” Stevens said jokingly.

Kyrie Irving was asked what he wanted to see in England.

“Architecture, culture,” Irving said. “I mean everything, kind of. It’s just so new being here, so hopefully we get a chance to experience it.”

Ask and ye shall receive. With England and Australia currently engaged in a cricket tournament known as “The Ashes,” Irving, somewhat surprisingly a first-time visitor, was asked if he had ever heard of the series.

“I have no idea,” he said of a national rivalry that is over 100 years old and features a trophy urn that contains the ashes of the wickets from the first match.

But Irving welcomes this sort of thing. As a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, 2014 FIBA World Cup MVP and gold medalist, and someone who came up through USA Basketball’s under-18 program, Irving is accustomed to the role of basketball ambassador.

“I’m an ambassador to just life in general,” he said. “But just growing the game globally is something when you come into this game you have to take advantage of — that opportunity and that platform that you’re afforded. And when you’re able and afforded the opportunity to travel you just want to be enriched with the people around the world as much as you can, and that’s what I try to do. Just the world of sport has a unique way of connecting individuals all over the world. But when you’re in a specific sport such as basketball and you see the way you can connect with others, it has a tremendous impact on different cultures around the world.

“I’ve had the unique opportunity to be a part of some of those trips with the NBA, with Unicef. It’s been awesome and I take advantage of it every single time, and I’m always appreciative.”

Stevens, too, has been a part of basketball’s long reach, dating to his time at Butler University. In the summer of 2014, he went to South Africa with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program.

“It’s always great to be able to participate in events all over the world through the game,” Stevens said. “I’ve been really lucky to do that, even when I was a Division III player (at DePauw University). It’s a special opportunity to travel abroad and play and then obviously to be with these guys and see the interest that they generate is fun to see. The NBA has done a great job of, I think, being a good steward to the game of basketball all over the map. Having a chance to have the Madrid and Milan experience, where you see all those Celtics jerseys. A couple of summers ago going to Johannesburg with the NBA Cares and seeing the impact that the players have there. And then obviously all the media attention here today — it’s not your typical day in Waltham as far as media scrums go.

“You can tell it’s a fun impact to be a part of, as far as basketball goes, but we have a game to focus on and we’ve got to try to play well.”