Something unfortunate happened during the final minutes of the 2nd quarter in Game 4 of the first round playoff series between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Perhaps in response to Boston’s Kelly Olynyk’s loose ball foul which resulted in a dislocated shoulder for Cavs starting forward Kevin Love, Cleveland’s Kendrick Perkins set a very hard screen on Boston’s Jae Crowder and proceeded to taunt Crowder, disrespectfully putting his finger in his face in what came just shy of a punch.
With the altercation that followed, which somehow the referees, coaches, and players with cooler heads managed to de-escalate before it got out of hand, all of a sudden Kendrick Perkins entered rarefied Boston air. Once beloved for his role as the starting center on the Celtics’ 2008 Championship team, he effectively made what’s known in professional wrestling as a “heel turn,” or in layman’s terms became a villain. Of course when it’s all said and done Celtics Nation will always love Perk’s grittiness and value his contributions to the team that raised Banner #17 up to the Garden rafters, but for the foreseeable future fans now have a reason to root against him. The fans booed him when he was on the court for the remainder of Game 4, and knowing how Boston fans love to hang on to these types of slights, it’s a safe bet to presume he’ll be booed again. Who does Kendrick Perkins join among the ranks of once beloved then hated by Boston Sports fans? Let’s take a look.
No other player on this list exemplifies the hero to villain turn more than “The Rocket” Roger Clemens. A three-time Cy Young Award winner with the Red Sox, the 1986 AL MVP recorded two 20 strikeout games (still an MLB record) and led them to four AL East pennants during his 12 years in Boston. Simply put, in the 80’s Clemens was the Red Sox. He was the face of Red Sox Nation and in the eyes of Sox fans could do no wrong. Despite his dominance in the 80s, by the mid-90s Clemens productivity had waned to the point where then Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette famously proclaimed that “The Rocket” was in the “twilight” of his career. This seems to have motivated Roger to
take steroids rededicate himself to his workout regiment and in 1996 he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he would have a career resurrection, winning two straight Cy Young Awards and the pitching Triple Crown (leading the AL in wins, strikeouts, and ERA) in 1999.
But it wasn’t until he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he would win two World Series titles, that he became hated in Boston. It was bad enough that he was an average pitcher during his last few years in Boston and then all of a sudden he regained Cy Young form in Toronto. Becoming a member of the Yankees however was the final straw, and that he won two championships there only added fuel to the flames. He would be booed repeatedly at Fenway during his time with the Yankees, and everything crested during the 2003 American League Championship Series when in the midst of a very passionate and competitive game, Clemens and then Sox outfielder Manny “Being Manny” Ramirez almost came to fisticuffs over a high and inside fastball that went over Manny’s head. Throw in all the the alleged performance enhancing drug use and Boston’s once superhero pitcher is nothing more than a hated shell of his former self in the eyes of most Bostonians. Ouch.
Ray Allen was the gunslinger of the Boston Celtics’ 2008 Championship team. Acquired on draft night in 2007 in a move that ensures Kevin Garnett would waive his no-trade clause in Minnesota to complete a new Big 3 in Boston, Ray Allen was the three-point threat that made those Celtics very difficult to guard. His work ethic was highly regarded, he was popular in the community, and he produced on the court. He teamed up with KG and Paul Pierce to help end the Celtics’ 23 year Championship drought. He was primed to go down as a Boston Sports legend. Then he signed with the rival Miami Heat at the end of the 2012 season, right on the heels of Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. To add salt to the leprechaun’s wound, he actually took less money to play in Miami. It was unforgivable and in his first appearance in Boston as a member of the Heat he was booed resoundingly.
A mere one game short of beating the rival Heat to earn what would’ve been their third Finals appearance in six years, rather than reloading and taking the fight to Miami, Ray Allen decided to join the enemy instead. For Celtics Nation, it didn’t matter that Ray felt slighted for constantly being the center of trade talks throughout his time in Boston, or that he and Rajon Rondo couldn’t get along. It mattered even less that he may have felt a way about being replaced by Avery Bradley in the starting line up. Just go out there and play Ray, we were winning games! We almost got to the FINALS AGAIN! The icing on the Ray hate cake was when he made that famous late game three pointer that saved Game 6 of the 2012 Finals for the Heat en route to the franchise’s third Championship. That was a stomach punch to all Celtics fans that intensified the ill feelings towards Allen. Damn Ray…
Tim Thomas was the anchor to the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup victory. In hockey, they say if you have the “hot goalie” in the playoffs, you’ll win the championship. In 2011, Thomas was definitely the “hot goalie.” His play during that memorable playoff run was nothing short of spectacular, and images of his hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head will last forever in Bruins’ lore. His decision to not join his teammates at the White House to celebrate the Cup in June of 2012 left a foul taste in the mouth of many fans. He politicized the gesture, choosing to use his absence as a platform to criticize the Federal Government for what he believes is a Washington-led attack on civil liberties. Whereas admittedly Boston is an historically democratic city, it wasn’t politics that was at the root of why Bruins fans and Bostonians in general reacted to negatively to Thomas’ stance.
It was about ruining the moment. It was about Thomas putting his own political beliefs above the concept of Team and above celebrating the city’s first Cup in nearly four decades. Politics aside, Bruins fans felt this was a classless, selfish act and by the time age, injuries, and cap room considerations all led to the Bruins trading Tim Thomas to the New York Islanders in early 2013, to many it felt like he had already overstayed his welcome, Stanley Cup or not. It’s hard out there for a goalie…
Johnny Damon became a fan favorite during his time with the Boston Red Sox. A scrappy center fielder who played good defense and had some power at the plate, he endeared himself to fans with his gritty play and charismatic personality. Always popular with the ladies during his Red Sox days, in 2003 he was one of the faces of the “Cowboy Up” rallying cry that became the lasting legacy of those Red Sox who ultimately fell short to the Yankees in the ALCS. The following year Damon was instrumental in helping the Sox complete the greatest comeback in postseason history as Boston would overcome an 0-3 deficit in the 2004 ALCS, winning four straight over the Yankees to win the pennant. Damon and the Sox would go on to break an 86 year World Series curse as Boston celebrated its first title since 1918.
Much like Ray Allen, Johnny Damon was set up for a lifetime of Boston Sports lore, but alas such notoriety is fleeting. Johnny Damon would sign with the rival New York Yankees in 2005. In his first at bat back in Boston after signing with New York, as to be expected, he was promptly booed by the Fenway faithful. Johnny would have the last laugh however, as he helped the Bronx Bombers to a World Series victory in 2009. As such, among Red Sox fans Damon’s often remembered more for being a traitor who defected to the Yankees than an integral part of the 2004 World Series Team. You had it all Johnny, but you blew it. Damn your pinstripes.
Future Villain – Rajon Rondo
The dynamic between professional athletes and fans is a complicated, touchy one indeed. As the four men discussed above prove, just because a player is heralded by a fan base one day does not mean that status cannot be revoked, especially in a sport’s city as rich in tradition and mercurial as Boston. In fact, I’m willing to predict that the next member of this beloved to reviled club will be none other than Kendrick Perkin’s Boston teammate and best friend on the 2008 Championship squad, starting point guard Rajon Rondo. Traded from Boston before the 2015 February trade deadline to the Mavericks, Rondo’s stubborn ways which caused some issues in Boston really got the best of him in Dallas. Used to being the dominant ball handler during his glory days in Boston, Rondo struggled mightily to fit in to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle’s ball movement based offense and the two would butt heads more than once, to the point where even Carlisle has publicly stated Rondo’s played his last game as a Maverick.
The Dallas meltdown alone doesn’t make Rondo a Boston villain, but given that many expect him to join Kobe Bryant by signing with the arch rival Los Angeles Lakers (the team he helped defeat in the 2008 NBA Finals), it’s only a matter of time before Celtics Nation brands him a bad guy. We did our best to to put up with Rondo’s sometimes difficult personality while he was on the Celtics, especially given how well he typically played. It was harder to do so when injuries caused his productivity to drop. We weren’t surprised when it didn’t work out in Dallas and pretty much looked the other way; he wasn’t our problem to deal with any more. But joining the hated Kobe Bryant on the hated Lakers and having ANY measure of success there will definitely rile up Celtics Nation. In the modern era, there hasn’t been a prime time contributor on the Celtics who’s left and ended up on the Lakers. If/when this happens, it’s hard to imagine Celtics fans not turning on Rondo; at least as long as he remains a Laker. How about that? It’s very possible that three of the five starters on the Celtics ’08 Championship team would end up making heel turns. Such is the fickleness of Boston Sports.