Celtics

Sports and the Afterlife: What happens when careers die?

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Sports and the Afterlife: What happens when careers die?

Do you believe in heaven?

No, wait. Dont answer that. At least not here. But if youre at all interested in that tiny little issue of what happens after we die, check out this story in Newsweek Magazine.

It was written by neurosurgeon (and former closet atheist) Dr. Eben Alexander, who had a near-death experience back in 2008 and now claims, with astonishing certainty and indirect neurological evidence, that heaven is not only a playground, a cornfield in Iowa and a monster ballad by Bryan Adams, but also a real thing.

He was there. Or so he says.

After reading, its up to you to decide whether Dr. Alexander has actually solved one of the life's great mysteries or is just a manipulative windbag, but either way, the story will make you think. When youre done, youll want forward it to your friends, troll through the comment section, maybe even mention it in a blog you write for a regional sports network. Then youll go back and think about it some more.

Anyway, after I carried out the steps above, it was time to get back to sports, but in this case, it was difficult. And there was really only one topic that made sense: The Sports Afterlife.

Not what happens to athletes after they die, but what happens after their careers do. When they're faced with an eternity outside of the only life they've ever known.

It's obviously a huge issue in the NFL, as former players are being haunted by all sorts of mental and physical issues, but I'm not touching that aspect of the conversation right now. For this post, I'm thinking about the mere act of walking away; about taking the podium the way Kevin Faulk did yesterday afternoon at Gillette and Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Matt Light all did this past year and saying goodbye to your life as a professional athlete.

After all, for some of these guys, the concept of retirement is as terrifying as death itself.

"There's just not much else out there," Tom Brady said last week, when asked about how long he plans to play. "Other than my family, it's like the abyss, you know? There's nothing else."

It was a pretty morbid statement from the typically lighthearted, borderline-hokey QB, but you can understand where he's coming from. I mean, imagine you're 36 or 37 years old, and someone tells you that your greatest skill and ultimate passion in life no longer exists. Imagine you're a wildly successful artist who's now only allowed to help your child do paint-by-numbers. Imagine you're an accomplished saxophone player, who suddenly has all his instruments replaced by the plastic recorders they sell at Wal-Mart. Imagine how much that would suck.

And it does suck. While there's plenty to envy about the lives that these athletes live, I'd don't envy having to retire in your mid-to-late 30s and not just from a job, but from something that you absolutely love.

Of course, some athletes make a seamless transition into the afterlife. For instance, Rob Bradford has a story this morning on JD Drew, who to no one's surprise hasn't missed a beat since leaving baseball. But guys like Drew are in the minority. That's why we see so many athletes go into coaching or TV and bend over backwards to stay in the game. Not just for the limelight, but so they can still be apart of it; because it's the only life they want to live. I've made this comparison before, but it's like that old SNL skit with Tracy Morgan and Jim Breuer: "Wong and Owens, Ex Porn Stars." Sports is all they know!

It's funny, if you think back over the last five years in Boston sports, which three athletes would you say were the ones most criticized for not caring about the game, or not always trying as hard as they should?

Over the last few seasons, I guess Josh Beckett became the poster boy for that, but before him there are three names that stick out for me:

Rasheed Wallace, Manny Ramirez and Randy Moss.

Wallace retired in 2010. Manny retired in the spring of 2011. Moss retired later that summer.

Not one of them could stay away.

Manny's comeback with the A's failed, and he's since found God to help cope with his life after baseball.

Moss signed with the 49ers, and has been a near non-factor he's caught only nine balls in five games and was targeted only twice in Sunday's win over Buffalo. But while this used to equal a Moss Meltdown, this year he's (at least according to Jim Harbaugh) been a model teammate, a consummate pro.

And last month, Wallace signed with the Knicks. While we have no clue how it will turn out, or if Wallace will try any harder or be in any better shape than he was with the Celtics, it's obvious that life away from basketball wasn't right for him.

It didn't work for any of these guys. You can imagine how much the idea of retirement haunts guys like Brady.

Players like him don't need the afterlife. As far as they're concerned, this is already heaven.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Challenges big and small for Celtics tonight

Challenges big and small for Celtics tonight

BOSTON – In the NBA, some teams are built to play small ball with three guards as starters.

Others are constructed to go big with talented, high-impact big men.

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And then there’s the New Orleans Pelicans, who seem to start games with both at the same time.

Dealing with New Orleans’ non-traditional starting lineup will be one of the many challenges awaiting the Celtics tonight.

While the Pelicans’ atypical starting five may not necessarily be ideal, there’s no arguing against its effectiveness.

New Orleans starts games with a three-guard lineup that includes 6-foot-1 Rajon Rondo with Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore who are both 6-4 guards. They are joined by the twin terrors – to opposing defenses at least – of 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins and 6-10 Anthony Davis.

They have been New Orleans’ most successful five-man unit, posting a 12-8 record this season. It’s one of the biggest reasons they are come in sixth in the Western Conference at 22-20, trailing Oklahoma City (24-20) by one game.

Boston has played its share of non-traditional lineups under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Like the Pelicans, the key for Boston to do so successfully lies in the versatility of their power forward.

For New Orleans, that would be Davis.

The Celtics rely on Al Horford to provide a similar element of versatility.

“Last year, we started Amir [Johnson, now with Philadelphia] with Al,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Kelly [Olynyk, now in Miami] played a lot with Al. I think what Al allows you to do, is he gives you another guy that shoots like a traditional guard so he can play both spots and his ability to defend fours [power forwards] allows him to play with anybody.”

How Horford handles his rotating assignments defensively will be among the challenges Boston will contend with tonight.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep tabs on tonight:

REUNION TIME
We have seen this season how former Celtics return to the TD Garden to light up the Green Team, and tonight’s game is full of potential candidates to keep the tradition set by Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko (Utah) alive and well. Among the ex-Celtics on the Pelicans roster are E’Twaun Moore and Rajon Rondo who are both slated to start tonight. New Orleans roster also includes former Celtics Tony Allen (left fibula fracture) and Jameer Nelson (personal) who are both listed as out tonight.

PASSING BIG MEN
You won’t ever mistake Horford for Cousins, but the two big men do have at least one thing in common: passing. While both have shown the ability to score (Cousins on a much grander, more consistent scale for sure), one of their biggest strengths is their ability to get teammates involved offensively. Horford averages 5.3 assists per game, which would be tops among all centers, but most of Horford’s playing time this season has come as a power forward. Still, 5.3 assists per game are impressive enough to rank fifth among all forwards this season. As for centers, Cousins’ 5.1 per game is indeed the pace-setter for the rest of the league’s centers.

ANTHONY DAVIS
With Davis’ size, athleticism and versatility, he is one of the select few players whose game has very few holes in it. And while he can score from just about any spot on the floor, keeping Davis in the mid-range zone offensively is key. According to nba.com, Davis is shooting 39.3 percent on mid-range shots this season. That’s not horrible, but it is a noticeable drop-off from what he does at the rim in the restricted area (75.8 percent), in the paint non-restricted area (50.8 percent) and on corner 3’s (54.5 percent).

ON THE REBOUND
Often the clearest indicator of Boston’s success lies in how well the Celtics rebound. In their current seven-game winning streak, rebounding – surprise, surprise – has been one of their strengths. In the past seven games, Boston has averaged 47.9 rebounds per game. The only team with a higher average in that span is the Los Angeles Lakers (49.3). In addition, Boston is grabbing 50.9 percent of available rebounds, which ranks ninth in the NBA during the seven-game winning streak.

TATUM MINUTES ADD UP
As a rookie last season, Jaylen Brown logged 1,341 regular-season minutes, which was pretty good for a first-year player on a team pegged before his arrival as a playoff-caliber club. Fast forward to this season and another Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum. Despite having played in 44 games this season (Brown appeared in 78 games as a rookie last year), Tatum has literally played more than Brown, with 1,362 minutes already logged. The left knee stiffness that kept him out of practice Saturday was determined to not be an issue, but it’s worth monitoring his health as his impact – and minutes played – continue to rise.

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the Pelicans at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview:  C's depth will be tested by New Orleans big men

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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