Two things I love ended recently, one suddenly and without warning, the other with months of time to prepare myself, both accompanied by heavy doses of denial which their conclusions cleared away like so much New England snow.
The former, the unceremonious end of the Celtics’ Big Three Era came with the announcement that Rondo had torn his ACL and would be out for the rest of the season; the latter, the end of 30 Rock after seven seasons, had been planned for over a year.
Despite the differing circumstances, the two have an eerie amount in common, most notably the impact they had on the fabric of the larger institutions of which they were a part. The Celtics move to bring three future Hall of Famers together set a league-wide precedent of superstar collusion (looking at you, Heat and Knicks). 30 Rock popularized the format of packing jokes so compactly into a half-hour sitcom that there was no room for a laugh track, which allowed shows of similar ilk to find air time and an audience.
Both these legacies were achieved relatively early in their respective chronologies. For my money, the best season of 30 Rock will always be the second, after the kinks of the show had been worked out, the characters had been fully developed, and the show finally showed its hand in full. It was glorious. Likewise, the Big Three Celtics will always be remembered for the 2008 championship, which was equally glorious, though in a fundamentally different way.
However, 30 Rock’s greatest feat may be the way it maintained its hilarity well beyond what would be reasonable to expect a show of its mania to maintain. It produced as many seasons as many popular generic laugh-track-dependent shows, while producing at least three times as many laughs per episode. It should have burned out. It just kept setting fires.
Likewise, the greatest moment of the Big Three era may not have been its championship, but the title run it mounted two years later, as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Everyone had counted them out, and it was predicted by every major analyst that they would not make it further than the second round. They proceeded, against all odds, to make it to the Finals, where they pushed the Lakers to seven games before coming up short in the last five minutes. Those last five minutes obscure just how fantastic a feat that run was. Just as importantly, by then they were no longer an assembled cast, but a team. They were ours.
The same can be said of the characters in 30 Rock. In fact, admittedly unnecessary analogies could be made between the personnel of the two: Kevin Garnett’s and Tracy Jordan’s catalyzing insanity; Paul Pierce’s deceptively effective old-man game and Liz Lemon’s constant self-deprecating humor both acting as smokescreens for quietly legendary performances; Doc Rivers and Jack Donaghy both steering their respective ships unflinchingly, often in the face of insurmountable odds.
These analogies get thin, and can get thinner. For instance, Ray Allen and Jenna Maroney, a couple divas who needed attention; Rajon Rondo and Kenneth the page, Southern boys who at the outset got no respect but by the end were running the show; Matthew Broderick, Jon Hamm, Tom Hanks, and Buzz Aldrin, all guest stars on 30 Rock, while Stephon Marbury, Michael Finley, Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal were all role players on the Celtics during the Big Three era.
Ultimately, these comparisons are apparent to me not necessarily because of their similarities, but because of the incredible love I have for each thing. Someone with less investment in either will find these comparisons absurd, or at the very least embellishments.
But it is not uncommon to cheer for a bunch of laundry a rotating cast of athletes is paid to wear, or to root for the personal and professional success of fictional characters whose lives we watch in half-hour segments. We love these things without being able to explain why. It’s certainly not because we think they can love us back. As Liz Lemon says in the final episode of 30 Rock, “Because the human heart is not properly connected to the human brain, I love you and I’m going to miss you.”
And she’s right. These things I love, and maybe you also do, have ended, and I will miss them. Time moves through them, and they move through us, and neither of them look back and nothing changes and we are never again the same.