"Celtic Pride": White Nostalgia and Working-Class Masculinity in 1970s Professional Basketball
Advisorde Jong, Greta
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In the 1970s, the Boston Celtics were widely regarded as the pinnacle of “white” basketball, a style of play that emphasized teamwork, intelligence, efficiency, hard work, grit, and selflessness. They were upheld as a bulwark against the invasion and takeover of the NBA by “black” basketball. If the Celtics and “white” basketball represented everything good and honorable about the league, “black” basketball—and the players and teams who embodied it—represented everything wrong and morally abhorrent about the league. So-called “black” style players were flashy, self-centered, egotistical, greedy, and blessed with a supposedly “natural” athletic ability they had done nothing to earn. There are striking similarities between how the media framed the Celtics, its players, and opposing teams and the rhetoric used to articulate white, working-class anxieties that came to dominate the 1970s political landscape; both white working-class men and the Celtics were framed as underdogs, under attack from the forces of change, and ultimately needing to rely upon working-class masculine values to compete with the unfair “special advantages” given to blacks, whether welfare or innate athletic ability. The Celtics ultimately represented a bastion of white working-class masculinity, an athletic utopia in which hard work, toughness, and dedication could still lead to success and recognition. They also represented the ability of white men, through sheer determination and force of will, to overcome the “special advantages” granted to blacks—whether by the government, in the form of welfare and affirmative action, or by genetics, in the form of innate, unearned athletic ability. I argue that the narrative imposed by the media on the Boston Celtics, its players, and its opponents was the product of the unique political, social, and cultural developments of the 1970s and of those in Boston more specifically.