By Grant Avalon
This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.
In 2001, many months before my Seattle Mariners’ playoff drought began, Disney Channel warmed our hearts with the feel-good basketball flick The Luck of the Irish. Ryan Merriman (Pretty Little Liars, Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader) starred as Kyle Johnson, an undersized junior high scoring machine that had his team on the brink of a championship behind his sparkling play and Irish lucky charm that he thought was oriental. This is where it starts to get weird.
The Boston Celtics had a magical year, capturing lightning in a bottle and riding their undersized dynamo Isaiah Thomas to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. On top of that, they lucked into the first overall selection for the upcoming draft. I’m not going to say Boston’s 2016-17 campaign was the luck of the Irish, but I’m also not going to say it wasn’t.
In spite of the golden regular season, Boston and star Thomas hit major roadblocks come playoff time. Isaiah Thomas’ sister found herself in an automobile collision as he prepared to face the Chicago Bulls. It was fatal. The Celtics trudged through that series and met John Wall and the Wizards in the second round, where once again they had to prove they weren’t a flash-in-the-pan ‘fake one seed.’ They prevailed, bringing us this Celtics-Cavs Eastern Conference Finals.
In The Luck of the Irish, Kyle Johnson doesn’t lose a sister because he doesn’t have one. He does, however, lose his lucky charm, and his mother transmogrifies into a pint-sized leprechaun lass. His basketball talent is zapped from his body à la Space Jam, and suddenly he is unable to make so much as a free throw or even catch a lazy pass. Suddenly all the basketball fans who had praised him begin to turn on him, and call him out as a fraud. Yes, just like Isaiah Thomas in these playoffs. Spooked yet? Just you wait.
Going into Sunday’s Game 3 in Cleveland, the Celtics found themselves down two games to none and all but written off. The mighty Cavaliers and hoops legend LeBron James beat them into a fine pulp in Game 2, leading by a playoff-record 41 points at the half. Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s favorite little lucky charm, was to be missing for Game 3. The Celts were going to have to rely on unreasonably cocky white guy Kelly Olynyk and a somewhat unsung backcourt player, Avery Bradley. Going down three games to none would be a death sentence; it was now or never.
Kyle Johnson tracks down the Saint of the Step, a legendary athlete/dancer that stole his lucky charm, doomed his mother to the stature of Mr. Bill and chained his grandfather (the inventor of potato chips) to the top of a backboard in the junior high gymnasium. If you’re keeping score at home, the Saint of the Step is LeBron James, for obvious reasons. In order to right all of these egregious wrongs, Kyle must defeat the Saint of the Step and his fearsome Gaelic cronies in a basketball game without the use of his lucky charm (which represents Isaiah Thomas). Instead, he was going to have to rely on an unreasonably cocky white guy named Drake (Olynyk) and a somewhat unsung backcourt player named Russell (Bradley). Losing this game meant trouble for his mother, eternal imprisonment for his grandfather and probably just general bad news for all leprechaun kind; it was now or never.
The Cleveland Cavaliers bullied their way to a 21-point lead over the hapless Celtics, and a three-game lead seemed all but a foregone conclusion. But then something happened. Players like Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko started playing possessed. Kelly Olynyk became a competent NBA player. Avery Bradley played tough D and knocked down some shots. They were right back in the game! LeBron’s dastardly team of villains pushed back and left the game evened up with just seconds remaining. On Boston’s final possession, they ran a play to free up unsung backcourt player Avery Bradley, who took the open three-point look and got a magical bounce to sink it for the win.
With just minutes to go, Kyle’s team trailed by several possessions, and having an old Irish guy chained to the school’s backboard for all eternity seemed all but a foregone conclusion. But then something happened. Random nameless guys started playing possessed. Drake became a competent junior high player. Russell got it in his head that he had a bit of the luck of the Irish, and starting playing tough D and knocked down some shots. They were right back in the game! LeBron’s, er, the Saint of the Step’s, dastardly team of villains pushed back and had the game with just seconds remaining. But on Kyle’s team’s final possession, they ran a play to free up unsung backcourt player Russell who took the open look and got a magical bounce to sink it for the win.
In the film, the terms of the wager not only freed Kyle’s mother and grandfather from the Saint of the Step’s satanic reign of terror, but also included one uncanny bylaw. The Irish word for Ireland, the land of Kyle’s maternal lineage, is Èire. The word for the oft forgotten great lake, the land of Kyle’s paternal lineage, is Erie. In making the wager with the Saint of the Step, Kyle banishes him and his fearsome Gaelic cronies to “the shores of Erie.” Yes, you read that correctly. Kyle and the luck of the Irish prevail in a game of basketball, and the losers are doomed to an eternity in the city of Cleveland. JUST LIKE LEBRON IS. You can’t make this stuff up.
I’m not sure how Disney Channel foresaw all of this 16 long years ago, or how Cleveland is so bad that mythical Irish malefactors are sentenced to all eternity there, or why Ryan Merriman’s acting career never took off. But in the end, Kyle Johnson learned enough to present at school heritage day and the Boston Celtics had just enough luck of the Irish to prevail and make the Eastern Conference Finals more interesting. I don’t know about you, but my spine is now sufficiently chilled.
Contact Grant Avalon at gavalon ‘at’ stanford.edu.