From Chinese to Chipotle: An Edible History of the Boston Celtics (Part Four)
Boston Sports Journal & Cosmopolitan
The Celts would not win another banner in Doc's tenure despite his well-intentioned optimism, with Danny tearing down the remnants of the title team in a rebuild that started in 2013. Garnett, Pierce, Terry and Doc left first, the former three to Brooklyn in the infamous Nets trade, the latter to the Clippers, where he coaches today. Current head coach Brad Stevens was pilfered from Butler, and Rondo sent packing to Dallas, ushering in the contemporary era of the Boston Celtics and their own remixes of past culinary tendencies.
Isaiah Thomas may have earned our respect almost as soon as he arrived, but also deepened it with the damage he took to his grill in the fated 2017 NBA Playoffs. That ultimately forced his trade, having hurt his hip trying to play through injury. And while that may have left more than a few of us without an appetite, IT still loves a good steak. He might seem to slander coach Brad by calling him "strawberry shortcake", but in truth, it's just sweetness directed at one of his favorite coaches. It could stem from Stevens' continuation of the Celtics tradition of sharing food at Thanksgiving, but more than likely, it's just a normal reaction to the coach's famously affable self.
This era's Celts revisited the dietary peculiarities of Celtics past, and not all of them were amusing. Bigs Jared Sullinger and Guerschon Yabusele saw their shot with Boston falter in no small part due to their failures in the kitchen. Sully had, like Glen Davis and others before him, struggled with his weight since childhood. Mocked by peers in high school, he learned to use size as a tool on the court, but even at the height of his college career, eyebrows were being raised.
"Obviously, we knew when we drafted him that weight was an issue,'' said Ainge in an interview with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan. A stress fracture from too many games with too much weight signaled the beginning of the end, and the Ohio State product faced a weight clause similar to that given to Glen Davis years earlier in any offer coming from Boston. Ultimately, Sullinger left for Toronto in free agency instead, but his weight issues followed.
"People say, 'Hire a nutritionist,' but it's not that simple." said Sullinger. "What people don't understand is after a game, you get hungry. I stay up late, I'm not falling asleep and I want to eat. The hardest calories to burn off are those late-night calories." He'd eventually be traded to the Phoenix Suns after a more svelte Sully failed to materialize, who cut him the next day.
"Satch Sanders told me, ‘If you see a food commercial on TV, it’s not what you want to eat,'" said Sullinger to the Columbus Dispatch's Rob Oller. He's since trimmed down and now plays in China, but regrets wasting his shot at the NBA. Guerschon Yabusele followed a similar path, allowing too much food (or too little exercise) to tank his career with the team. It began to be an issue the summer of 2018.
"I’m probably going to lose a couple of pounds," said the French big in an interview with the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett. "I’ve already lost some. I feel good now, but I still feel like if I lose a little bit more I will still be great, so I’m really working on that ... It’s better for me to have less, because I’m going to be running and jumping and defending a little bit better. I’m going to be less tired. I’m just trying to lose a couple of pounds and feel good with my body."
It may be the Dancing Bear, as he is sometimes known, still needed to lose a few pounds, because the team cut him the following summer after a lackluster Summer League performance effectively ended his time in Boston, though, like Sully, Yabu may still have time to resuscitate his NBA career in China. Even Guerschon's more-successful teammates have had their caloric struggles from time-to-time, though. Marcus Smart got a bit portly in the 2015-16 season, and it began to weigh on him, quite literally.
"The reason I decided to lose it, throughout the whole playoffs I was having back problems," Smart said (via Celtics Wire's Jared Weiss. "I remember at times putting on my shirt and having to tuck my stomach in, because I didn’t like the way I looked. The pain it was causing me, I was tired, I wasn’t explosive, I would exert so much energy to try to go out there every day and do the things I’ve been doing my whole life. I wasn’t too fond of that, I didn’t like it not one bit, and knew I had to change."
Change Smart did, getting back down to 217 pounds from 240 at the peak of his portliness.
Teammate Gordon Hayward faced a similar -- if more severe -- challenge recuperating from a gruesome ankle injury sustained at the start of the 2017-18 season. "Right at the beginning, they kind of told me that I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and to eat a lot," said the Butler product in an interview with GQ's Christopher Cason.
"My body had gone through such a major trauma, and it was burning a lot of calories while it was healing itself. As that process started to fade away, though, we started to watch what I was eating again. I would go to Chipotle and get, like, two soft tacos with chicken and pico, and that was it. That was tough for me, because when anyone in the world goes to Chipotle, they're getting a nice big burrito, and maybe some chips and guacamole. That was the hard part."
Given how much Danny Ainge enjoys Chipotle (more on that shortly), that can't have been easy. Gordon was more of a "gordo" (a common term of endearment in Mexico, literally "fat") while doing his best Shaq impersonation by eating a dozen donuts in a sitting among many other normally-forbidden foods. Soon after, he invoked his inner Ray Allen, eating some chicken and rice instead --save when Aron Baynes snuck him some Krispy Kremes, anyway.
Baynes also made a point of eating healthy during the season, taking a page out of Scott Wedman's book with his obnoxiously healthy smoothies, reportedly made of "raw oats and puts yogurt, nuts, hemp, and all this hippie stuff", according to Semi Ojeleye in an interview with GQ's Alex Shultz (Ojeleye is clearly a picture of health in both physique and dietary habits; he eschews fast food save Chipotle -- shocker -- but is a sucker for red velvet cake).
Even Kyrie Irving came into camp a bit chunky last season, and got called out by Tommy Heinsohn for it. Irving claims that motivated him to get into shape, though it seems unrelated to why he adopted a vegan diet, which happened a summer earlier.
Veganism -- the more aggressive, animal-product free version of what Wedman professed in his day -- has become more popular among athletes, especially those trying to stay lean. Jared Sullinger tried it, as did Al Jefferson, Glen Davis (inspired by the same Netflix documentary that recruited Irving, "What the Health"), and Enes Kanter. Shaq, presumably trying to get a healthier himself, joined Irving in investing in the plant-based burger -- Beyond Meat -- taking the fast food world by storm. Speaking of fast food and plant-based diets, Danny Ainge had to change it up in a big way himself after a heart attack during the 2019 NBA Playoffs, skipping the meat at his many trips to Chipotle.
That couldn't have been easy for the renowned Chipotle junkie that is Ainge -- he has his own card to eat free at the chain -- and he is known for eating at the establishment literally seven days a week. He's even 'fessed to multiple meals in the same day in an interview with ESPN's senior writer Zach Lowe: "I have to admit, there are days I eat there twice ... I just like Chipotle." He's even met draft prospects there save Terry Rozier, who prefers Chick-fil-A.
Part of the obsession is linked to his first heart attack (in 2009), because it's comparatively healthy fast food. He never ordered tortilla, guacamole or sour cream before the second attack, and now has given cheese and animal proteins the boot in favor of a plant-based diet, though "not the kind of plants in [Bill] Walton’s garden" (via the Athletic's Jay King).
Ainge was, of course, alluding to an infamous appetite stimulant with too many ties to the league's greenest team to list all of. Suffice it to say more than a few players used the munchies-inducing plant before Danny joined the team in 1981, and quite a few have come clean since, particularly Don Nelson and Glen Davis, who have invested in the burgeoning industry with varying degrees of notoriety.
Perhaps inspired by the stereotypical eating habits of potheads, Terry Rozier was known for an especially unusual sandwich that seems right out of a stoner movie: spaghetti and ranch dressing. Rozier's snacking habits have to make you wonder what he does to relax, with Flaming Hot Cheetos and cream cheese indulgence being broadcast on his Instagram. Teammate Kelly Olynyk can eat an entire burrito in one bite (yes, from Chipotle), and is a low-key master at making homemade sushi.
The fruits of that now-distant trade that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn are now rounding into mature players with dietary predilections that recall their predecessors or set new trends future Celtics may follow. The team's most intellectual player, Jaylen Brown, is reminiscent of Ainge and Red with a spin of his own upbringing in the deep south with his always-identical orders from Waffle House. "All-Star special, grits instead of hash browns, no meat." said the Georgia native to ESPN senior writer Brian Windhorst. " Scrambled eggs hard with an extra waffle, maybe blueberry depending how I'm feeling and a sweet tea. I get the same thing every time."
Brown gravitates towards a vegetarian diet, but doesn't identify as one. He is also known to be a fan of fasting, an ancient practice of temporary abstinence from food engaged in for health and spiritual reasons.
"A lot of people have multiple reasons why they fast," Brown said (via MassLive's Jay King). "A part of it's like a religious experience. It makes you, like, closer to God, or God closer to you. A lot of people say it puts your body through something that it's never done before, so it makes you more mentally tough. All of that. Some people say it puts you in a position of somebody who doesn't get to eat. It humbles you. So now you know what they feel like. All of those things. So all of those things combined into one is why I did it. And I think as a man and as a person it helped me. So I know as a basketball player it helped me as well."
Third-year Duke product Jayson Tatum is such a fan of tacos, the food has become indelibly associated with him, resulting in the nickname "Taco Jay" (don't expect him to order lobster, though). Known for dumping mountains of cheese on the Mexican staple, he went on to win the Skills Challenge last All-Star weekend...sponsored by Taco Bell.
He's got a new teammate (at least for the summer) named Taco, too -- or, close to it (Tacko Fall). Tacko, at 7-feet-7, can eat a lot of food -- he once ate three large pizzas and two garlic knots in one sitting -- a skill he's shared with fellow new Celtic Kanter. The pair have bonded over their cheat-day foods and prodigious appetites, with caloric consumption serving as yet another source of communal life for the league's most storied franchise.
New rookie Tremont Waters first saw teammate Carsen Edwards while picking up food at a Chinese restaurant, to take this tale full circle. Said the Connecticut native of that moment (via the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy):
"I didn’t know who Carsen was last year, but I was in a Chinese restaurant and I don’t know what I was ordering — I think it was chicken wings and French fries, or something ... They were actually playing Indiana. Yes, from a Chinese restaurant, I ordered chicken wings and french fries ... So I was just waiting for my french fries and chicken wings to come out, and I was watching the TV and they were playing Indiana, and I saw Carson drive down the left side, I think it was overtime, and he drove down the left side of the court, and took off with one foot ... And that’s when I was really like, Hmm. This guy is different."
Somewhere, Red is smiling.
It's fitting that the biggest catch of the summer free agency period -- former UConn standout Kemba Walker -- took his teammates out to dinner to get acquainted with them, because this team knows how to eat -- and always has.