Datome wasn't a star, but he'll always be a Celtic


This sort of thing is supposed to get easier as you get older. The longer you care about sports, and come to realize that sports don’t care about you, you’re not supposed to be so damn sensitive to the harsh realities of the business. You’re supposed to develop thicker skin, a colder heart, and a more cynical perspective. You’re supposed to watch Paul Pierce bounce from Boston to Brooklyn to Washington to Los Angeles and pretend that you can’t feel it. You’re supposed to watch Wes Welker catch a touchdown from Peyton Manning or Jon Lester take the mound at Wrigley Field, then laugh and shrug your shoulders like OH WELL, THAT’S SPORTS.

Then one day you wake up to the news that Luigi Datome won’t be back with the Celtics next year and “supposed to” can go to hell. That’s right, the eternal abyss where non-believers are punished with everlasting destruction, Reggie Miller is in the booth for every televised game, and where there’s no greater sin in the eyes of the devil than the marriage between three-point range and a sensible hair bun.

Of course, in a way, we saw this coming. It was never all that likely that Datome would find his way back to Boston. But just because you’re prepared for a loss doesn’t mean you’re numb when preparation becomes reality. There’s still some initial shock, and anger, and grieving; there might even be an awkward sentence about Reggie Miller and the devil. But eventually, or ideally, that the emotion plays out into acceptance, and appreciation, and the reminder that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Or I don’t know.

Something along those lines.

Either way, good for Luigi Datome.

In case you missed it, last night the 27-year-old Italian gunner signed a two-year deal with Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey. I’m not sure how much he’ll make over these next two seasons, but I know he made $3.5M over the previous two seasons while essentially living a dream. I know that the first time I spoke with Datome -- in the locker room in LA before his first game with the Celtics -- he talked about a vacation he took to the United States in the summer of 2010, during the Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals, where he and a buddy flew back and forth across the country, from LA to Boston to LA, watching basketball history unfold. The fact that Datome then had a chance to play for the Celtics and become a cult hero in Boston, is so remarkably cool. In an age when we’re all supposed to be super serious and cynical and jaded about sports, the case of Luigi Datome and the Celtics is a reminder of how fun, silly and satisfyingly stupid the whole institution can be. I mean, here’s a guy that leaves Boston having played fewer games for the Celtics than Dan Dickau and fewer minutes than Tom Gugliotta. He will forever sit behind the likes of JaJuan Johnson, Stojko Vrancovic and Mikki Moore on Boston’s all-time scoring list. Yet at the same time he’s a legend. For years to come, the mere mention of Luigi Datome will bring a smile to a Celtics fans’ face.

He’s Dino Radja’s Italian nephew. 

I’m still not sure exactly what it is about Datome that triggered so much emotion from Celtics fans. It was probably a little bit of everything. His name. His hair. His name. His hair. The fact that even though his game didn’t translate to the NBA, Datome can really play; that 30 years from now, you know he’ll still be somewhere out on a basketball court draining threes until the sun goes down; that if he’d come along 50 years ago, Luigi Datome would have a plaque in Springfield and a lavish mansion on the shores of Santorini.

“He's a really good player,” Brad Stevens said of Datome last season. “I think he's our best shooter. I think he's one of the better shooters I've seen.”

Well, that’s saying something. That’s a sure indicator that Datome can play. And in that sense, it’s good to know that he’ll have a chance to flash those skills in Turkey. For all we know, Luigi Datome is on the verge of becoming that country’s next great star. But either way, in the silliest and least cynical corner of our basketball hearts, he’ll always be a Celtic.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine

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