In the last week, we’ve had at least two mentions of Greek mythology in TrueHoop Network posts about the Celtics–one debating whether Stephon Marbury could be compared to Odysseus (conclusion: no) and another in which Cavs: The Blog author John Krolik (writing at FreeDarko) says Rajon Rondo’s body “looks like the product of Jay Bilas being allowed access to the Forge of Hephaestus.” For those not in the know, Hephaestus is the blacksmith of the Greek gods, renowned for forging impenetrable armor for Achilles and other goodies.
In the spirit of nerdy fun, I whipped out old copies of the Odyssey, Iliad and Ovid’s Metamorphoses and consulted with a Friend of Celtics Hub who teaches classics at an elite college. The goal: match up current (and a few) recent Celts with characters in Greek/Roman mythology. Here’s what we’ve got so far:
Rajon Rondo: A basketball version of Hermes, the god of speed and athleticism and the patron deity of thieves. His speed (the product in part of his winged sandals) made him the messenger-helper god, known for transferring important goods and information to those who needed it at exactly the right moment. He lent Perseus his sandals, for instance, to help the famous hero slay Medusa (Pau Gasol?). Hermes was also precocious; he learned to play an instrument and herd cattle before he was a week old. He dealt well with touchy personalities, as, according to some myths, he was among the only gods welcome in the Underworld without objection from the presiding god.
Kevin Garnett: KG is Heracles (or Hercules, if you like), a divinely forged specimen (and son of Zeus) without physical comparison among mortals. But the gods (specifically Zeus’s wife, Hera) conspired to deny Heracles a happy life and his rightful place among the immortals on Mt. Olympus. To earn both, he had to complete a dozen difficult labors, most of which involved killing beasts in far off lands (Minnesota?) and taming uncontrollable animals (Latrell Sprewell?). He also had to clean a once-grand cattle stable that had gone neglected for years and reeked of manure (the Celtics?). He managed to do it all, and he was rewarded with immortality. Reportedly told Michelle Tafoya afterward: “All things are achievable.”
Paul Pierce: The C’s true version of Odysseus, the Greek hero who persevered through bad luck, angry (basketball) gods and his own occasional poor judgement to finally achieve a simple, singular goal. Odysseus is not the strongest or most skilled Greek warrior. He relies on his wit and guile (he came up with the Trojan Horse and tricks too many people to count), and is saddled along the way with some crewmates who lack his will and commitment to finishing the 20-year journey home. (They eat the sleep-inducing lotus and feast on forbidden cattle–both in violation of Odysseus’s instructions). He also had to steer away from the empty temptation of the Sirens (Kevin Durant and Greg Oden? Strippers?). Once he lands at home and is finally close to reuniting with his wife, he shows no mercy in destroying the group of suitors that represent his final obstacle.
After the jump, we hit a few back-up players and some recent former C’s.
Glen Davis: Telemachus, the young son of Odysseus (he was about 20 when his father returned from war) who initially lacks the courage to stand up to the suitors besieging his house and trying to sleep with his mother. Various advisors, including the goddess Athena and the elder Nestor (more on him later) urge Telemachus to believe in himself and stand up to the suitors. They probably used nicer language than Big Baby heard here.
Doc Rivers: Doc is Nestor, the Greek warrior who is too old to fight in the Trojan War. He is known for his advice and his penchant for telling long-winded stories about the “old days.” He is considered (sort of) wise, and is one of the people Telemachus seeks out for advice on the suitor issue. There is apparently some scholarly debate about whether Nestor’s advice was more often good or bad.
Kendrick Perkins: Ajax the Greater, a huge Greek warrior who is nonetheless overshadowed by the more skilled (and flamboyant) Achilles and the clever Odysseus during the Trojan War. He is known for his strength and willingness to grind out long battles (including a marathon duel with the Trojan soldier Hector, which apparently ended without resolution). He also goes the extra mile for his teammates–he and Odysseus bravely fight off Trojan soldiers to recover Achilles’ corpse from the battlefield. But Ajax rarely receives his due; he loses a competition with Odysseus to see who gets to keep Achilles’ armor. He kills himself in grief. This is where Greek mythology kind of goes off the rails when you’re just trying to do something silly and compare Greek heroes to professional basketball players.
Tony Allen: I wanted to go with Tantalus, the mythological figure who gave us the word “tantalize” because of the punishment he received from the gods–being forced to stand in a pool of water that dissappared when he went to drink from it and underneath a fruit tree that raised its branches just out of his reach. No one teases us with occasional good performances and dangerous athleticism like Allen. But then I read why Tantalus was punished, and the whole thing became sort of gross.
Brian Scalabrine: Blame this one on my professor friend. He suggested Hephaestus, the crippled blacksmith whom the gods (Hera again) toss from Mt. Olympus because of his lumpy, ugly appearance. The fall cripples him further, and he walks with a limp for the rest of his life. Even so, he becomes among the most-skilled and essential gods because of his mastery with armor. Like Scal, he’s one step ahead of his enemies–he builds a trap that falls over his bed when his wife (Aphrodite) is sleeping with another god (Ares).
Stephon Marbury: Eris, the goddess of strife and discord who helps start the Trojan War with a scheme she hatches in a rage over not being invited to a wedding. (She wasn’t invited because Zeus thought she would ruin the chemistry of the wedding, naturally). She tosses a golden apple into the wedding party with an inscription indicating it is intended for the most beautiful guest. Athena, Aphrodite and Hera argue about which of them should get the apple, Zeus pushes the decision off onto the handsome lad Paris, and his choice (Aphrodite, who promised him Helen of Troy as a reward) kicks off the war. Steph has to earn his way to another spot on Mt. Olympus.
Current Celts waiting for someone smarter than me to match them up:
• Ray Allen (someone smooth and consistent?). My professor friend suggested Paris, the effete, good-looking and deadly-accurate archer who kills Achilles with a perfectly aimed arrow to his (Achilles) heel. But Paris is a coward, and we can’t have Ray disparaged like that.
• Eddie House (someone with hubris who doesn’t die a horrific death?)
• Leon Powe (someone who overcomes a difficult childhood?)
Bonus former Celtics:
• Antoine Walker: Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry. Given divine abilities, but couldn’t resist temptation. (Dionysus would have totally jacked up ill-advised threes and gained too much weight if here were a pro basketball player). Inspired a weird cult following.
• Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown: Baucis and Philemon, an elderly couple who meet Zeus and Hermes late in their lives. The gods spare Baucis and Philemon from a flood they are about to unleash, and grant them one dying wish. The couple chooses to be transformed into inter-twined trees, so as to spend immortality together. The gods, in a rare act of kindness, grant their wish.