The Celtics are champions once more. Their aim to duplicate their brush with success at the turn of the previous decade — a multi-year effort spanning the dispensations of both Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens — has culminated in a definitive rise to the top. That they have managed to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy anew 16 years to the very day it was last in their hands serves to make the journey even more compelling. And that they have done so on the strength of a young — and, notably, committed and secure — roster keeps them competitive for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the Celtics cannot but begin the next season as title favorites. They first came close to taking the hardware two years ago, only to follow it up with elimination in the East Finals. But if there was one good thing to come out of their seeming regression, it was that they greeted their 2023-24 campaign with purpose. They were ready and able from the get-go, with their pace-setting slate underscoring their ascendant run heading into the playoffs. They then continued to stamp their class; outside of a handful of missteps, they showed all and sundry that they deserved their crowns without any fine print.

Not that the Celtics do not have their fair share of detractors. The biggest knock on their 18th banner is the supposed strength — or, to be more precise, lack thereof — of the competition they faced en route. They got to avoid the Sixers, hobbled by an injury to perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Joel Embiid. They overcame the handicapped Heat, with proven postseason stalwart Jimmy Butler in the sidelines. They then overcame the overmatched Cavaliers and Pacers, who had to take their measure without top dogs Donovan Mitchell and Tyrese Haliburton, respectively, for parts of the two best-of-seven affairs.

Still, the Celtics have all the reasons to celebrate. For all the rattling of the naysayers, there can be no doubting that they dominated all those standing in their way. They fought the fights that were before them, and they emerged from those battles with nary a scar. They were that good — so good, in fact, that it’s fair to say they would have prevailed in any case, regardless of the quality of the opposition. And they asserted their preeminence on both sides of the court — with a unique blend of talents that maximizes their five-out offense and enables them to switch at will on defense without any matchup disadvantage.

Were the Celtics fated to win? Perhaps. What’s clear, though, is that they can only get better from here on. Having now experienced the thrill of victory after the agony of defeat, they understand exactly what excellence asks of them. And far be it from them not to deliver accordingly. They’ve set a new bar. It’s up to the rest to meet it.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.