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Black Catholic head coach Joe Mazzulla leads Boston Celtics to 2024 NBA championship

35-year-old Joe Mazzulla guided superstar duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to the franchise's 18th championship, extending a league record.

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla lifts the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy after a series-clinching 106-88 win against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 17, 2024, in Boston. (Elsa/Getty Images/AFP)

The Boston Celtics have secured their record 18th NBA championship and the first in 16 years, defeating the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 in Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals on Monday night at TD Garden in Boston. The blowout win capped off a dominant season for the storied franchise in their second season under 35-year-old head coach Joe Mazzulla, a devout Black Catholic.

He is the first Black head coach to secure an NBA championship since Tyronn Lue in 2016. The triumph on the court came at the hands of the Celtics’ superstar duo Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who had 21 and 31 points, respectively.

Hot shooting overall from Boston led a wire-to-wire win, putting to rest all rumblings of a historic Dallas comeback in the series, which reached a nigh insurmountable 3-0 deficit on Wednesday. No team in NBA history has ever come back from such a hole, and praise was on the lips of Celtics players and staff alike after finishing the job.

“Our faith is the most important thing, and we have the best fans in the world,” Mazzulla said on the court after the game, eliciting a roar from the sellout crowd.

“You get very few chances in life to be great, and you get very few changes in life to carry on the ownership and the responsibilities of what these banners are and all the great people and great players that came here. When you have few chances in life, you’ve just got to take the bull by the horns and you’ve got to just own it.”

It was the ultimate redemption story for the guys in green, who lost two years ago to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, a heartbreaking loss after reaching heights the franchise had not seen since the dawn of the superteam Celtics in 2008—their most recent championship run.

Within months of the 2022 loss, Boston lost head coach Ime Udoka to a sexual misconduct scandal, after which he was suspended for a season and ultimately fired. Enter Mazzulla, the team’s assistant head coach who took the reins on short notice and promptly proved his mettle, guiding the team to the playoffs in 2023 and their second-straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

This year’s Celtics built on that success, finishing with the best record in the league at 64-18—one of the best finishes in NBA history, led by All-Stars Tatum and Brown, alongside defensive specialists Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and veteran big men Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis.

White was one of several players who credited Mazzulla on Monday for this year’s consistency and for his own career trajectory.

“Man, I love Joe Mazzulla so much,” White told reporters, noting that the coach made him a starter soon after taking over in September 2023.

“From that moment on, I think it’s changed my whole career. I’d do anything for him.”

Boston’s success extended throughout this year’s playoffs, featuring five-game series wins against the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, before sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals on their way to a matchup with the upstart Mavericks—who were back in the Finals for the first time since 2011. The series brought two Black head coaches head-to-head in the Finals for the first time in almost 50 years, with Dallas led by their former championship point guard in Jason Kidd.

Dallas’ own dynamic duo on the floor, Slovenian do-it-all guard Luka Dončić and former champion Kyrie Irving, struggled to put together complete games on the league’s biggest stage, alternating poor shooting performances and defensive lapses while the Celtics took three straight wins in the series. 

Irving’s shooting woes and Dončić’s contentious interactions with referees gained significant media attention going into Game 4, which featured a bounceback performance for both players in a historic blowout win. Even so, it turned out to be a flash in the pan, with another listless performance on Monday dooming their chances of a series comeback.

A 9-0 Celtics run in the first quarter of Game 5 brought the lead to 10 before a 39-point second quarter effectively put the nail in the coffin for Dallas. Peyton Pritchard pushed the lead to 21 with a half-court buzzer-beater before the halftime horn—his second such shot of the series. Dallas never came closer than 17 the rest of the way.

It was the first NBA championship for most players on the Celtics, including Brown, who won Finals MVP after averaging 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5 assists. The former Cal Berkeley star also won Eastern Conference Finals MVP during a dominant performance against Indiana. Though less efficient, Tatum put up 22.2 points per game along with 7.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists in the Finals against Dallas.

All eyes are now on downtown Boston, where fans partied into the morning hours and where Mazzulla and crew will soon march in a victory parade—likely taking place Wednesday and trekking from the Garden in the West End neighborhood to Copley Square in the Back Bay.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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