TORONTO — With Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” playing over the loudspeakers and scores of Toronto Raptors fans showing their support, the Boston Celtics returned to the court for their first game since the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon.
The Celtics gathered with the Raptors at midcourt to observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims prior to Wednesday night’s regular-season finale.
Diamond’s classic hit, long associated with Boston’s beloved Red Sox, played as the Celtics’ starters were introduced, and a message on the stadium scoreboards read, “Tonight we are all Boston fans.” In the stands opposite the Toronto bench, three female fans held up a sign that read, “Send Boston Love.”
The Celtics wore a black stripe on their jerseys as they played for the first time since twin blasts near the marathon’s finish line on Monday left three people dead and more than 170 injured.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the tragedy has touched people everywhere.
“I don’t think you have to be a basketball player or anything,” Rivers said. “You don’t have to be from Boston, or from the United States. When something like that happens it has an effect on everyone because it threatens our safety and our freedom to gather as a group, and that’s part of what makes us human. Every time something like that happens, it threatens that. That’s the sad part of it.”
Rivers lives in downtown Boston, not far from where the bombs were detonated, and was on his way home when the attacks happened.
“I witnessed panic, which you don’t ever want to see,” Rivers said. “And then I witnessed some great things, too. I witnessed a lot of people taking charge of their city and I thought that was awesome.”
Boston’s home game Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers was canceled following the bombings, meaning the next time the Celtics play at home will be in their first round playoff series against the New York Knicks.
“Being basketball players and representing Boston, we definitely want to go out there and give the people something to cheer about,” guard Courtney Lee said. “Even though you can’t replace losses and you can’t replace injuries and whatnot, we definitely want to give those people something to take their mind off it.”
Rivers said he’s been touched by the way other cities have shown their unity with Boston. Baseball fans at Yankee Stadium sang “Sweet Caroline” during Tuesday’s game, while the Chicago Tribune featured the logos of Boston’s main sports teams.
“That was beautiful, that was awesome,” Rivers said of the Tribune’s image. “On 9-11 it was similar, you saw the Yankees-Red Sox hats. Don’t get me wrong, we still hate each other in sports but not in life. You can separate the two things. I think all the big cities do a great job of showing that — that we’re with you, and we’re against you. It’s a neat little thing.”
Even the Raptors’ media relations staff found a way to pay their respects to Boston. The cards marking seating assignments on press row Wednesday bore an image of two soldiers standing over floral tributes to the tragedy, with ‘(hashtag)Boston’ printed at the bottom.