Sunday, December 30, 2007

Kareem & the Celts

Mark Heisler ("Close, But No Cigars"; Dec. 30. Sports) quotes Pat Riley: "I had to educate my players who the Celtics were," Riley wrote. "I asked if anyone knew. Finally Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] raised his hand. He said the Celtics were a warring race of Danes who invaded Ireland.

"I had to explain that they were also a cunning secretive race. We had to learn to overcome the mythology of the Celtics."

Kareem's history degree from UCLA was well-earned, but he may have been on the road during the Western Civ before 1500 lecture that day. The Celts entered Ireland long before the Vikings invaded in the 800s. Celtic peoples were neither a race nor one tribe but Europeans who shared linguistic and cultural affinities. They may have arrived in Ireland as late as fifteen hundred or as early as five or six thousand years ago.

The attribution of a Celtic Central European homeland has been challenged by DNA studies suggesting Iberian origins. The psuedo-scientific conjectures that there existed a tribe of "Celts" constituting a "warring race" were popularized only in the nineteenth century, resurrected from references by Greeks and Romans.

Abdul-Jabbar appears to be confusing Vikings with Celts. As for their cunning and secrecy, these mythic qualities, as with their later "warring race" of Viking rivals, continue to cast a spell upon their foes!

My letter to the L.A. Times, sent today. Didn't hear back from them. I remain a loyal Bruin of UCLA (if not Boston hockey) allegiance, but not a Laker fan. Pedantic accuracy trumps hometown heroes; nature over nurture. Sorry, Niall. But I'm still rooting for the Dodgers, with you.

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