The Celtics roared back from an 11-point deficit to beat the Orlando Magic last Friday night. Evan Turner was dazzling with 16 fourth-quarter points.
But the loudest applause of the evening may have been for a young man from Andover who isn’t even on the team.
Michael Briggs, a member of the MVC Large champion Andover High varsity basketball team, stood center court as the Celtics’ “Heroes Among Us” honoree last week.
He’s a junior with Down syndrome, a sweet jump shot, an infectious personality and an insatiable love of the game of basketball.
Briggs stepped on the famed Garden parquet during a break in the second quarter. The PA announcer told his inspiring story and Briggs was also featured on the massive Jumbotron above the court.
Briggs did a Rajon Rondo-esque 360 spin move, waving to the fans in all corners of the arena.
The fans (the announced attendance was a capacity crowd of 18,624) went wild. The Celtic players roared their approval. The Magic players did the same. Heck, even the referees did.
When Briggs left the court, Celtic radio analyst Cedric Maxwell sprinted about as quickly as he’s done since chasing the 76ers’ Dr. J 30 years ago. He caught up to Briggs, a longtime season ticket-holder who Maxwell knows well, and gave him a bear hug.
Briggs’ favorite part of the whirlwind day? That was easy.
“The fans clapping for me. That was fun. It was really cool,” he said.
It’s not the first time he’s received a rousing ovation on the court. A sellout crowd waiting for the Andover-Central Catholic showdown last year erupted when he hit a shot late in the junior varsity game.
Then there was the 2014 Commonwealth Classic Christmas Tourney in December when he scored late in the game against Methuen.
Those happened quickly. He had plenty of time to think about this one.
Was he nervous?
“Nope,” Briggs said. “No way. I slept really good.”
Around the game of basketball, Briggs is a confident young man, befitting a varsity athlete with a slew of close friends from the powerhouse Andover program.
“The program has been amazing since Day 1,” his father, David, said.
His mother, Kim, added, “They just see him as Michael. He’s their teammate.”
Past “Heroes Among Us” winners have included war heroes, ordinary citizens who sprung to action to save lives and philanthropists who have given millions of dollars back to the community.
The Celtics treat their “Heroes Among Us” like true heroes, offering them four tickets with a list price of $1,650 apiece.
Briggs was accompanied courtside by AHS teammates Connor Merinder, Max Beati and Perry Wynn. Teammate D.J. Minor, Briggs’ parents, Andover head coach Dave Fazio and Golden Warrior assistants Alan Hibino and Ben Gibson also were on hand.
Briggs was sitting so close to the Celtics bench that he could talk to the team. Actually, he did talk to the team — standout rookie guard Marcus Smart and head coach Brad Stevens among them. Stevens shook his hand like an old friend.
Fazio called the night and the Hollywood treatment “surreal.”
Hibino said they were “treated like royalty.”
The Celtics get a flood of nominees for the award, which is given out at all the home games, but Fazio said they certainly got this one right.
“He’s been an inspiration to everyone in our program and our community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful celebration.”
Gibson has worked closely with Briggs these last three years, fine-tuning his skills and rebounding endlessly for the junior whose love for the game seems to know no bounds.
When asked what playing basketball for Andover has taught Briggs, Gibson said, “He’s the one teaching me. It’s awesome to see Mike with this honor. He lives up to it every day.”
The Briggs family has had season tickets for 18 years. David’s Boston Cafe & Catering worked with the Celtics for many years.
Briggs and his family have relished the “New Big 3” of Garnett, Allen and Pierce and “Beat-ing L.A.” for the 2008 NBA title, befriending finals MVPs Paul Pierce and Maxwell, and even flying three times with the team to away games.
But there was nothing quite like last Friday night.
“It’s very special,” his father said.
Added his mother, “It’s absolutely unbelievable. You can’t put words to it. I’m so proud of him. He was so confident. I would have been a wreck. But he held it all together.”