Ubuntu is dead, long live Ubuntu

Ubuntu. We've heard that word too many times. We've heard KG say it. We've heard Doc say it. We've heard The Truth say it. We've heard the team chant it. We, as Celtics fans, have all embraced the concept, and uttered it wherever, whenever we could.

Yet all words, slogans, mottoes have an inevitable fate: They lose their meaning in time. The more you say a word, the more you repeat it, it loses its charm, its meaning. It becomes a routine of the public discourse, and comes the point where you don't even remember what it meant but only have emotional residues of what it meant once.1

“It caught me right away,” says Boston Celtics Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, Arts ’85 and Marquette trustee, who heard about ubuntu from [Stephanie] Russell during a lunch break at a Marquette Board meeting. “It’s not just a word. It’s a way of life, a way of being.”

Recently, Russell and Rivers shared their memories of that conversation.

The Celtics were coming off a rough season. Nine of 15 players were new. Rivers was searching for something to unite them. When Russell explained the core concept of ubuntu — I can’t be all I can be unless you’re all you can be — he was hooked. “Right when she said that, I said ‘That’s it. That’s the word. That’s the philosophy. That’s what I need,’” Rivers remembers.


Indeed it was what Doc needed back then. Celtics had signed three superstars who had to sacrifice on the path to success. Doc had one difficult task to gel them all. They had an impossible task to embrace their new roles. Yet it all worked out, and came the moment that made us jump upside and down, kiss-and-hug some strangers in the bar and yell out or joy as throat-damagingly as we can.

Thus had become Ubuntu the ultimate recipe for success and the repeated motto for Celtics. However, we've observed time and again that Ubuntu's name was there yet its spirit was not. Every time Big Baby chanted Ubuntu, he was thinking to himself "I might get a starting gig elsewhere". We had Shaq in our roster, who probably would make Ubuntu a TV show if he could, and proved how much he respected the concept as soon as he retired. Then came Ainge's blockbuster mid-season trade that probably damaged the concept of Ubuntu for 2010-11 season.2

Yet none of those were as appalling as how Ray Allen felt last season. We've heard that the player who indirectly gave birth to the concept of Ubuntu was jealous of Rondo's rising stock value, felt snubbed because Celtics talked to KG first and did not like being sent to the bench. Even though Ubuntu had taken blows before, that marked its death.

I believe it's time we need to realize that the Ubuntu we've known is gone. I'm not asking that we find a new motto, or we stop saying Ubuntu. It is an important part of Celtics history and should remain so to remind us what he have achieved. Yet a new team is born. In this team, everyone knows their role and embraces them, just like Ubuntu suggests. However, in this new team, Doc, KG, Pierce etc. all know and respect Rondo as the team's leader.

We've entered a new era. We have a new leader. In order to continue chanting Ubuntu, we need to expand its definition so that it embraces this new call, and makes people respect their roles and unite again for the goal:


1 And this does not only happen with positive feelings. I have in recent years witnessed people accusing others of being atheist Nazi socialists, something that doesn't/wouldn't make sense on even the most bizarre parallel universe that exists/is yet to exist.

2 This is somewhat ironic, since such a move is in line with Ubuntu principle. No matter what happens, no matter who leaves or stays, the concept of unity should be permanent.]