BOSTON — Justin Tsouros and Brian Johnson got to their seats early, roughly 20 minutes before tip-off, armed with a turkey wrap, a roast beef sandwich, Cape Cod potato chips, two beers, a Blue Moon and a Molson, and mixed emotions.
When they removed their coats, settling into their front row seats just behind the courtside collection inside TD Garden, they revealed threads that tore each of them up inside.
Johnson wore a white No. 43 Celtics jersey. Tsouros donned a blue No. 5 Thunder jersey.
Meet Kendrick Perkins' biggest fans.
Like 18,624 other Celtics crazies, Tsouros and Johnson welcomed Perkins back for the first time since the trade that shipped him to Oklahoma City 11 months ago and rocked the Boston franchise to the bone.
“It's heartbreaking,” said Johnson, 36, of Brookline, Mass., when asked how it feels to see Perkins in another uniform. “It's horrible. It's maybe one of the worst things I've ever had to experience as a fan, and I've been a fan for 30 years.”
Johnson and Tsouros in 2006 started a fan site dedicated to Perkins called PerkIsABeast.com. The two eventually met Perkins and became close with the big man. Perkins allowed the two to celebrate with him and his family in the immediate moments after the Celtics won the title in 2008. He even invited both to his wedding.
So you can imagine how their sorrow at seeing Perk dealt away would run deeper than most.
“For me,” Tsouros said, “it was almost like breaking up with a girlfriend who you were in a relationship with for five years.”
Perkins certainly felt the love in his return.
Fans brought signs that read, “Welcome home Perk” and showered him with cheers from the moment he was introduced as the Thunder's starting center.
In a tremendously classy move, the Celtics played a minute-plus video montage of Perk during the first timeout, with the words “Thank you Perk” flashing in every few seconds.
Perkins reveled in the reception. Players from both teams remained near their benches as the video played. Fifty-five seconds in, Perk walked toward the scorer's table all alone and raised both arms. By then, the entire Garden was on its feet, clapping, cheering, whistling.
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