CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Believe it or not, there were NBA stars playing basketball in Boston on Saturday night. Not at the TD Garden -- that's still quite a way off -- but at Harvard, where Celtics guard Rajon Rondo had gathered a group of players including Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Rudy Gay and Leon Powe for the Boston Charity Classic, an exhibition which raises money for three local charities.
The game was classic All-Star Game style fun, chock full of alley-oops, 35-foot three pointers, and very little in the way of defense. The night had a festival feel to it -- Pierce palled around with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Perkins ran the point, and Harvard alum Jeremy Lin sank 3s seemingly from Somerville. The standing-room crowd of 2,000 whooped and hollered through it all, happy, if only for one night, to see some NBA-level basketball on display.
"It's just good to be watching NBA players again," said Cape Cod's Jason Souza, 23, as he called an obliging Pierce over for an autograph. "That's why I came tonight. I love it."
The merriment was short-lived. When the final buzzer sounded and fans streamed for the doors, the talk turned quickly from love to lockouts. Perkins, who managed a rare grin during the game , was certifiably somber afterward when asked about the current NBA situation. NBA players decided to dissolve their union and some, including Powe, filed antitrust lawsuits against the league.
"I thought the season was going to start but it hasn't yet," Perkins said with a frown. "So I'm just going to continue to work and whenever the season starts I'll just try to go from there.
"Every guy feels different, in my eyes. I feel like some guys may want to take the deal and some guys say they don't want to take the deal, whatever it may be. But I think the biggest thing for the players now is that we all stick together, because we know the owners will do the same. I think right now if everybody puts their pride aside we can get a deal done. I think both sides are being really prideful, but if both sides can drop their pride and come in with an open mind and an open heart, I think we can get a deal."
Asked about the latest labor proposal offered by the league's owners, which NBA players rejected last week, Rondo said he agreed with the players' decision.
"Me personally, I didn't think it was a fair deal," Rondo said.
Pierce concurred: "We don't feel like it's a fair deal. If we did we would have started (playing). Maybe some players do and some players don't, but as a majority we don't feel like it's the right deal.
"I wasn't at the last couple of meetings. That last time when they broke up the union kind of took me by surprise. ... I'm kind of a different player in this. A lot of older guys are different players in this. It would be easy for the older guys to say, 'Take the deal -- we already have contracts and a few years to finish out.' But, you know, this is bigger than us. It's about the future of the league. That's what we talked about when we got together -- me, Ray (Allen), Kobe (Bryant). We feel like that's the most important thing as we move forward."
Still, regardless of what's going on in the world outside Harvard's warm gym, Pierce, Perkins and Rondo agreed it felt good to be playing basketball in front of a crowd again, and all three said they remain optimistic that a deal can be reached.
"Everybody's itching to play basketball," Rondo said. "Everybody wants to see basketball, even both sides. The owners want to see us out there playing and the guys want to be out there playing as well. Hopefully we can come to some type of agreement before it's too late. It's a simple matter of just compromising."
"I think both sides want to play," said Pierce. "I think both sides are equally losing. I believe (the owners) want us to be on the court and we want to be on the court."
On the court is one thing -- in court is quite another, though it is perhaps the more likely scenario.
"I really don't want it to go to court," Pierce said, "but that's a real possibility right now."
A real possibility which, if it results in the cancellation of an entire season, could spell doom for an aging Celtics team led by a 34-year-old captain in Pierce and two stars -- Allen, 36, and Kevin Garnett, 35 -- who will be free agents in June.
"We're not getting any younger," Pierce said, "and KG and Ray are in the last (year) of their deal.
"I just want to play. I don't have too many years left. I think that's the most important thing."
What about playing overseas?
"I've been thinking about it," Pierce said. "I love the game of basketball. It definitely crossed my mind. I may think more about it in December if it looks like we're not playing."
Rondo and Perkins agreed.
"Me and Perk have talked about package deals," Rondo said. "But I won't make that decision until probably January."
No matter what happens with the lockout, whether the two sides come to an agreement or not, Rondo isn't worried about the future of the Celtics or the continued potency of the graying Big Three:
"I know guys think [Pierce, Allen and Garnett] are old," Rondo said, "but I see them daily. I know they're working. They're three of the hardest workers on the team. They're always in the best shape. Obviously aging takes some wear and tear on your body, but they're in the weight room, they're in the gym, they're getting extra cardio in. So I'm not worried about those guys.
"Right now we're just enjoying our time, well, not enjoying it, but you know what I mean. For me it's a gift and a curse. I'm trying to get as healthy as possible, with all my injuries. But I'm ready to play."
Tom Lakin is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.