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Basketball great Bob Cousy, left, is presented with a birthday cake by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as fellow Boston Celtics basketball legend JoJo White, center, looks on moments after Romney signed a bill naming basketball the official game of the state during a news conference, in Boston, Tuesday. Cousy received the cake to commemorate his birthday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)<P>
Wednesday, August 09
BOSTON — Call it baseball blasphemy in Beantown — the Sox have taken a back seat to the Celtics.

Basketball and the Boston Celtics beat out the Boston Red Sox at the Statehouse yesterday, as Gov. Mitt Romney signed a new law that proclaims the sport the official game of Massachusetts.

"I bet Mitt could hit a foul shot, but he'll never come close to hitting a curveball," said Tim Carroll, 47, owner of the Sideline Saloon on Fenn Street.

The idea was launched in January 2005, when Sen. Pam Resor, D-Acton, filed a bill on behalf of Bobby Brisbois, 11, and his fellow classmates, then-third graders, at the Joseph P. Mulready School in Hudson. It passed through the Legislature easily, putting basketball in a class with an assortment of other official state items: the tabby cat as the state cat; the ladybug as the state insect; the corn muffin as the state muffin; and the chocolate chip cookie as the state cookie.

Resor told The Eagle recently that bills such as this one are great teaching tools for children learning about state government.

"They gave testimony on this bill," she said yesterday, standing before the children and Celtics greats Bob Cousy and JoJo White. "I think it is because of their commitment that we're here today."

But last night, at Pittsfield's popular sports bar, Carroll and crew wholeheartedly disagreed.

"It's crap," said bartender Stacey Morrison, 23. "Working at the bar, I see that baseball is by far the biggest draw. Look around."

Nearly 90 percent of the bar's walls were covered in Red Sox snapshots, like the pile-on after the World Series win in 2004. One photo of Larry Bird's trademark three-point shot was buried in a sea of red and blue.

Romney acknowledged that fans of other sports may have been glowering while he signed the bill into law.

"We love the Red Sox. We love the Patriots," Romney told the crowd. "But this is the game that was invented here (in Springfield in 1891)."

Many have argued that Massachusetts is caught up in baseball and football fever with the recent championships, and that basketball is lagging behind in popularity.

"What have the Celtics won lately?" Carroll asked.

In addition, Holyoke claims to have invented volleyball, and recent evidence has emerged in the Berkshires that suggests people may have been playing baseball in Pittsfield before it was discovered in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"We started baseball here in Pittsfield long before basketball was created," Carroll said. "Baseball should be the official sport of Massachusetts."

The attitude took on a different air at Pitt Park last night, where a dozen boys shot baskets under the fading light.

"Baseball is boring," said Allek Culpepper, 17, of Pittsfield. "All you do is swing a bat and run. Basketball is way more intense."

Nevertheless, Romney signed the bill into law, and then immediately signed an official NBA basketball with a black marker. He handed the ball off to the former Celtics to add their signatures as a keepsake for the class, and then led a round of "Happy Birthday" for Cousy, who claimed to forget his age due to "early Alzheimer's."