This time last year, Salem native Ricky Arias waltzed on stage to accept his undergraduate degree from UMass Amherst.

Little did he know, he’d be exiting that same stage with much more than just a diploma.

A lifelong Celtics fan, Arias and the rest of the Boston faithful were, at the time, gearing up for their beloved team’s Game 7 Eastern Conference playoff showdown against Milwaukee. Moments before Arias was set to receive his diploma, a fellow graduate and Bucks fan flaunted a “Bucks in 7” note on his phone while accepting his parchment.

Arias had been searching for ways to express himself under the spotlight; now, he knew exactly how to do just that.

“About 10 minutes before me a kid did a ‘Bucks in 7’ sign and everyone started booing. I mean, it was Massachusetts and everyone was Celtics fans,” said Arias. “So I went into my phone, typed up a ‘Celtics in 7’ note and right when I do it, my roommate calls me and says, ‘You gotta do this!’ I said I already had it ready to go and once I went up, everyone just started cheering loudly.”

It was a cool moment for Arias and the slew of other Celtics fans in the building — one that was made even better the following evening as Boston got the win over Milwaukee to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

But the fun didn’t stop there.

“I get outside to take pictures with my family, and one of my friends runs up to me saying Bleacher Report betting posted the vid. It already had 14,000 views at that point,” recalled Arias. “The next 24 hours straight my phone was blowing up, blowing up; I had thousands of notifications from Twitter and Instagram, people commenting on my picture, and I had all these Bucks fans in my mentions.

“Then I woke up the next day and had an Instagram DM from the Celtics and they invited me to Game 7,” he continued. “It was pretty surreal.”

Arias was set up in a suite for the big game, bringing his childhood friend, Junius Flemming, along for the ride.

“He’s my best friend and the one who took the video, so I kind of owed him one,” said Arias.

A hooper through and through

Arias doesn’t just enjoy watching basketball, he’s pretty darn good at playing it, too.

Originally suiting up for Tom Doyle’s Salem Witches, Arias made an immediate impact on the court as an All-Northeastern Conference selection during his sophomore year. He wound up transferring to Pingree for his final two seasons, where he became one of the school’s best athletes in recent memory.

As a senior in 2017-18 Arias averaged 19 points, six rebounds and four assists en route to Salem News Player of the Year honors. Among his impressive outings, Arias erupted for a 39-point game with nine triples, surpassing 1,000 career points in the process.

Arias went on to run track for four years at UMass Amherst, thriving in the 200 meter dash and long jump events. Graduating with a degree in economics and a minor in Spanish, he now works for the Boston Bruins in the corporate partnership department — and he’d hate to see his Celtics suffer the same fate as the city’s hockey counterparts did last month.

Back in the limelight

Flash forward to this current NBA postseason, and Arias’ shining moment was once again brought back into the spotlight. In the previous round of the playoffs, Boston faced a similar scenario in the East semifinals against Philadelphia, trailing 3 games to 2 before rallying to win the next two, including Game 7 at home.

In the days leading up to that memorable victory, Arias’ year-old post resurfaced online, and once again the Celtics took notice.

“We were down 3-2, won game 6, and I go on Twitter and my friends started tagging me in a bunch of different accounts who had posted my pic; ‘Mood for today’ it would say,” Arias said. “It just started to catch traction again, so I posted it back on my Twitter.”

Following the blowout win over the Sixers in Game 7, the Celtics organization tracked down Arias’ email and invited him back to TD Garden for Game 1 against the Miami Heat. They put him on the Jumbotron in the arena, this time having him sport a “Beat the Heat” sign on his phone, lined up next to the original ‘Celtics in 7’ photo.

“I got a much better reaction than I expected,” said Arias.

The Celtics find themselves in another dire situation. They trailed Miami 3-1 heading into Thursday night’s home tilt, and like many other Boston fans that have been sucked back in after their team stole Game 4 on the road, Arias feels they have what it takes to come all the way back, win the series and make history.

“I definitely think they have a chance,” Arias said prior to Game 5. “It’s kind of like what they said the other day: don’t let them win one. Now they have some momentum coming back home; I know they haven’t been great at home, but they’re great when facing elimination.

“If any city comes back, it’s going to be us. Nobody’s ever done it, but why not us? Somebody’s gotta do it.”

Contact Nick Giannino at Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.

Contact Nick Giannino at Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.

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