Two great teams after the same goal
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES — Phil Jackson knows the story by heart, even if his players only seem interested in the last two chapters.
Their coach is steeped in the history of pro basketball's most compelling rivalry, familiar with every twist in the Boston Celtics' half-century of championship clashes with the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA's most decorated franchises have battled through heartbreaks, high stakes and neck-aches while forging a true pro sports rivalry, that rarest of commodities in the age of free agency.
Jackson doesn't mind that almost everybody playing in the franchises' 12th NBA finals meeting, starting tomorrow night at Staples Center, doesn't have much of a grasp on the history sewn into the uniforms they wear.
So what if Ron Artest claims total ignorance of the Lakers' past, while Kobe Bryant says he couldn't care less who Los Angeles played? So what if the deep-seated hatred between the franchises' fans doesn't seem to be truly savored by nearly anybody except Paul Pierce, the Los Angeles native turned Celtics star?
When asked why the kids these days just don't get it, Jackson smirks and nimbly sidesteps the trap set for grumpy old men and history buffs.
"That rivalry is renewed ... it seems like every 20 years, and now here it is," Jackson said. "This is our second time going back at them. It's one that I think piques the interest of the fans of basketball."
Notice he didn't mention the players' interest. In the age of easy team-swapping, $100 million contracts and offseason Vegas partying with bitter in-season opponents, there's not much actual malice to be found between these Lakers and these Celtics.
"It's not a personal thing," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said before the Celtics practiced at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion yesterday. "They're a great team, we're a great team. We're both trying to get to the same goal."
The clubs are meeting in the finals for the second time in three seasons, and the winner will walk away with the franchises' 33rd combined championship. Boston has 17 and the Lakers 15, which is more than half of the titles in NBA history.
"We've definitely got two franchises that never really liked each other because they were always playing for the ultimate prize," said Pierce, the 2008 NBA finals MVP. "You can definitely sense that, and I already knew that growing up here."
All Hawai'i times
Boston vs. L.A. Lakers
Tomorrow Boston at L.A. Lakers, 3 p.m.
Sunday: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 2 p.m.
June 8: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 3 p.m.
June 10: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 3 p.m.
x-June 13: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 2 p.m.
x-June 15: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 3 p.m.
x-June 17: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 3 p.m.