BOSTON — All 23 National Basketball Assn. teams played 82 regular-season games, and then there were 40 days and 40 nights of playoffs, just so we could get back to where we left off last season.
Boston vs. Los Angeles
The Celtics vs. the Lakers.
K.C. and his Sunshine Band vs. Showtime.
At stake is the championship, some pocket change and a hideous trophy that only former Commissioner Larry O'Brien could love, and then only because it's named for him.
Can these Celtics become the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to repeat as champions? Can the Lakers return to the throne for the third time in six seasons? Will it be "Dynasty" or "The Empire Strikes Back?"
The answer will be determined by these matchups:
BIRD VS. MAGIC "Everybody says it's me against Magic," Larry Bird says. "But it's really me against Michael Cooper."
Bird says that because he doesn't understand the question. This isn't about which defensive confrontation is going to have the most bearing on the outcome of the series.
This is about deciding who is the best player in the game. It was anybody's guess before last year's championship series. But then Magic made a couple of bad passes, the Celtics won in seven games and suddenly there was Bird on the cover of Time, under the headline, "Simply the Best."
Magic wants redemption. Or at least the cover of Newsweek.
KAREEM VS. THE CHIEF The edge goes to Abdul-Jabbar. Anybody who sticks his head out of the sunroof of a limo in the middle of Manhattan and sings a song about a candy bar has to have the edge. The man the Celtics call Chief, Robert Parish, has the personality of a cigar-store Indian.
He did, however, score a few points during last year's final, when he brought a voodoo doctor to practice to work on his sore shoulder. After word of that hit print, Celtic practices were closed.
SID VICIOUS VS. SUPERMAN This is the kind of person Kevin McHale is. After practice the other day, he rushed home to put up a swing set for his kids.
In the process, he broke his wife's big toe.
But that doesn't make McHale a bad guy, just clumsy.
He still claims his flying tackle of Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the finals last year was an accident.
McHale's teammates since have nicknamed him Sid Vicious, after the late punk rocker, but they know, in their heart of hearts, he didn't flog Rambis on purpose. They know, in his heart of hearts, McHale really is a wimp.
Nevertheless, they say that was the play that turned momentum in the Celtics' favor.
M.L. Carr explains how:
"If a kid knows there is milk and cookies waiting for him on the table, he's back home from school in a flash.
"But if he knows one of his parents is waiting to give him a beating, he sure enough takes his sweet time about getting home. He takes the most indirect route and looks around at everything on the way. He'll pull all sorts of stalling tactics to avoid that inevitable beating."
CHICK HEARN VS. JOHNNY MOST As a basketball announcer, Chickie Baby takes Most into the popcorn machine. The refrigerator door is closed.
The biggest difference in these two legends of radio is that Chick loves basketball. Most loves the Celtics.
Of Most's biased presentation, Philadelphia 76ers publicist Harvey Pollack says: "No one who plays against Boston is any good. That's his outlook on life. But Boston fans must want that, instead of the truth."
Most won't even admit that Pat Riley dresses well. That's how much he hates the Lakers.
This isn't to say that Chick isn't a Laker fan. But when they're not winning, he doesn't make excuses for them. Sometimes, he goes overboard, making them sound like a truly awful team, such as the Clippers.
Another thing you have to admire about Chick is his loyalty. You know and Chick knows that the Lakers wear purple. But he used to have to describe the color as Forum Blue because the team's previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, didn't like the word purple. The color was OK. It was the word he detested.
BOSTON GARDEN VS. THE FORUM "Boston Garden is history," Bird says reverentially. "But it should be burnt down and turned into a parking lot."
Boston Garden is, without question, the worst basketball arena in the NBA. There are rats there the size of Mark Eaton's shoes. There are more dead spots in the floor than in the Granary Burial Grounds. And it's not air-conditioned. Remember the pictures of Kareem with his face buried in an oxygen mask during Game 5 at Boston Garden last year?
Even worse, John Kiley isn't there anymore. He's the answer to a trivia question in Boston. Who's the only man to play for the Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox? Kiley is an organist.
Last year, Kiley, getting up in age and too feeble to walk up the stairs to the Garden, asked if he could use the elevator that services the players, executives and press. He was told no, which forced him to quit.
But you can't blame this one on Red Auerbach. It was the dirty work of the Bruins, who own Boston Garden. May they forever have to muck it up in the corner.