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Abdul-Jabbar found revelry in the rivalry

June 02, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

The routine is well-established. The media mob, armed with cameras, tripods, tape recorders and, yes, even some old-fashioned notepads, gathers in a small room leading to the Lakers' practice court at the team's El Segundo training facility.

Like bulls in a pen waiting to charge, they are poised for the moment when John Black, the team's public relations director, swings open the door and turns them loose.

The primary targets are always the same: Kobe Bryant first, then Coach Phil Jackson, and on to Lamar Odom or Derek Fisher or Pau Gasol.

But not Sunday. The days ahead will offer plenty of opportunities to dwell on the 2008 NBA Finals, the renewal of Lakers-Celtics after 21 seasons.

Sunday was a day for nostalgia. Sunday was a day for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a day to dwell on classic Lakers-Celtics.

So the Hall of Fame center proved to be the first magnet for the media army.

Surrounded as he had been in his playing days, Abdul-Jabbar was asked to relive the moment when he dropped his normally stoic demeanor after making a skyhook with a minute to play in Game 6 of the 1985 Finals, all but clinching the Lakers' first championship triumph over Boston in nine tries. Abdul-Jabbar, a big grin on his face, ran down the Boston Garden court that day, arms spread, fists clenched.

"A lot of years of frustration for our franchise and for me personally were over," he recalled. "The chance to get that monkey off our back and finally beat them was very important for our franchise.

"People enjoyed the way the rivalry evolved in the '80s. We didn't start out going head to head. We won a championship, they won a championship, then we won again. Then we started playing them for the championship. So we were both able to first establish ourselves as premier teams."

Even before that, Abdul-Jabbar had experienced the challenge of trying to beat the NBA's most successful team and the disappointment at failing to do so.

"I played against the Celtics in the Finals in 1974 [as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks] and we weren't able to get it done because we had some injuries," he said, the major casualty being Oscar Robertson. "We thought we had the better team, but we didn't win the world championship."

The Celtics won that series in seven games.

To finally triumph in 1985, the Lakers had to not only survive against the Celtics, but against their rabid fans as well. Especially the ones who kept setting off fire alarms in the Lakers' hotel in the wee hours of the morning.

The Lakers changed hotels, but the fans kept finding them. "I had to get up one morning at 4:30," Abdul-Jabbar said, "because the alarms were going off."


Bryant was 5 years old and living in Italy when the Lakers and Celtics first met in the Finals in the 1980s. But, with his grandfather sending him tapes of the games, he was able to watch every minute.

And he hasn't forgotten.

"I remember everything about those series like it was yesterday," he said. "All the plays. I used to watch those tapes my grandfather sent me over and over.

"What they had then was truly magical. What we are trying to do now is make our own mark in history. Hopefully we can continue to perform well as the years go on and continue the legacy of the Lakers and the Celtics."

Bryant said there would be one big difference from those old series and this year's edition: the physical nature of the play.

One of the enduring images from the '80s is the flying headlock Kevin McHale put on Kurt Rambis, sending the Lakers forward crashing to the court in Game 4 in 1984.

"That's the intensity of what it used to be," Bryant said. "You try that now, you'd be suspended for a week."

As a kid, did Bryant hate the Celtics?

"Who didn't?" he said.



GAME 1: at TD Banknorth Garden

Thursday, 6 p.m. PDT (Channel 7)

Best-of-seven series, 2-3-2 format

NBA Finals

Best of seven; all games are on Channel 7, times Pacific.

(* if necessary)


Game 1: Thursday at Boston, 6 p.m.

Game 2: Sunday at Boston, 6 p.m.

Game 3: June 10 at Lakers, 6 p.m.

Game 4: June 12 at Lakers, 6 p.m.

Game 5: June 15 at Lakers, 6 p.m.*

Game 6: June 17 at Boston, 6 p.m.*

Game 7: June 19 at Boston, 6 p.m.*

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