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Lakers / Celtics : ON THE NBA

The gods must be crazy, er, thrilled

June 03, 2010|MARK HEISLER

Heaven must have sent you from above, or below, or wherever you were.

As if confirming that Lakers-Celtics matchups are a gift, the basketball gods knocked themselves out again, breathing life into the Celtics and healing the Lakers.

In 2008, the gods moved heaven and earth to get them in the Finals, 12 months after the 24-58 Celtics missed out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in the lottery and Kobe Bryant's demand that the Lakers trade him.

What can the teams and their fans say but, "Thanks, gods!"

Lakers fans now have two weeks to sneer at the lowlife Celtics, New England and everything east of the California line.

And vice versa, of course.

This was a "clash of cultures" in the '80s with the press in a lucid phase between the Old Tabloid Era, driven by newsstand sales, and the New Tabloid Era, driven by the Internet.

Now, imagine the possibilities. As ESPN.com's decidedly new era Bill Simmons wrote, "This time it's for blood."

Not literally, hopefully.

Actually, the days when the players were sworn enemies or perceived as representatives of cultural differences are over.

Paul Pierce grew up in Inglewood, sneaking into Lakers games. Kevin Garnett has a summer home in Malibu.

The only rivalry these players feel started in 2008 and has nothing to do with Red Auerbach, Jack Nicholson, leprechauns or glitz.

"I don't give a damn about it," Bryant said when the rivalry came up Monday, obviously one of his why-are-you-bothering-me-when-I-could-be-home-playing-with-my-pet-Mam ba days.

Of course, aside from the players, everyone in Southern California and New England is up for a cultural clash, prompting the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan to ask how his hometown is thought of here.

"Hell with snow," I said, or would have if I thought of it.

Actually, Boston is a lovely place. These Celtics aren't like their insufferable forbears, or forbear. Auerbach was really a kindly paterfamilias with a gruff exterior, like Godzilla's.

It's not real life. Sports fans live to hate other teams and their fans. It's fun if you don't take it seriously, which, no one really does.

OK, maybe a few (hundred million) people, here and there, do.

In the key to this rivalry, some cities are really hated and two are in this series.

Magic Johnson just happened to go to one and Larry Bird to the other, taking the rivalry that produced the top-rated basketball game ever, the 1979 NCAA finals, to the NBA to run another decade.

New York, of course, is No. 1 on the hatred list.

Los Angeles is No. 2, with Boston, once just a place with a faded NBA dynasty and a short left field fence, coming up fast with the rise of the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.

For the perfect touch, there is also the emergence of Boston's bloggers like the monster from Dr. Frankenstein's basement, taking knife-sharp sportswriting to a new level, without covering high school football, being told to write short or meeting a professional athlete.

As FireJoeMorgan.com's Ken Tremendous wrote in the heady summer of 2007, when there seemed no end to their blessings:

"When I heard Randy Moss was coming to the Pats, I thought, 'Finally, a long ball threat for [Tom] Brady!' When the Sox acquired Eric Gagne, it was, 'Two closers! We're so lucky!' And when news of the Kevin Garnett deal came across the wire I thought, 'I only wish the Celtics were still in Boston.' Then I was told that they are still in Boston... so great!"

Of course, with all that passion and so little editing, fans will be fans.

Deciding the beloved Celtics were gonzo, Simmons, the Boston Sports Guy whose free-range scorn made him a star at ESPN, even if the nation as a whole hates the teams he worships, wrote this spring:

"I know the Celtics are going to lose in Round 1."

Not that that was considered impossible within Boston, and the Celtics organization.

Of course, Simmons also trashed them as "a decrepit, non-rebounding, poorly coached, dispirited, excuse-making, washed-up sham of a contender."

More pronouncements followed, like:

"I can prove that the Disease of More exists.

"Our latest example: the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers. Just a classic year-after season, highlighted by Kobe grimly refusing to give up shots because he can smell the faint fumes of Karl Malone's scoring record; [Pau] Gasol griping about Kobe's shot selection...

"I can prove that chemistry matters

"Group 1 (has it): Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Atlanta, Portland, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Phoenix.

"Group 2 (doesn't have it): Boston, Los Angeles."

Or not.

Actually, that was pretty much the conventional wisdom in April.

So you can see what the gods were up against just to get these teams here.

We're on our own from here, awaiting developments on Phil Jackson's future as Bryant's coach, Phil's future as LeBron James' coach, Kendrick Perkins' technicals; Pau Gasol's firmness level, etc.

Happily, there will also be basketball games.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

##LA-LAT_156891_SP_0302_Lakers_20_GMF.jpg#kyqwgbnc#F2S42SQ#Gina Ferazzi Los Angeles Times##Lakers and Celtics make it even dozen: The rivals begin 12th meeting for the title at Staples Center; L.A. center Andrew Bynum, left, took part in limited drills and kept ice on his knee, which he said was a??the same as before it got drained.a? SECTION V

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