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Picking Celtics Wasn't Easy

BOSTON - I picked the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship in seven games over the Los Angeles Lakers. I had a hard time making my selection - and it has nothing to do with the reasons you might expect.

Growing up in Kansas City, where I adopted the Lakers after my beloved Kings moved to that city in Northern California, I never thought there would be a day that I'd pick the Celtics over the Lakers. Never. I despised the Celtics. I hated Danny Ainge. I hated that Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were so good (but I had to respect them). I hated seeing M.L. Carr waving that doggone towel. I couldn't even stand the Leprechaun - which may have been the reason why I never ate Lucky Charms. I always thought the CBS announcing team of Tommy Heinsohn and Dick Stockton was pro-Celtics (I had no idea who Heinsohn was as a little kid, but now I understand). And I was spooked out whenever I saw Red Auerbach.

I remember Arsenio Hall had a routine where he called the Celtics the ugliest team in the NBA. He compared McHale to Frankenstein, poked fun at the black man with freckles, Dennis Johnson - and I laughed my tail off. I couldn't understand how one of my father's close friends, Lowell, could be a Celtics' fan. At the time, I thought he was the only black man in America rooting for the Celtics in the 1980s.

So, you can imagine how conflicted I felt about picking the Celtics when those emotions bubbled up again while I watched the old replays of the classic Celtics-Lakers championship series of the 1980s on NBATV and ESPN Classic. Like many Gen-Xers, that's where my love for basketball started.

This is how it looked on my TV, too. (Boston Globe file photo)

I almost risked getting a spanking to watch Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals. I was 10 and my parents had just given me an old 13-inch, black-and-white television - yes kids, we had those - to put in my bedroom. I decided to stay up past my bedtime to watch the game, no matter the repercussions. I turned down the volume, but I watched in fear, thinking that my parents might walk by and see the light from my room seeping through the bottom of the door.

Anyway, my face was almost against the screen as I watched the closing seconds. When Magic Johnson caught the ball along the baseline, pumped, and dribbled into the paint to hit that sky hook over Bird, McHale and Robert Parish, I jumped and yelped (I would've screamed, but I quickly put my hand over my mouth so that my mother wouldn't come by with a belt). Fortunately, my father was screaming, too, so he didn't hear my feet hit the ground.

That was my favorite memory of this classic rivalry. I had no idea at the time that it would take 21 years for these two teams to meet again in NBA Finals. My hatred of the Celtics ended right around the time Reggie Lewis died way too soon because of an unfortunate heart condition. The Celtics went through so many lean years that there was really no point in rooting against them.

I also stopped being a Lakers fan shortly after I graduated from college and the Lakers had traded away my two favorite players on the team, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. My friends gave me a hard time, told me not to hop back on the bandwagon when Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won a championship. I didn't. I haven't looked back. And I suppose I'm better for it, since I eventually started covering the NBA.

My only rooting interest now is which result complicates my life the least. Winners and losers don't really matter to me anymore - at least not on an emotional level. I guess that's why I was able to put aside my past differences with the Celtics and pick them to beat the Lakers.

I realize I'm in the minority. Most people are picking the Lakers because it just seems like this is Kobe Bryant's year, Phil Jackson is in his 11th NBA Finals compared to Doc Rivers' first, and Pau Gasol has had a 2004 Rasheed Wallace-like impact on Lakers, taking them to that next level.

I took all of those factors into consideration before I decided that the Celtics' defense, homecourt advantage, the hunger of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and the ghost of Auerbach would be too much for the Lakers to overcome.

All that I know is, no matter who wins, I won't lose any sleep over it

By Michael Lee  |  June 5, 2008; 1:18 PM ET
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I'm picking the Celtics because I only hate their stars a little less than the Lakers' stars. This is only Kobe's year because the NBA has given him the award that he never really deserved. After all, the cry baby was ready to leave this team that he now claims to love and cherish as their chosen leader. Scumbag.

Posted by: Kevin | June 5, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Third offense for driving on a suspended licence? It's obvious that he doesn't take it seriously. If I'm the judge, he's doing a month or two of jail time.

Posted by: rbpalmer | June 5, 2008 12:12 PM

That's just stupid.

This country imprisons more per capita than any other country in the world. why should we be imprisoning people for things like suspended licenses?
When it's driving 86mph or driving with a suspended license, we're much better off suspending our own judgement. Grunfeld should give Blatche a slap on the wrist, and we should move on like it's no big deal.

Cause really, it's no big deal.

Posted by: Johnnie Futbol | June 5, 2008 1:47 PM

Caught the first time driving on a suspended licence? Sure, "slap him on the wrist." Give him a fine and/or community service. Caught a second time? Weeeelll . . . Caught a third time? At this point, we need to find a sentence that clearly communicates what apparently hasn't gotten through yet...that when your licence gets suspended, YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DRIVE. The only thing that's stupid is repeatedly slapping a repeat offender on the wrist and expecting different results.

Posted by: rbpalmer | June 5, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm on the Celtics side for sentimental reasons - give the old guys a ring etc. But realistically I think it's the Lakers who're going to win for very similar reasons - their young guys are more talented than the Celtics supporting cast. The attempt to shore up the Celtics with more old guys like Cassell won't work. The Lakers will outrun, outhustle and outshoot the Celtics in 4 out of 6 games.

Watching an old Lakers-Celtics championship game last night, I can't help but be struck that the games have become much more physical today. James Worthy was driving to the basket, a Celtic named Kite (sorry don't know who he was) held him down by the shirt and torso with two hands. Worthy came up swinging. Kite hit back and they both got technicals. Haha, nowadays he would not have been held down by his shirt, he would have been nudged with a shoulder to crash down on the floor! The Laker would not come up swinging (it's the playoffs, expect hard fouls) and there would have been no Technical, just a regular shooting foul.

Posted by: rgz | June 5, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse


I saw that same game yesterday. those punches James threw were erratic and fast. He would've been tossed nowadays

Posted by: Burg w/ a U | June 5, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Yep, I have watched that game about 20x. I was a Lakers fan back then. I'm more of a Worthy fan than a Magic. If Worthy was playing today he can be an MVP with a 6-9 frame and long arms and very athletic. McHale and Worthy match-up was a beauty. While Kevin is a PF and James is a SF, he's a Celtics best defender back then.

Posted by: Dave, | June 5, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

The game today is not even close to being as physical as it was even 10-15 years ago. It just seems that way because it's called tighter on contact and the refs are quicker with the whistles. Stuff that gets called a flagrant 2 and gets guys tossed in today's games often went by with even a foul call back in the Bad Boys days. And those Knicks/Heat games from the 90s were like WWE matches.

Posted by: kalorama | June 5, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I hated the ML Carr towel waving thing too. Ainge got on your nerves too. DJ was consistent and gritty on D. McHale was the "big fundamentals" of the times. The Chief would put in work and apologize when he got a pkg of good greens in the mail. And Bird with that awkward shot was just deadly before the back problems. All that said, I'm taking L-A in 6 because I think they have the better bench and Gasol will eat Kendrick Perkins alive inside with his length.

Posted by: G$ | June 5, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

On ability and depth, the Lakers should leave the Celtics in the dust... On character, it gets interesting. Let it go 7, Lord, and let the Celtics win.

Posted by: khrabb | June 5, 2008 4:57 PM | Report abuse

My favorite thing about this series is I don't have a rooting interest or hate either team. I just get to enjoy it. If the Celtics can get it to 6, they win. Lakers have to win it in five. They're that close.

Posted by: Jim | June 5, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

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