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.
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
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