No History Lesson Needed: Lakers, Celtics Understand Rivalry
LOS ANGELES -- Before the 2008 NBA Finals, Brian Shaw tried to teach his players that the Los Angeles Lakers are supposed to hate the Boston Celtics.
Shaw, you see, could be called a professor on the subject. He's one of just 22 men in NBA history to have played for both the Celtics and the Lakers, and is in his sixth season as a Lakers assistant.
So how did "Hate the Celtics 101" go for Shaw on the eve of the 2008 Finals, when the teams were meeting for the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time in 21 years? Not too well.
Neither did the series. The Lakers lost 4-2 to the Celtics, including a humiliating 131-92 loss in Game 6. The night got even worse when Boston fans, celebrating the team's 17th title, pounded on the Lakers' bus and threw rocks at it.
So how much more do Lakers players know about the intensity of this rivalry now that the teams will meet for the second time in three years and for the 12th time since 1959?
"These guys on this team understand it now because that team was basically manhandled in 2008,'' Shaw said Wednesday on the eve of Thursday's Game 1 at Staples Center. "I understand why they didn't understand about the rivalry (in 2008) because a lot of them weren't born or weren't really following basketball. You'd be surprised at how many young players today don't really follow the history of the game. ... It's hard to generate that we're supposed to hate them and they're supposed to hate us when they missed it all from the beginning.''
Well, the hate is somewhat back. No, don't expect to see Kevin McHale clothesline Kurt Rambis on a drive to the basket, as was the case in 1984. But at least there's some recent history the teams can eye.
"You lose a game by 39 points in the last game of the series, and what we had to go through from the bus ride from the arena to the hotel was crazy,'' said Shaw, a guard who played with the Celtics in 1988-89 and from 1990-92 and finished his career with the Lakers from 1999-2003. "It was scary because the police didn't even have control of the situation outside. So I think at that moment everybody realized what it was all about.''
The Celtics also have gained a better understanding of the rivalry by having gone through it in 2008.
"You have to have a sense of appreciation for the players who built this rivalry, if not this league,'' said Boston forward Kevin Garnett. "You can't go in nothing short of that. I think it's our responsibility as Celtics and as Lakers to leave everything out there on the floor just because the players and coaches and the personnel of the organizations that came before us."
At least Garnett knew a lot more about the rivalry two years ago than Boston forward Glen "Big Baby'' Davis. Then a rookie, Davis said he, appropriately, was "sipping on some baby food somewhere'' when the teams had last played in the Finals in 1987 and he was 1 ½ years old.
But Davis spoke a different tune Wednesday.
"You learn something (from 2008),'' Davis said. "People go crazy over this series and now I feel that real riots can break out. ... At first, I didn't know a lot. Yeah, I know a lot of championships (that Boston has won) and Bill Russell and John Havlicek and all those great players that played with the Celtics. But to play in it is a whole different experience to be part of.''
Still, it sounds as if Davis has some things to learn.
"I just walked by Kobe Bryant, and I love that guy,'' Davis said of the Lakers star. "I love him. He's a great guy.''
Love Bryant? Maybe somebody needs to give Davis some lessons about learning to hate in this rivalry similar to what Shaw tried to provide in 2008.
Then again, perhaps the Celtics have nothing to hate about in the rivalry. They won the last time the teams met in the Finals, and hold an all-time lead of 9-2.
Boston won the first seven meetings between 1959-69, although the Lakers have split the last four. In the three meetings before 2008, the Lakers lost in 1984 before winning in 1985 and 1987.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom didn't want to use "hate'' in describing his feelings for the Celtics. But he didn't deny having a new appreciation for the rivalry after having been through it two years ago.
"No doubt about it,'' Odom said. "It's obvious. You go places. You walk around town and (it is) basketball history (when the teams meet in the Finals). You go through something before, you learn a little bit more about it. It has to be one of the biggest rivalries in sports. Definitely in basketball, you'd say.''
The same teams playing each other more than once in the Finals in a short period of time has been rare over the past 20 years in the NBA. Since the start of the 1990s, the only other time teams have met twice in a three-year period was 1997 and 1998, when Chicago and Utah met in consecutive Finals.
"It makes it more unique,'' Boston forward Brain Scalabrine said of the Celtics and Lakers soon meeting again. "It means more now that it's the second time. Most of the time in the Finals, when you meet, there's no bad blood. Now, you start thinking of the past, the 39-point shellacking is a big deal and all that stuff is building up. You hardly ever find bad blood West to East. We have bad blood with Orlando (the team that fell to Boston in the East final).
"If I was in their shoes, I'd be looking to beat the Celtics. They won (the NBA title) last year but clearly from the time they won the Western Conference championship (last Saturday over Phoenix) we were on their minds. ... They want revenge from what happened two years ago. They were waiting on us.''
Actually, the Celtics were on the Lakers' mind even before they won the West and even before Boston claimed the East. Lakers center Andrew Bynum talked last Friday about wanting to face the Celtics to get revenge for 2008 even though Bynum, who had a knee injury, didn't even play in that series.
Bynum, on Wednesday, said the Lakers have the "opportunity to correct a mistake and a loss.'' There's no doubt these guys are feeling differently about the Celtics now than entering the 2008 Finals.
"I definitely think the guys that have been here 100 percent realize more now how big this rivalry is,'' said forward Luke Walton, one of nine Lakers players remaining from the 2008 team while the Celtics have eight such players.
Walton, though, didn't need any lessons about the rivalry in 2008. His father, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, played for the Boston team that won the title in 1986 and fell in the 1987 Finals to the Lakers.
Luke Walton, born in 1980, grew up cheering with the Celtics. But that obviously changed after he was drafted by the Lakers in 2003.
"He always sticks to his claim that he's a Celtic,'' Luke Walton said of his dad. "He actually predicted the Celtics would win two years ago, but he said he's rooting for me. ... I haven't heard any predictions (for these Finals), but he told me at dinner he's rooting for us. But it might be different when he's talking with the Boston Globe.''
Luke Walton used to have all sorts of Celtics garb but assures Lakers fans it's all been "burned to the ground.'' If he had any leftover green garments two years ago, no doubt the bus ride after the Game 6 loss assured their destruction.
"We were all (mad),'' Luke Walton said of that trip. "We just couldn't get back to the hotel. It took a lot longer to get there because we couldn't move. (Boston fans) were pushing the bus and throwing rocks.''
Shaw said the lopsided Game 6 loss "fueled us and made us hungry'' to come back and win the title. Whether continued motivation from 2008 will help the Lakers in this series remains to be seen.
But at least Shaw doesn't have to dispense much advice now on how the Lakers are supposed to hate the Celtics.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson