An hour before last Friday's Celtics-Lakers game, outside
Boston's FleetCenter, Ray Lemoine held two nearly identical
T-shirts, one in either hand, as if about to prove a point in a
detergent commercial. The message on the shirt in his left hand
read YANKEES SUCK, the one on the shirt in his right hand read
LAKERS SUCK, and Lemoine was peddling the shirts at 10 bucks
apiece--for profit, to be sure, but also to see which team, in
the view of Bostonians, sucks harder.
"Tonight I've already sold 10 LAKERS SUCK shirts in 10 minutes,"
said Lemoine, a 23-year-old Boston native and former Fenway Park
popcorn vendor. And even though Yankees shirts at Fenway will
outsell Lakers shirts at the FleetCenter by 17 to 1, Lemoine was
motivated less by profit margin than by personal animus. Or, as
he put it: "Dude, I f------ hate the Lakers."
"I hated the Celtics," Boston forward Paul Pierce said of growing
up in Inglewood, Calif. There Pierce would sneak into Lakers
games at the Forum, revering Magic Johnson and reviling Larry
Bird in an era when all people broke down into two types: Celtics
fan or Lakers fan.
Alas, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry will never match the intensity
it had in the 1980s, and not merely because Pierce was wearing,
as he spoke inside the arena, a baseball cap emblazoned with an
interlocking LA. That's nothing: After a 26-point loss to the
Mavericks on March 29, Celtics rookies Kedrick Brown and Joseph
Forte dressed--in the Boston locker room, a hundred yards from the
parquet floor--in vintage Magic Johnson jerseys.
In today's NBA the words sung by Kermit the Frog say it best:
"It's not that easy being green/Having to spend each day the
color of the leaves/When you think it could be nicer to be red or
yellow or gold." Pierce grew up wanting to be yellow, and Celtics
forward Antoine Walker, who was raised in Chicago, wanted to be
red. Said 'Toine, "I was a Bulls fan back in the day." But Pierce
and Walker became green, and the highest-scoring tandem in
basketball after the Lakers' ShoBe monster, Shaquille O'Neal and
Kobe Bryant. Understandably the Celtics All-Stars weary of
comparisons with various Boston ghosts, one of whom--Timberwolves
vice president Kevin McHale--said of the duo, "They couldn't carry
Larry Bird's jockstrap around."
Who can? And so what? Boston last week clinched a playoff spot
for the first time in seven years, and they'd already beaten the
Lakers in Los Angeles in February. So when the Lakers came to
Causeway Street, the Celtics played their most emotionally
charged game in the better part of a decade. The region's two
most famous lawyers attended--Harvard Law School professor Alan
Dershowitz and Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy--as did ex-Celt Bob
Cousy; ex-Bruin Cam Neely; Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the actress who
plays Meadow Soprano (in a Celtics jacket); and the basketball
player Rebecca Lobo (in a Red Sox jersey). It was a roll call of
everyone who is wicked-famous in New England, save No-mah.
Then came an echo of the 1980s. With 2:25 left in the first
quarter and the Celtics leading 20-13, a faintly familiar sound
went up in the FleetCenter: "Beat L.A.!" Like a cheer unheard
since high school, it instantly brought you back. "That was
great," said veteran Celtics forward Eric Williams. "That was the
first time I got to hear that live, to be a part of that. I felt
The chant intensified as Kobe missed shot after shot after shot.
"I'm gonna keep shootin', you know that, don't you?" he shouted
to Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest, seated with his buddy
Milloy on the baseline. McGinest, in a full-length fur, shouted
back, "Hey, Kobe, you look lost out there, man." Thus began a
two-hour dialogue that would leave Kobe a flustered 5 for 25, the
Celtics 99-81 winners and the two Patriots more heroic than ever.
"Rivalries," said Pierce later, "are made in the playoffs. There
are no regular-season rivalries." Pierce adjusted his Dodgers cap
and said, "It would've meant more if Shaquille O'Neal had
played"--the Lakers' center sat out with a sprained right
wrist--"but the Lakers are still the Lakers, and who knows? We
might face 'em in the Finals." Given Eastern Conference parity,
even Kobe agreed.
"Green," sang Kermit, "is the color of spring." And maybe, just
maybe, it will be the color of summer, too. But Ray Lemoine, for
one, is taking no chances on a Boston-L.A. final. After the game
he shipped his remaining LAKERS SUCK shirt inventory to a friend
in Sacramento. "He'll get rid of them," said Lemoine. "No
problem. They hate the Lakers there, too."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR