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6.03.2008

Memorial Day Massacre No Biggie for Nicholson

You've got to like them. You know, I should be a Celtics fan because I'm a black Irishman. I admire the way they go out and fight for what they want and they're so loose. It's just too long a commute from L.A. to Boston, so I'll just stick with the Lakers.

--Jack Nicholson, June 1985

It's the day after the Celtics blew the Lakers out of the water in game one of the NBA Championship Series, but Jack Nicholson is still smiling.

"What are you going to do?," he asks, while relaxing in his suite at the Carlyle Hotel. "A blowout's a blowout."

Although the 90-minute interview focused on Nicholson's new film, "Prizzi's Honor," a cynical comedy based on Richard Condon's novel and directed by John Huston, his eyes never strayed far from the sports page spread out before him on the coffee table.

His interest in basketball overlapped his film career in the critically and commercially underrated 1970 film "Drive, He Said" - set in the world of college basketball. Nicholson's film adaptation of Jeremy Larner's novel marked the actor's first directorial effort.

"I just love basketball," he says, glancing at a photo of an anguished Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Lakers' bench. "Although I love the Lakers, I'm more than a Lakers fan. Hell, I even go to the Clippers games."

Nicholson has been portrayed, in certain circles, as the Lakers' mascot - a label he deeply resents.

"That really galls me," he says, his eyes flashing with indignation. "I know some of the players but we don't hang out together. I just love to go to the games because it's a helluva lot of fun. What could be better than the two best teams in basketball going at each other? It's passion."

Although Nicholson loves his role as the Lakers most visible fan, the two- time Oscar winner admits a certain affection for the Celtics. After all, the characters he has played in "Five Easy Pieces," "The Last Detail," "Chinatown," "Terms of Endearment," among others, all reflect the rough and tumble of Boston rather than the speed and grace of L.A.

"You've got to like them," he says, referring to the Celtics. "You know, I should be a Celtics fan because I'm a black Irishman. I admire the way they go out and fight for what they want and they're so loose."

Nicholson flashes his patented grin. "It's just too long a commute from L.A. to Boston, so I'll just stick with the Lakers."

During game one, Nicholson sat with Mrs. Cora Alcindor, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar's mother. "You should have seen her. She was dumbfounded. She had never seen anything like it before."

Although Celtics management made a private box available to Nicholson, he prefers sitting down on the floor nearer to the action. "I have a great time with the Boston fans," he says. "'Hey, Jack,' some kid'll scream. When I turn around the guy's yelling obscenities. It's all part of the game . . . part of the fun."

Although Nicholson has been beseiged with offers to endorse products and be a pitchman in television commercials, he's always refused.

"I've never done an endorsement," he says. "I refuse to do them but I'm going to do one for the NBA. Basketball's such a great game but they don't get the audience that baseball and football get. They're low man on the pole. But I never believed in a product like I believe in the one they're putting out."

Even if the Lakers lose?

"Sure," he says, again, with that killer smile. "But, as I told Mrs Alcindor, it's a long series and the Celtics don't have the rings, yet."

Nicholson picked up the sports page and stared at the photo of a pained Jabbar. "They'll be back," he says, "and so will I."

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