Culture Showdown

May 29, 1985

Section: METRO


Professional basketball has never really hit my hot button. This, because it's not a sport so much as it is 10 guys with glandular problems who run back and forth on a floor until there are two minutes left in a game and it's time to pay attention to the point spread.

Then, for 120 seconds, everyone performs like the Flying Wallendas on speed. That's life in the NBA.

For those of you who don't know or don't care about pro ball, the National Basketball Assn. is the single biggest and tallest example of greed in sports. It is a collection of greedy and stupid owners who are in it largely because having a franchise is a wicked great tax shelter.

The owners look up at 12 men in size 22A sneakers and see one thing: A write-off. And if a club isn't doing well at the gate, they move the franchise to another hick town at half-time.

There are 23 teams in the league. About 22 qualify for the playoffs, thus making the entire regular season a joke.

The players are greedy, too, but you can't blame them. They look around at a bunch of swindlers, hustlers, con-men, real estate developers and shopping mall owners who get their kicks and their exemptions by owning a franchise and, naturally, the athlete says: "Where's mine?"

On any given night, most of these wealthy NBA players are capable of scoring in double figures. That's more than a lot of them could manage in the College Boards. Tell me this is not a great country.

Given all this, the playoff series between Boston and Los Angeles does indeed warrant our attention because it is a bit more than just plain hoop. It's sort of a clash of cultures.

The Celtics are working stiffs. The Lakers are management.

The Celtics have a captain whose name is just plain Larry. The Lakers are led by a guy called "Magic."

Our guys look like they've never been outdoors. You just know they even wear T-shirts on the beach. Maybe tuck a pack of cigarettes into a rolled-up sleeve.

None of them would look out of place in the Malden Catholic yearbook. Awkward with chicks too. The Lakers . . . Hey, they're from "El Lay." Pass the oil and pump that iron. Say something relevant baby.

The Lakers are life's favorites. The big oddsmaker in the sky has made them younger, faster, better-looking and plunked them down where nobody has pimples, fat thighs, pale skin or a bicycle tire around the waist.

Check it out: Their fans show up at games wearing more gold than a bride. Nobody's old, ugly or bald.

The Celtics are 1958. The Lakers are 1985.

The Celtics are 15 Lansdowne st. The Lakers are "The Strip" or "Little Santa Monica" or meet me on La Cienaga.

Our guys are high-cuts. Their guys are sandals.

The Celtics are Gene Hackman: Bent nose, thinning hair, gap in the teeth but get the job done smartly and professionally. The Lakers are Ryan O'Neil: Smile like sunshine, never up before noon, nothing but pretty, the toughest guy in . . . are you ready for this? . . . Malibu.

The guys from El Lay knock women off their feet with all that patter, with The Look. No need to tell them who they are or where they've been. It's an automatic: The Mayor of Easy Street. "So . . ."

The guys from Boston jump into a Plymouth K Car. They spend Saturday night driving around the block, over and over, hanging out the window trying to think of something smart to say to all the pretty girls in their summer dresses. "Go around one more time, Larry. I think she liked me."

They windsurf at Trancas. We hang around the hotel pool. They go to Poo-Poo Jones' house up in Coldwater Canyon for a private screening of some new film. We go to Westwood to the . . . movies.

The Lakers are Prince. The Celtics are Springsteen. The Lakers are options, treatments and putting together a deal over brunch at The Bel-Air. The Celtics are time-clocks, blisters and a coffee break half way through a bang-it-out day.

Boston is a place so locked into history that the future is always a stranger. El Lay is a place so geared to tinsel dreams that the past is never mentioned. Boston is a look over the shoulder. El Lay is a glance ahead at the freeway.

Boston is The Bird and Red Auerbach. El Lay is Magic and Jack Nicholson who is a puzzle. Short, dumpy and white, he's a lunch-bucket kind of guy who shows up at the games wearing The Beaver's old clothes. Our kind of guy, right?

But, remember, this isn't basketball. It's ugly against pretty. It's the fat girl who never got asked to the dance against Vanessa Williams. It's tap- city going one-on-one with every credit card you can think of. It's our lawn mowers against their gardeners. It's us against them. How can we lose?

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