Updated: March 21, 2006, 2:32 AM ET

Deflated rivalry needs a jack

On the shirt's front, the green lettering reads, "HIT THE ROAD, JACK" over a caricature of a grinning, diminutive Jack Nicholson. The uber-LA fan is waving a Lakers pennant, and appears to be getting tossed. On the back: "I HATE LA" -- a play on the Randy Newman song of the day, and a sentiment en vogue in Boston of the 1980s.

I rummaged around the attic for this 20-year-old shirt the other day, with no luck. To get in the spirit of Monday's Lakers-Celtics game, I wanted to pull it on, mindful of the glorious banner-strewn rafters in Boston, hoping that the rivalry still burns, and in some way that resembles its forebears.

It doesn't. Well, the uniforms are the same, with longer shorts. That's about it.

In this one, Kobe Bryant scores 43 for the Lakers sent the Celtics down, 105-97. The Lakers are looking like they've good grip on at least the last playoff spot. The C's seem to be out of the running.

C'mon! These teams used to dominate, not vie for crumbs. As Rick Pitino declared, the Big Three aren't walking through that door anytime soon. Neither are Shaq and Magic for that matter.

The old days of the 1980s classics seem to hang like a ghost over this game. Looking at these two teams, the sentiment on my missing shirt seems an overheated, dumb slogan. Hate LA? With winter hanging tough here in Mass., it seems like a petty jealousy for our tanned brethren. And really, who could hate someone named Smush?

Perhaps it's a lot to expect a tattered T to somehow change the intervening twenty years. Despite optimism and Paul Pierce's frequent heroics, the Celtics haven't tasted the NBA Finals since 1987. And the Lakers, despite the dynamism of Kobe, are generally what their record says they are -- a .500 (or so) team.

There is hope for the rivalry. We already have a possible Bird-Johnson pairing in Kobe and Pierce. It's the rest of the pieces that are the problem. Kwame Brown is not to be confused with Kareem. And Kendrick Perkins ain't the Chief.

I sound like an old grump, I know. But pull on my "Hit The Road, Jack" shirt for a moment. You remember how the Bird-Magic rivalry born in the 1979 NCAA title game gave birth to a decade-long rivalry in Los Angeles and Boston.

A rivalry was soon renewed. Growing up in Cambridge, not all the games were on TV way back in the pre-cable (at least in my neighborhood) 1980s. So I listened to the buzzing wood-chipper voice of Johnny Most, the passionate, comically biased soundtrack to a rivalry. Who could forget such raspy gems as "Kareem says, 'You can't touch me, I'm Kareem!'"

Who could be indifferent then? Hate, an ugly word, was the right one when describing the level of passion between these two teams.

We tried to play like the C's. One historic day, school chum Carl Holt became unstoppable on the Tobin School playground in Cambridge by unveiling some Kevin McHale up-and-under moves. You tried to counter with the odd shot of Robert Parish, who seemed to launch his arching rainbows from a foot over his 7-foot head. Who could shoot that way? Nobody but 00.

Fast forward past the glory. I end up at the 1991 retirement of Dennis Johnson at the Garden, sitting next to Johnny Most, who, alone among the gathered, ignores the NO SMOKING sign and puffs away. The voice of a franchise would not be long for this world.

A few months earlier, I remember exactly where I was when I heard Magic Johnson was HIV positive (Driving in the brown '86 Civic, entering Route 6 in Wellfleet, Mass.) We thought he too wouldn't be long for the world. Thankfully, Magic's still here, an always interesting voice when he steps onto the TNT set with Sir Charles and Co.

And Jack hasn't hit the road. Imagine if he came to Boston, just like the 80s. That would be cool.

These Celtics are vaguely promising, with young players like Delonte West, Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes. But I think I'm better off not finding my shirt. Dwelling on the past is a downer. Let's see these teams care about wiping up the court with each other before I get all worked up.

Not to mention nearly half the teams in the league are superior to either the Lakers or Celtics. Let's see some playoff success first.

Then I'll don the Jack shirt. And really mean it.

If I can find it.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: March 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18-19 | 20

Laker Lockdown
Winslow Townson/AP Photo
Paul Pierce couldn't get the best of Kobe Bryant in their rematch in Boston. The Lakers avoided falling below .500 for the first time since a loss to Utah on Jan. 3 dropped them to 15-16.

Wade's The One

Patrick (South Florida): D-Wade for M.V.P! Thanks for the great article and the love for the most valuable player in the nba! Now it's time for you and Bill Simmons to carry the torch and get him some votes. John how far do you see the Heat going this Spring. Done in May or June?

John Hollinger: Heat will make the conference finals, that's for certain. As far as a match-up with Detroit goes, that's the hard part. Even with Miami's hot streak, a betting man would have to put his money on the Pistons right now.

Jeff Chicago, IL: After an inexcusible loss in Toronto, does the Bucks mediocrity reflect more so on their line up or first year coach Terry Stotts? Is this something that can be remdied prior to the playoffs?

John Hollinger: I'm really surprised that Milwaukee hasn't defended better, and if that doesn't change somewhere down the line it will probably cost Stotts his job. As for this season, Milwaukee has actually played a bit better lately to me, though it didn't show in the final minutes in Toronto.

See the full John Hollinger chat Insider

News And Notes

• The Pistons have used the same starting lineup in all 66 games this season, matching the 2002-03 Warriors for the longest streak to start a season since 1980. ... Ben Wallace's four steals in the first quarter were one short of a franchise record. ... The Hawks missed eight of their first 10 free-throw attempts and finished 4-for-12 from the line. ... Detroit has won 15 straight at home, tied for third-best in franchise history.

• The Rockets claimed G Richie Frahm off waivers from Minnesota on Monday. Frahm appeared in 25 games and averaged 2.6 points and 0.6 assists this season with the Timberwolves. He played nearly four minutes.

-- The Associated Press

Motion: Clinch Cinch

The Pistons clinched the Central Division title with a 91-84 victory over the Hawks. The Pistons (53-13) reduced their magic number to clinch the East's best record to nine over Miami.

Pistons Take Central

Big Ben Slam

AP Photo/Duane Burleson
Pistons center Ben Wallace dunks for two as Hawks center John Edwards looks on. Big Ben had 13 boards in the 91-84 win.

Extreme Behavior

Monday's Best
Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard: Thirty-nine shots in 40 minutes. Now that's the gunning Kobe who could drop 81 in a game. He scores 43 on the strength of 18-for-39 shooting in a 105-97 win over Boston.


Monday's Worst
Rick Brunson, Rockets guard: The 33-year-old journeyman's journeyman missed all four of his shots in seven minutes of action in a 99-91 loss to the Clippers, the club with which he experienced his greatest NBA glory (39 starts) last year.

Quote of the Day
"When the game is on the line, they put the ball in my hands. I've gotta do what I've gotta do, I don't care if it's 50 shots, 60 shots, five shots."
-- Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, after beating Boston.

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 77 who played stacked up
The current NBA Playoff matchups

A Real Red Scare

Del Harris was coach of the Chinese National Team in 2004, and he remembered watching Yao take his sneaker off after the first national team practice he coached. "It was all red down by his toes, and when he took the sock off and you saw the toes --well, let's just say it was one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen," Harris recalled Sunday. "If you were even the slightest bit squeamish, that thing would have made you vomit."

After letting his toe fester for years, Yao finally underwent surgery in December after an infection spread to the bone. Harris said he has seen a huge difference in the way Yao is now able to run the court pain-free, and he said Yao's hiring of a personal trainer has also helped the big man get into the best shape he's ever been in.

"He's down to 6 percent body fat, and you rarely see that in guys that size."

Read the full Chris Sheridan blog Insider

Elias Says

The Hawks made only 4 of 12 free throws in their loss to the Pistons. The Hawks franchise has existed in various cities since the 1949-50 season and has played almost 4,500 games in club history. Monday was only the third game in which the Hawks made as few as one-third of their free-throw attempts. They had a 6-for-19 game in 1975 and a 3-for-9 game in 1981. Two other teams have made one-third or fewer of their free-throw attempts this season. The Spurs went 6-for-19 on Dec. 13 and the Trail Blazers went 3-for-10 on New Year's Day.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Yannick's Son Rising
In the span of four days, the NCAA Tournament has moved from 64 teams down to 16. A number of the top prospects in the draft have led their teams to victory and, in a few cases, dramatically increased their draft stock in just a few games.

Insider spoke with a number of NBA scouts and executives throughout the weekend to get a feel for which prospects helped or hurt themselves during the tournament's first two rounds. NBA scouts tend to keep their projections fairly steady (without dramatic shifts in either direction). But executives, especially GMs, tend to be more swayed by events like the tournament.

Here's a look at who helped or hurt himself in the last four days:

Who's Hot?

Joakim Noah, F/C, Florida: Noah's stellar performance for Florida on Saturday against UW-Milwaukee had scouts and executives buzzing. Everyone knows that Noah is a great athlete with a great motor. On Saturday, Noah showed a number of skills -- passing, perimeter shot, ballhandling -- that haven't been in abundant display all season.

Coach Billy Donovan put Noah at small forward during one series of plays, and he broke his man down off the dribble, delivered a no-look pass on the break and swished an outside jumper.

While Noah is still a work in progress, both physically and as a basketball player, we've moved him up to No. 6 on the Big Board.

Read the full Chad Ford story Insider



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