As Lakers coach Byron Scott gritted his teeth through another postgame press conference, this time after a 113-96 loss to their equally struggling rivals, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stopped to ask, “Want to get some breakfast?”
He was joking, of course, about Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant sharing a morning meal at The Paramount in Boston on Thursday, a concept that might have seemed absurd when Ainge’s Celtics and Scott’s Lakers split four straight trips to the NBA Finals from 1984-87.
It’s a different NBA landscape nowadays — what with AAU, shared agents and summer workouts making bros out of foes more than ever before — and it’s a different rivalry.
“We’ve had our battles, but it doesn’t carry over,” Bryant said after his team fell to 5-15 on the season. “The stone-throwing and all that doesn’t carry over to these types of games.”
There were times when two straight wins over the Pistons and Lakers meant something — in 1987 and 2008, when Boston beat Detroit in the conference finals before splitting two more titles with L.A. — and both Bryant and Rondo are old enough now to reminisce.
“We just kind of talked about the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons,” Rondo said of his now notorious breakfast with Bryant, “him being a leader, leading a lot of young guys this year, and me doing the same thing, the struggles he’s going through, the struggles I’m going through as far as leading this team and just how to handle it.”
After six glorious seasons watching an insanely competitive Kevin Garnett bleed green “until we’re six feet under,” it’s hard to imagine the heart of the Celtics and the soul of the Lakers sitting down for “a basketball geek conversation,” as Bryant described it, over tea and crumpets. Then again, it’s hard to imagine KG sitting down to breakfast with anyone. I’m pretty sure he washes down the blood of nobodies with coconut water in the morning.
But Kobe’s been around long enough to remember the last time the rivalry reached a new low. It was Jan. 31, 2007, when he eviscerated the Celtics with 43 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a 111-98 victory, as “MVP” chants rained from the Garden rafters.
“When there are a lot of Lakers fans here, they cheer,” he said. “When there are a lot of Celtics fans here, they boo. And I appreciate both of them, because they really understand the game here. When they get on me and they boo, I sincerely appreciate them. That means I’m doing something right, and I feel part of the history of the two ballclubs when they do it. So, it always feels good. When the Celtics struggle, there’s plenty of other things you can do in Boston, I guess. But, that year when they were rolling, man, this place was nuts. You definitely wouldn’t have heard Kobe chants in 2008, ‘09 and ‘10.”
There were no MVP chants this time around, either, although Bryant received a mix of cheers and boos during his pregame introduction. A porous Lakers defense made Tyler Zeller look like the second coming of Kevin McHale and the Celtics kept the Garden crowd awake long enough for Gino to come on the Jumbotron the second time all season.
“Right now, both teams are not what we used to be, but it’s always an eerie feeling walking down the hall and being surrounded by green,” added Bryant. “It’s always a weird feeling, but it’s a great one, though. Growing up watching this franchise and then being a part of some great battles and being here, it’s a very special place, man.”
With almost 55,000 minutes on his legs, Bryant is closer to retirement at the ripe old age of 36 than he is to competing for another title, so he can look back on the rivalry now. He has a fondness for Rondo, even after the Celtics captain collected 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals in what Bryant describes as the worst Garden memory of his 19 NBA seasons — the 39-point Game 6 blowout that punctuated the C’s 2008 title.
“We see the game in a very similarly way in terms of demeanor and mentality,” said Kobe.
Not necessarily in the, “You pass the ball; I score the ball,” manner one might think, but as Bryant said this past January, “From what I understand, he’s an [expletive that rhymes with gas hole] like me.” So, while their breakfast could be interpreted as Bryant’s recruiting pitch to Rondo for one last title run, the soon-to-be free agent said otherwise.
“I think his initial interview he called me an [expletive], and I thought the same thing of him,” said Rondo, “so it’s just two [expletives] having breakfast.”
There you have it, folks, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry is still alive and well, apparently.
“Yes, you could say that,” added Rondo, “especially because they stole the last championship from me in 2010, so every time I play them I want to kick their butt.’”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Enjoy your breakfast.