EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rooted for the Celtics during his high school days in New York.
He would later be involved in one of the most intense rivalries in sports, going against Boston three times in the NBA finals as a Lakers star in the 1980s.
Now, that's simply a part of his past.
``I saw my first Celtics-Lakers rivalry game in 1969,'' Abdul-Jabbar recalled Sunday, referring to a matchup in the NBA finals a few months after he completed his college career at UCLA. ``I never had a hatred for them. When I was in high school, I was a Celtics fan. I got to meet (then-Boston stars) Bill Russell, (John) Havlicek, (Bob) Cousy, those guys, when I was in ninth grade.''
ing back to 1959, but the Lakers broke through in 1985, when Abdul-Jabbar became at age 38 the oldest player ever to win the finals MVP award.
Then came the Lakers' triumph two years later, and the Celtics haven't been back to the finals since that time. Until now.
``For me, it was real intense,'' Abdul-Jabbar said of the rivalry. ``(It was) long ago and far away. I don't hold any animosity.''
That hasn't always been the case.
``After he retired (in 1987), Bill Walton and I didn't speak for a couple years,'' Abdul-Jabbar said. ``We laugh about that now. Nowadays, when I get to Boston, I get stopped by people talking about how the game was played at such a high level (in the 1980s). They miss that.''
Walton's 28-year-old son Luke is a backup forward with the Lakers, likely making it difficult for the elder Walton to be pulling for his former team. That won't be a problem for Abdul-Jabbar, an assistant coach on Phil Jackson's staff the past three years.
``I'm rooting for the Lakers,'' the NBA's all-time leading scorer said. ``It's not hatred or anything like that. I'd just like to see our guys prevail.''
As Abdul-Jabbar pointed out, the game is much different than it was when he played. For one thing, the hard foul committed by Boston's Kevin McHale on Los Angeles' Kurt Rambis during the 1984 finals would have had definite ramifications today.
``I don't think he would be able to get away with that now (without a suspension),'' Abdul-Jabbar said. ``Kurt could have been hurt for a long time.''
Current Lakers star Kobe Bryant said he has vivid memories of the matchups in the '80s despite being 8 years old the last time the teams met in the finals.
``Everything. All the plays, the series just being talked about,'' he said. ``I remember like it was yesterday. I was a big basketball fan growing up, and my grandfather used to send me tapes of the series and the games and I used to just watch them over and over.''
Asked if he remembered Rambis being clotheslined by McHale, Bryant replied: ``Oh, of course. Who doesn't remember that? That's the intensity of what it used to be. If you do that now, you're suspended for a week. So I doubt you'll see any of that.
``You can't put wood on people like you used to back then. You really hate somebody if they clothesline you. It's just the nature of the beast. And nowadays, you really can't do that too often. Aside from the fact that we all know each other since we were 14, we all grew up with each other, so it's a little different.''
Bryant also said he remembers Magic Johnson's self-proclaimed ``junior sky hook'' over McHale and Robert Parish in the final seconds that gave the Lakers a 107-106 victory and a 3-1 lead at the Boston Garden in 1987. The Lakers went on to win the series in six games.
``Absolutely. '87. Magic down the middle. That's what I thought, a sky hook,'' Bryant said with a smile.
Abdul-Jabbar is the most prominent player ever to use what became known as the sky hook during his playing days. It's a shot seldom seen in modern times.
``It's a classic rivalry, one of the greatest rivalries in sports, and the country seems to be kind of re-energized by it, at least NBA fans,'' Bryant said. ``I think (the past) adds more fluff for this week leading up to it, all the classic games and a lot more to talk about, about the series.''
When asked if he hated the Celtics in those days, Bryant drew laughter from the assembled media by replying: ``Who didn't?''
And today?
``Well, it's obviously a little different,'' Bryant said. ``What they had then was something truly magical. What we're trying to do is set our own mark in history. Hopefully we can continue to perform well as the years go on and continue the legacy of the Lakers and the Celtics. But it's kind of a fresh start.''

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