BOSTON (AP) - Quick NBA finals debate: Would you rather have Ray Allen's career or Derek Fisher's?
They entered the league together as first-round picks in the 1996 draft, Allen as the All-American from powerful Connecticut, Fisher an unheralded player from lesser-known Arkansas-Little Rock.
Allen has gone on to make eight All-Star appearances, win an Olympic gold medal, become one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history and earn mainstream fame by starring in Spike Lee's ``He Got Game.''
Fisher is a career 9.0 points per game scorer and has never been an All-Star.
Fisher owns three NBA championship rings. Allen has none.
Not so clear-cut, is it?
Allen is the better player, but hold off for now on calling him a great. Same with Boston teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who also have come up ringless in otherwise stellar careers.
The three finally got their first chance in these NBA finals, which began Thursday night with the Celtics hosting the Lakers. But do they need to win the series - or maybe multiple ones - to earn the place in NBA history that their stats seem to warrant?
``Depends which club you're talking about,'' Kobe Bryant said. ``Are you talking about the Jordan-Magic club? If you want to get in that club, then you have to win. The other club, you don't have to win. Depends what club you want to get into, the 21-and-over or the 18-and-under.''
Bryant's spot is secure, having won three titles from 2000-02. He'd move up a rung on the ladder by claiming another as the only megastar on his team; he shared the role with Shaquille O'Neal back then.
Fisher also was on those teams. Although his stats are modest, his reputation around the league isn't. Champions are viewed differently in the NBA - especially when they played for the Celtics or Lakers.
``Coaches are, players are, organizations are, there's no doubt about that,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``And hopefully that's what everybody wants. You know, obviously with our team, that's clearly true, but I'm just saying overall leaguewide, that's what you play for. That's what you should play for.
``Yeah, there's no doubt. That's why Kobe is viewed differently. As tough as people have been on Kobe, could you imagine if he had never won a title how tough it would be?''
It has been for Boston's new Big Three. Garnett is criticized for getting out of the first round only once in Minnesota. Pierce is a Celtic who isn't a champion, and he all he has to do is look up to know what that means. The late Reggie Lewis is the franchise's only player who has a retired number but no ring.
``All the retired members up on the banner, all of them except one has a ring. So I think so, man, in order to be great, in order to be a legend, you have to win a championship,'' Pierce said. ``Those are the things I'm inspired to do from day one, playing basketball, since I was a little kid when I made that commitment. I always said I want to be great.''
Some critics even say Garnett, Pierce and Allen shouldn't be referred to with the Big Three nickname until they've won a title. That's what their predecessors, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, did three times in the 1980s.
Pierce will pass Bob Cousy early next season to move into the top five on Boston's career scoring list. The next three spots above him then would be filled by the original Big Three, and their shadow wouldn't loom quite so large if Pierce had a title by then.
``In Boston, they always talk about how many championships you won,'' Bird said. ``I think it's very important for Paul to win one if he wants to be put up there with the great ones, even though I think he is a fantastic player, probably one of the best players to ever come through there.''
Rivers agreed that players such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, superstars who never won a title, aren't viewed the same as those who have. Wilt Chamberlain was one of the greatest athletes ever, but even some Lakers fans grudgingly would admit that Bill Russell was better, because the Celtics always won when they played the Lakers for the championship.
And there would be no argument from other Celtics. With 11 titles as a player, Russell is the league's greatest winner. That makes him the greatest Celtic.
``Boston has been blessed with a lot of great players, a lot of great Hall of Famers over the years. It's really hard to put one guy on top of the other,'' Bird said. ``I can tell you every player that went through there that made the Hall of Fame, we all still look at Bill Russell. He's always going to be No. 1 there. Everybody else just falls in line.''

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