The old-time Celtics had rivals all over the place, and they hated them. You think back and you remember Robert Parish sucker-punching Bill Laimbeer, Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis, Larry Bird and Julius Erving beating the life out of each other at the old Boston Garden. This stuff is a part of Celtics lore.
You don't see it much anymore. Games like Sunday afternoon's against with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which tempers flared all afternoon and the two teams practically dueled to the death at the TD Garden, have become the exception and not the rule.
And the Celtics' coach of today? He's a big fan of the exception.
"I like the hatred," Doc Rivers said Monday at the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Mass. "I think it's good. I do think the two teams don't like each other, for whatever reason, and I don't ever think that's a bad thing, personally. I think it's a good thing. I just don't want to see that officiated, because going into games, people know that. I say, line them up and let them play. I'm all for that."
Sunday was a regular-season game that you don't often see in today's NBA. You had Mike Brown blowing a gasket from the Cavaliers' bench, getting himself thrown out faster than you can say, "Shooting the technical for the Celtics, Ray Allen." You had LeBron James climbing into the Celtics' huddle and jawing at Tony Allen during a timeout. You had constant back-and-forth trash talk between LeBron and Kevin Garnett. You had Rasheed Wallace getting himself T'd up from out of nowhere. (OK, some things never change.)
"The game against Cleveland, both teams were emotional," Rivers said. "It was just one of those games. I don't know what happened. I don't know what that was about. Full moon? Well, full sun, since it was an afternoon game. It was just a strange game. That happens."
You don't see it often anymore. Everyone in the NBA is friends with everyone else — they went to summer camps together in middle school, they played with and against each other on AAU teams, they met up and formed close friendships in high school, in college, even in the NBA on previous teams.
LeBron James is the one guy trying to change that. He isn't a friendly basketball player — he's an angry, emotional, cut-your-throat-to-get-ahead type. And he's trying, perhaps in futility, to spread that mentality to the rest of the league.
"I'm all for it," Rivers said. "I love it. He's the new leader. I think we should all listen to LeBron, if that's what he's saying. I really believe that. You know, the AAU thing has changed the game in that way. Everybody knows each other, and I just don't understand how everybody is still friends. It drives me nuts. But that's the way it is."
It's been that way for a while, since long before Rivers got into head coaching with the Orlando Magic gig a decade ago. And he's learned to accept it.
"I used to fight it," Rivers said. "My first couple years in Orlando, I even went so far as, 'If you shake a guy's hand before a game, I'm going to fine you.' I mean, I was trying everything. And then I realized [it] doesn't work. They know each other, they're friends. So I gave in."
Twenty, 30 years ago, it wouldn't have been this way. There were more guys like LeBron, guys who loved the intense physicality and the vocal resentment between rivals. Guys like Bird, like Dr. J, like Magic Johnson. Guys who saw the game of basketball the way LeBron did on Sunday afternoon:
"The competition," he said, "that’s what’s good about this game."
Let's not forget that, shall we?