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Posted: Friday June 6, 2008 1:12PM; Updated: Friday June 6, 2008 1:43PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >

Weekly Countdown: The changing nature of the NBA Finals

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  • Doc Rivers inspired the Big Three with a sneak peek at the title-parade route
  • Significant offseason changes could be in store for the Cavaliers and Pistons
  • Draft intrigue: What happens at No. 3, and who rolls the dice on raw LSU forward?
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The Celtics' three All-Stars are familiar with the potential championship parade route.
The Celtics' three All-Stars are familiar with the potential championship parade route.
Lakers vs. Celtics
Game 6
Game 5
Game 4
Game 3
Game 2
Game 1

5 Ways the NBA Finals have changed in the 21 years since the Lakers and Celtics last met

BOSTON -- The past provides perspective to the present, he alleged alliteratively ...

5. Parade planning is done in advance. To hasten the renaissance of the Celtics last fall, Boston coach Doc Rivers went creative. On the day before the team's departure to Rome for preseason training camp in Europe, Rivers arranged for his new threesome of stars -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- to go on a surprise amphibious Duck Tour of Boston with him.

"I told them to meet me at my apartment, and then I had the Duck Boat pull up,'' Rivers said. "I had them do the exact [championship] parade routes of the Red Sox and the Patriots -- we went into the water, the whole thing. That was the time we talked about what it was going to take, about giving yourself up for the team and all of that.''

While the four of them rode the old streets and the Charles River while hearing a tour guide describe the rides of the Red Sox, Patriots and Paul Revere, Rivers encouraged a discussion of how the three must learn to play to a new style if they wanted to fulfill their vision of a parade in June. Rivers knew it wasn't going to be easy.

"I had to sell it to them, because I had to get them to give up some of the things they've always done,'' Rivers said. "And I knew I would hear, 'What I've always done is this. ... This is how I've done it ...' "

The virtual preseason parade served its purpose. When the Celtics beat Detroit to earn their first trip to the NBA Finals in 21 years, they recalled how the Duck Tour had persuaded them to see the big picture.

"We knew what our goals were, what we were pushing for and what we were trying to accomplish,'' Allen said."Throughout the season, I would say, 'Kevin, remember when we rode the Duck, why we rode the Duck.' We had that feeling of what we want to be.''

4. The players have little concern for the long dormant Boston-L.A. rivalry. I would argue that Kobe Bryant and Pierce are the only players who are plugged into the history of this series, because each has played for his franchise long enough to be held accountable to its winning traditions. Point guard Derek Fisher may intuit the larger meaning because of his previous association with the Lakers, but the other players, including Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Garnett and Allen, have not been with their clubs long enough to be "true'' Lakers or Celtics.

When Boston point guard Rajon Rondo was asked about the history of the rivalry, he pointed out that he was born in 1986, two years after the Celtics' last Finals victory over the Lakers. He had trouble remembering that it was Kurt Rambis who was laid out in the famous collision with Kevin McHale during the '84 series.

3. The expensive seats are more expensive than ever ... but not everything has changed. The minimum price for a last-minute ticket to Games 1 or 2 in Boston is about the same as it was for the Celtics-Lakers Finals of the '80s.

"Right now, we're getting $450 to $475 for the worst row in the balcony,'' said John Higgins of Higs Cityside Tickets, a ticket broker in Boston. "My partner was in the business in the '80s and he says it cost close to $500 to get in anywhere in the building back then. Of course, that was the old Garden, so you might have been paying $500 to sit behind a pole or some AC vent.''

But the upper-end seats are more expensive. "We sold two courtside seats for $35,000 to a company in Manhattan that deals with Hollywood,'' Higgins said. "I'm dying to see who's there. They said it's for a woman, which makes me think it might be Dyan Cannon. That's the first thing I'm going to look for when I go there [for Game 1].''

During Game 1, I texted Higgins to find out the identity of the buyer. He neither knew nor cared. "No idea ... 35k though,'' he texted back.

2. The rings are gaudier. During these playoffs, Celtics sixth man James Posey has been wearing the 2005-06 championship ring he won with the Heat. "Just to let my everybody see what it's all about,'' he said after a game in Cleveland last month. He took it off and dropped it in my hand. It weighed like a small ingot.

The rings have grown larger, more expensive and less comfortable over the years. Rick Weitzman, a guard on the 1967-68 Celtics championship team, still wears the title ring he received from Red Auerbach. Weitzman later became a scout for the Celtics and other teams, and last week during the NBA predraft camp in Orlando, he took off his ring to show it to another former Celtic, M.L. Carr. It was no bigger than a high school graduation ring.

"A ring like that, what it stands for is more important than what it actually is made of,'' Weitzman was telling me Thursday. "It's still heavy enough that when I do shooting lectures, I have to take it off.''

Carr inspected the ring and asked Weitzman, "What happened to it?'' He held it up to expose the hole where the center diamond was supposed to be. Weitzman said he had noticed it missing at his hotel in Orlando. "My wife and I were frantically looking through the room,'' he said. They found it on the bathroom vanity, near the sink.

Weitzman explained that the Celtics used to award rings for the first championship won by a player. "Bill Russell didn't have 11 rings,'' he said. "Red would give you the first ring, but if you won it the next year, you didn't get another ring.''

This was news to Carr. His eyes lit up subtly as he cupped the ring like a gambler holding a pair of dice. "How much for the ring?'' he said. "Would you sell it?''

"How much are you offering?'' Weitzman said.

"How about $3,000,'' he said, with a half-smile.

"Maybe if you were offering me 10 times as much we would have something to talk about,'' Weitzman said, extending his hand to take back the ring.

On Thursday, he told me, "The bottom line is that I wouldn't sell it for anything.''

1. There are more TV channels. News is delivered by a variety of means since the last Celtics-Lakers Finals. "I knew I had arrived at the beginning of the season when I was watching an episode of Nip/Tuck, Allen said of the FX series. "One of the characters on the show had amnesia, or they thought he had amnesia. And he said, 'No, I remember everything. I even know that the Celtics are back.' This was in November, and I remember winding back that part of the show to hear it again.''

Allen used that anecdote to demonstrate how he felt about helping to reincarnate the league's greatest rivalry. "So it does mean a lot to be a part of this here,'' he said. "We talk about winning, and when you win, you want to win somewhere in a major market, a big city where if you win, it's going to be a big thing for the rest of your life. It's always going to be something that's going to be special to the people, and you're always going to be remembered.''

And that, ultimately, is why this series seems to be so much more important than so many others of recent years. The winner will be worth remembering.

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