Whether Nicholson is an ass or just has one he likes to display is the question. "I actually heard the L.A. people themselves were embarrassed," Auerbach says. "The players expressed to me a total disregard for his antics."
If they did then, they don't now. The closest thing to "disregard" comes from Laker coach Pat Riley, who says he likes Nicholson, except "if he'd take the moon back, I'd appreciate it."
But the funny thing about Nicholson's moon over Boston is that it was pure Celtic fan, not Laker. In fact, Nicholson's sporting heart beats more bawdy, rowdy Boston than cool, chic Los Angeles. In Boston if you love your Celtics you wear green T-shirts and green derbies and green underwear. In L.A. if you love your Lakers you wear Guess jeans, oversized paisley Perry Ellis shirts (fashionably wrinkled), no socks and $300 loafers.
Nicholson is somewhat displaced, like Brando running a cappuccino cafe. He once told the
, "I should be a Celtic fan.... I admire the way they go out and fight for what they want." Says Boston's Larry Bird, "I heard he has green underwear and green blood."
It might be true. "They definitely have the most fun playing the game," Nicholson says of the champions. He likes their style. Once, flying to Los Angeles with the Celtics, Nicholson fell asleep during the in-flight movie, which just happened to be his own Terms of Endearment. When he woke up, there was a large piece of cardboard taped over the screen. It read: CLOSED. Nicholson suspects Bird.
He admires their grit. "Ainge thinks he's Randle Patrick McMurphy," Nicholson says fondly, "and Bird is completely unflappable." Once, when Bird was bringing the ball out in front of Nicholson at the Forum, Jack said to his teen-aged godson, Nicky Adler, "Bite the son of a bitch." Bird just winked.
Boston fans hate Nicholson on the outside, but they like him on the inside, because they're just like him. It is an East Coast, Marlboros-rolled-up-in-your-sleeve fraternity. This is not Prince Charles sitting in the owner's box, taking in a delightful evening of sport. This is a guy who 50 nights a year goes bonkers over grown men playing a game in their underwear.
Nicholson and Celtic fans share a convivial game of Can You Top (or bottom) This? In Boston during the finals two years ago, Nicholson was such a scene-stealer that there were actually more anti-Jack than pro-Bird signs, SEND JACK BACK SAD. HIT THE ROAD, JACK. JACK CHOKE ON YOUR COKE. Says Nicholson, "Until you've had 15,000 people in Boston Garden screaming, 'Bleep you, Jack!' you haven't lived."
But he had his loyalists, even in Boston. In the midst of the worst of it, Nicholson spotted two teenagers standing in the corner, wearing dark overcoats, dark hats and dark sunglasses. Just then, they flipped over a small cardboard sign that read: NICHOLSON YOUTH.
As obsessive as he is about his Lakers, Nicholson is not your typical Laker celeb. For one thing, he waits until after the national anthem to slip, sometimes unnoticed, into his seat. At halftime he slides down a back hallway with his cohorts—McEnroe and Tatum O'Neal, record mogul Lou Adler (the one with the odd hat collection), Adler's son Nicky, Chinatown writer Robert Towne and a few others. In the glitzorama at Laker games (Whoopi Goldberg, John Travolta, and a cast of thousands), Nicholson is odd in that he doesn't go to the locker room afterward to slap tall backs. He was in the locker room only once—last year—after the team won the world championship in Boston. The players liked that.