Bye, Fonz. The two of us were as close as the columns on this page the other night, suddenly thrown together in patriotic attention near courtside during the national anthem.

We also parted strangers.

Bye, Kenny Rogers and Stevie Wonder.

Bye, stretch limos, Laker girls, Dancin' Barry and all the other sights and papa-ooh-mow-mow sounds that make pro basketball in Los Angeles so uniquely compelling.

I mean, you're not at all surprised to find seven balloons and a dried-flower arrangement atop the locker of the point guard, Magic Johnson.

Or that the cast of "Dallas" would send the Lakers a good-luck telegram; or that a few NBA all-stars (Isiah Thomas, Walter Davis and Mark Aguirre) would mingle with rock-music moppets after Game 5 of the NBA playoffs.

Only in style-conscious LA-LA land would Kurt Rambis receive a stern note that said, in part: "Do you suppose it would be asking too much of you to shampoo and have your hair cut?"

A continent away, all they ask is that you drop the ball in the hoop more often than the other guys. No frills, lots of spills.

Helloooooo, Boston Garden.

The native of Nigeria, Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, called the musty shrine "a dump" the first time he laid eyes on it. The parquet floor oozes both history and bad bounces.

Crowds and banners can be intimidating.

"I love it," the Lakers' Michael Cooper insists. "We enjoy hostile arenas."


"We can win it Sunday. The Celtics can lose it," Lakers Coach Pat Riley said bravely. "That's got to be on their minds."

On the mind of just about every fan, partisan and neutral, is the fact that the Lakers never have beaten the Celtics in the NBA finals. Eight tries, eight heartbreaks.

"We're the good guys," Celtics President Red Auerbach said after Dennis Johnson's shot at the buzzer won Game 4. "We go to the right church."

The contrast between the final playoff teams and how they view basketball is as vivid as, well, Jerry Buss's open-necked purple shirt and Auerbach's tweed sport coat.

In Los Angeles, the Lakers are run-and-gun showtime, up-beat entertainment in an area fairly bursting with diversions. Here in Boston, the Celtics are grind-it-out basic and a quasi-religion.

"We're the national team," Auerbach says boastfully. "That's not ego talking. I would venture to say without exaggeration that we have more fans outside Boston than any other team in the league."

The Celtics are basketball and nothing but basketball in Boston Garden. No girlie shows during timeouts . . . or pups scampering about the court . . . or Dancin' Harrys or Barrys.

During Game 1 in Boston, a "Laker Faker" who also billed himself as Dancin' Larry, began gyrating near courtside. He was all but stoned.

Celtic fans in the Gah-den are permitted no distractions, nothing to keep them from deep thought about the pick and rolls and weak-side help before Kareem can maneuver into sky-hook position.

"We have The Game," one Bostonian said in mock-serious reaction to timeout frills in Los Angeles. "We have banners!"

"Also," said another, "the Celtics don't use anything they have to pay for."

The Lakers are a Ferrari. The Celtics are a Bronco.

"I don't believe there's a single Celtic who can fly through the air and dunk," Mitch Kupchak observed. He rattled off close to half a dozen Lakers with that sort of launch capability, himself not included.

He added: "I don't think teams reflect the cities they play in so much as they reflect the general managers who put them together."

The coaches, K. C. Jones and Riley, have been cerebral at times and also sassy.

Jones was asked if the air conditioning in the Forum had been a bother.

"No," he said, "but that Laker fast break stirs up quite a breeze."

Somebody wondered about the on-court chemistry between Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

"Kareem gives wisdom to James," Riley said. "James gives energy to Kareem."

Among nearly every team in the league, there is resentment of the Celtics' haughtiness, as though they have a patent on pride and poise.

They are brilliant even in subtle ways. With two seconds left before the half the other night, a Laker threw a long inbounds pass that Kevin McHale easily could have intercepted.

Instead, he let the ball fly by, and out of bounds. This enabled the Celtics to get possession 60 or so feet closer, under their own basket. The shot went awry; the thinking was inspired.

"I learned to, let's say, dislike the Celtics from my Bullet days," Kupchak said. "That was when they weren't very good, before Bird (arrived in 1979).

"We used to go up there, look at all those banners and just beat 'em. And Boston Garden wasn't always sold out, either. It was half-empty at times."

So the cast, each with a special signature, winged east: Abdul-Jabbar with that most distinctive shot, Magic with his flair, Bird with his iron will, Worthy with his speed, McHale with his inside presence, DJ with his grace under fire.

It's been a series stirring enough so that most folks in Los Angeles have been distracted from the beach, bean sprouts and one small business that touts "nude nudes."

Bostonians have hung on every dribble, the Celtics being the Redskins of New England.

Still, this joust ain't quite Armageddon. After Game 4, reporters crowding around the half-dressed Rambis noticed a long, ugly scratch about his shoulder.

Smelling blood, somebody glanced at the wound and said: "Kevin McHale?"

Rambis smiled: "Rosebush in my back yard."