-- Former Boston Celtics center Robert Parish said he strongly disagrees with the criticism leveled at Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson by former Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

"Phil's name absolutely belongs with the greatest coaches of all time," said Parish, who was courtside Sunday for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. "And I know, I played for Phil [in Chicago during the 1996-97 season]. His strong points are that he gets players to listen to him and gets them motivated to play. That is something not every coach can do. He and [Pistons Coach] Larry Brown are two of the best."

"In the end, the wins and losses are what count most," Parish said. "He's got nine championships."

Auerbach, 86, has accused Jackson numerous times during the past week of not sharing the credit for his success and has said he is not "awed" by any of Jackson's accomplishments.

"Jerry West built that ballclub," Auerbach told The Post's Mike Wise last week, referring to the former Lakers general manager who brought Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to Los Angeles.

Jackson has won nine championships, six with Chicago and three with Los Angeles. Should he win his 10th against the Pistons, he would top Auerbach's nine NBA titles as a coach. Auerbach won seven more as a general manager.

Asked why he thought Auerbach might have attacked Jackson, Parish said: "Red is proud. He's very proud."

Henry Bibby, men's basketball coach at the University of Southern California and a teammate of Jackson's on the 1973 New York Knicks team that won the NBA championship, also came to Jackson's defense.

Bibby recalled that Jackson had the kind of knowledge and creativity to make a great coach. When Jackson was a player, "he was always thinking, always asking questions, always looking at things in a different way."

"He had absolutely no talent," Bibby said. "He just was able to see the game so clearly. And he was tough. If you came up on Phil Jackson you knew you were going to get hurt. He had those sharp elbows and forearms and a pretty good running jump hook. Otherwise, it was knowledge of the game that kept him playing."

O'Neal Shoulders Pain

A shoulder injury suffered by Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal five years ago continues to bother him, O'Neal said Saturday.

O'Neal hurt his right shoulder while scrimmaging with then-Lakers forward A.C. Green and he aggravated the injury during the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

While declining to answer questions, O'Neal confirmed that the injury bothers him when he shoots the ball but said he receives daily treatment and that the injury is not serious enough to keep him out of the lineup.

Like Father, Like Son?

Should Los Angeles defeat the Pistons in the NBA Finals, Lakers rookie forward Luke Walton and his father, former Celtics center and current television analyst Bill Walton, would become only the third father-son combination to win an NBA championship.

The others are the Guokas family, Matt Sr. and Matt Jr., and former San Antonio Spur Danny Ferry and his father, Bob, former general manager of the Washington Bullets.

Bill Walton, who holds a record for most blocked shots in an NBA Finals game with eight, has said that watching his son trying to reach the championship with the Lakers was harder for him to do than vying for a championship himself.

"He's told me many times how proud he is of me," Luke Walton said.