Los Angeles Times
Where is the hate? Where is the good old-fashioned animosity, the seething rage between two teams that causes snarls at the mere mention of the opponent’s name? There’s none of it in this Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. They talk about wanting to climb the ladder to reach the NBA championship, but they don’t say they would derive extra pleasure in stepping on the other guys’ fingers to get there. This is the premier series of the NBA playoffs, attracting reporters from around the country, and the best smack the assembled media could come up with was Phil Jackson’s”asterisk” comments about the Spurs’ championship from two years ago, and the oft-told story of David Robinson’s supposed autograph-signing snub of Shaquille O’Neal when Shaq was in high school. On their own, the Spurs and Lakers aren’t doing anything to add to this rivalry. They have offered nothing like the classic line by Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway, describing his feelings about the New York Knicks: “I hate them with all the hate you can hate with. Can you hate more than that? If you can, I hate them more than that.” In addition to good sound bites, animosity can also lead to more passionate play. That was an element missing from San Antonio when the Spurs meekly surrendered home-court advantage Saturday in Game 1, a 104-90 Laker victory that Jackson found surprisingly “comfortable.” Danny Ferry once got Marcus Camby mad enough to take a swing at him. He sure didn’t serve up any fighting words Sunday when asked if he hates the Lakers. “They’re a great team,” Ferry said. “They won the championship last year. You want to beat them. This is the Western Conference finals, you want to beat them.” Whatever happened to “They’re a bunch of punks, we want to beat them”? David Robinson said … oh, why even bother? These Spurs just aren’t going to get worked up about the enemy. “I don’t think we’re like that,” Spur Coach Gregg Popovich said. “I think these guys are more concerned with what we do. The rivalries we have — I don’t know why it, maybe it’s just a local thing — but it’s Dallas, it’s Houston, it’s Utah in our division. (We) don’t really feel that rivalry elsewhere. Maybe if we did it would be better.” Popovich said he liked to play with a little anger in his heart, but “I’m a little crazier than they are.” Can’t the Spurs at least develop a healthy dislike for the Lakers? “It better get healthy,” point guard Avery Johnson said. “And Pop brought that up. We dislike Utah more than we dislike the Lakers. So you better start disliking them pretty quick, because they came in here to prove a point in Game 1 and they got their job done. Now it’s back on us to try to turn it around for Game 2.” The Spurs could try complaining about the latitude the officials give O’Neal, which usually draws him into a war of words. But there’s none of that, thus no bitterness coming back from Shaq. “I don’t hate anybody,” O’Neal said Sunday. “I’m a businessman. I’m a basketball player. I do what I have to do to sell tickets, but in real life, I don’t hate anybody. “If I saw David with his family in a restaurant, it’s not like I would go over to him and say, `Hey David’ and throw some water in his face. I see him, `Hey, how you doing? Hey little David, Mrs. Robinson.’ But on the court, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.” In its infancy, this modern version of Lakers-Spurs is nothing like the Lakers-Celtics or the Bulls-Pistons of the early 1990s, or even the Lakers-Spurs of the 1980s, when San Antonio’s “Baseline Bums” rowdies once poured a beer on Pat Riley’s head. Jackson is trying. As the Spurs were leaving and the Lakers took the court to begin practice at the Alamodome on Sunday, Jackson brought a rack of basketballs to midcourt. Someone had left a San Antonio practice jersey across the rack, and Jackson carefully arranged the jersey so it was hanging with the Spur logo clearly showing — as if to remind the Lakers of their enemy. Before the series he showed the Lakers clips of their losses to the Spurs in the 1999 playoffs, a humbling four-game sweep that preceded (and in many ways brought about) Jackson’s arrival in Los Angeles. “They swept us when we were trying to be the champions,” Rick Fox said. “That left a sour taste in our mouths. There’s enough guys on this roster here that were a part of that.” But the Lakers have been playing so well over the last seven weeks that they seem to be above any ill feelings toward anybody. Maybe they could get mad at somebody if somebody could actually beat them. “I think they just feel good about themselves right now and comfortable with what they’re doing and reading each other pretty well,” Jackson said.”I don’t think there’s a pecking order, per se.” The toughest talk last week came from 88-year-old Elizabeth “Bookie” Hine, a resident of the Kingsley Place nursing home. After someone stole a “Go Spurs Go” banner that the senior citizens made for their front porch, a local flag company gave them a 36-foot replacement. “And no one better try taking this one,” Hine told the San Antonio Express-News, “because we’ll come out fighting.”
That’s telling ‘m. The Lakers and Spurs could definitely learn a lesson from their elders.