LOS ANGELES The practice court scene seemed a bit odd Sunday and, if anyone was superstitious, as many coaches and players tend to be, perhaps potentially ominous with Game 1 of the NBA Finals four days away.
For one thing, it isn't often that you see Phil Jackson jauntily posing in blue jeans. But there was the angular 62-year-old Los Angles Lakers' coach smiling broadly for a network camera crew while clutching the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy that depicts a basketball about to descend through a hoop.
Yes, the NBA's championship hardware. It is given after a champion is crowned.
In this instance, the shiny sterling trophy with 24-karat gold overlay, borrowed for a TV promotional spot, was awarded to the Lakers after they summarily swept the New Jersey Nets for their last title in 2002.
Then it was Kobe Bryant's turn.
Looking ready for tip-off, the All-Star guard and league MVP returned from the locker room in a fresh yellow No. 24 Lakers game jersey and shorts. Bryant hoisted the trophy high overhead, and he, too, looked quite pleased. Maybe he's just smart enough to realize who pays most of the NBA's bills (ABC-owned Disney Co.).
Perhaps that is why star coach and star player didn't seem the least concerned about any potential self-imposed whammy or ill karma being spread ahead of the Finals, which begin Thursday in Boston.
Jackson said no amount of Celtics-Lakers hype from the old-school days would be a distraction in these Finals; in fact, he offered quite the contrary.
"I think it's healthy," Jackson said. "Doesn't mean anything now. There's nothing similar. The coaching staffs aren't the same, the philosophy of basketball isn't the same. Towns are the same. Beantown's still Beantown, that's for sure. They've won the World Series now, so they're not so bedraggled."
The Lakers appeared rested, relaxed and confident as the Western Conference's top seed. The questions tossed at Jackson & Co. mostly involved the latest renewed installment of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, one that has its contentious roots in the 1960s when Boston beat Los Angeles half a dozen times in the Finals.
"Everybody's talking about it," Bryant said. "It's a classic rivalry, one of the greatest rivalries in sports. The country seems to be kind of re-energized by it."
Even if he, and his teammates, are not. The two words that best describe their reaction to any notion of past wounds being reopened on the court two decades later can best be summed up in two words: ho (and) hum.
No wonder. Many of the Lakers players were born in the 1980s; the two franchises didn't renew their hardwood hostilities in the Finals until '84 or when Lakers reserve guard Sasha Vujacic was 3 months old in his native Slovenia.
Pau Gasol, another Laker foreign-born import, said that while he understands and respects the tradition of the series, the first Boston-Los Angeles championship rematch in 21 years is not particularly significant to him or his teammates.
"We live in the present this is our Finals," he said. "It doesn't matter who we play. We have one goal in mind: Win it."