BOSTON Instead of Phil Jackson going for his 10th NBA title, Mike Krzyzewski could have been seeking his first.
When Jackson decided not to return to the Los Angeles Lakers after losing in the 2004 NBA finals, Krzyzewski emerged as the leading candidate to replace him. And he gave it some serious thought before opting to remain at Duke.
"It was close enough to where I interviewed and spent three to four days really mulling over a great situation that was offered to me," Krzyzewski said in a phone interview Thursday, hours before the Lakers opened the NBA finals against the Boston Celtics.
The job instead went to Rudy Tomjanovich, who lasted only half a season before stepping down to deal with some health problems. Jackson returned the next season, and will be trying to break his tie with Red Auerbach for the most coaching titles.
Krzyzewski praised the Lakers for the way they treated him during the process and said he was happy for the success they've had this season after a few difficult years.
"I'm glad to see that they've done so well. They were able to get back a great coach who had left them," Krzyzewski said, calling Jackson's departure a "semiretirement."
"He's one of the best to ever coach and also to see the things that Mitch Kupchak has done and their organization to create a roster that is championship caliber and mostly (glad) to see Kobe to be healthy and compete at the highest level."Krzyzewski was the personal choice of Kobe Bryant, who has said he would have gone to Duke had he chosen to go to college. Krzyzewski finally got to coach Bryant last summer on the U.S. team in the FIBA Americas tournament, and he'll have the MVP on his team again this summer in the Olympics.
KAREEM DELAYED: Former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got the run-around trying to get into TD Banknorth Garden before Game 1 of the finals, and he thinks he knows why.
"There's a strong possibility the ghost of Red Auerbach had something to do with this," the NBA's all-time leading scorer said with a smile, referring to the former Celtics' coach who died in October 2006.
Abdul-Jabbar, a special assistant coach with the Lakers, wasn't smiling while enduring a delay he estimated at 25 minutes that nearly kept him from fulfilling a radio commitment.
"We tried to drive in the entrance where we were told to go, and were sent to the main entrance," he said. "Then, we were told to go to another place, where all the staff and players park. They finally let us in there.
"All's well that ends well."Abdul-Jabbar played against the Celtics in the finals four times with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1974, and with the Lakers three times in four years starting in 1984. His teams lost the first two matchups before winning the last two.
ONE-SIDED BET: Los Angeles mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa made an offer Boston mayor Thomas Menino could certainly refuse.
With the Lakers and Celtics meeting in the finals for the first time in 21 years, Villaraigosa proposed a different kind of wager than the usual box of fruit or pot of clam chowder in a letter sent Thursday: If Boston wins, it gets Los Angeles' professional football team, the Arena League's Avengers. If the Lakers win, Los Angeles gets the NFL's New England Patriots.
"I know what you might be thinking: 'Villaraigosa must be nuts! Bostonians would make out like bandits in that deal! With an indoor arena team, the fans would not have to risk frostbite to see a mid-September game. And with the smaller field, our coaches wouldn't even need cameras to steal opponents' signals," Villaraigosa wrote.
And, the mayor added: "In the event of a Lakers' victory, you can keep the Patriots' coach. We have a pretty good guy down the street who might be interested in the job and who probably still has the gear."
Villaraigosa referred to enormously successful Southern California coach Pete Carroll, who coached the Patriots for three years before being fired in 1999 and replaced by current coach Bill Belichick.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made their own wager. If the Celtics win, Schwarzenegger has promised to donate locally grown California food and beverages to a charity of Patrick's choice.Should the Lakers prevail, Legal Sea Foods will donate 17 pounds of clam chowder to a charity chosen by Schwarzenegger.
COME ON HOME: Doc Rivers heard the questions when he decided to become Boston's coach. Why would he want to go to place where he could never live up to the past?
But instead of hiding from the Celtics' storied history, Rivers decided to embrace it.
"When I took the job I wrote every ex-Celtic ... and invited them back, wanted them to come to practice," Rivers said. "If we were on the road I would have liked them to come. I think it's something you can use as an asset, not something that should drag you down."
Besides, becoming the Celtics' coach in 2004 has given Rivers the chance to be around some of his favorite players.
"It's been great, just for me personally getting to know some of the legends," Rivers said. "I had never met John Havlicek until I became the coach of the Celtics, and he's always been one of my favorite players. I think he's been huge and to our advantage for sure."