The return of a rivalry

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The return of a rivalry

Last night, I tweeted about a brief run-in I had with Pau Gasol at a local Starbucks.

Heres the tweet:

@rich_levine: Just ran into Pau Gasol at Starbucks and jokingly asked if he was apartment hunting. He hadn't heard the Rondo rumor, so it was pretty awkward from there.

Just for fun, heres the full story:

It was about 5:30 pm, and I was sitting at a table, working (aka playing Words with Friends) with my back to the door. All of sudden, I felt this enormous presence.

I eventually saw him, too. But I felt him first. From the second he walked in you could just sense that there was a giant in the room.

When I looked up, my initial reaction was: Damn, that guys huge.

One second later it was: Hey wait, that guys Pau Gasol!

He was there with a friend looked like a trainer and the two stood, speaking Spanish, as they waited in line to order. After they did, his buddy went to the bathroom, leaving Gasol to wait for his Raspberry Passion Tea Lemonade about two steps from my table. (Just kidding, but that would have been amazing)

Anyway, about five minutes before he walked in, I'd been reading about the ridiculous Pau-for-Rondo rumor. I figured he'd heard about it, too. So I thought I'd be friendly and crack a joke:

Rich: "You here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Excuse me?"

Rich:: "Are you here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Uhhh"

Rich: "Oh sorry, man. I'm just joking about that crazy Rondo rumor."

Gasol: "Umm, which one is that?"

Rich: "Oh, you didn't hear? They have you being traded for Rondo now Never stops, right?"

He finally lightened up and let out a smile

Gasol: "Haha. Oh yeah. There are a lot rumors. But no, I'm not apartment hunting."

I laughed, threw my coffee at him and told him to get out of Boston.

Nah, I wished him luck. And that was that.

But then something interesting happened.

Gasol didn't leave.

When the coffee came, he and his buddy took their drinks, grabbed a table and just sat there talking for about 30 minutes. Right in the middle of a Starbucks in the heart of Boston.

I guess this shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe it means we've grown as a society. But I couldn't help but think: Would Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper or Kurt Rambis ever have felt comfortable hanging out like this in a Boston coffee shop?

Would Gasol himself have felt this comfortable even as recently as last year?

No way. So as Gasol sat there in peace aside from this one jerk who cracked a joke about trade rumors there was only one thought on my mind:

"Man, we're LONG overdue for a CelticsLakers game."

In reality, tomorrow marks exactly one year since the last meeting between these rivals, but doesn't it feel so much longer than that?

After all, the last time these two played, Kendrick Perkins was Boston's starting center and Phil Jackson was the Lakers coach. On top of that, Lamar Odom was the clear Sixth Man of the Year, Brandon Bass was Glen Davis and Metta World Peace was Ron Artest.

When they last met, the Celtics were 38-13 and a half game up on Miami in the East. The Lakers were 36-16, and second to only the surging Spurs in the West.

They were both on top of the world, on top of their games and, we thought, headed for their third Finals match-up in four years.

But it never happened, and since then, so much has changed. First, they were both eliminated, rather handedly, in the second round of the playoffs. Then the lockout came and choked the life out of the entire league. After that, both teams spent the abridged training camp stuck in Chris Paul drama. Consequently, each began the shortened regular season in shambles.

There was a time not so long ago, when the Lakers were all we really worried about here in Boston. Likewise, the Celtics were the chief concern out in LA. But in the year since that last meeting and even more in the 20 months since they met in the Finals that has certainly changed. For one, because each team has found plenty of internal issues to keep them occupied. And second, because these days, neither the Celtics nor the Lakers are a team that others particularly worry about. In one year, in the eyes of many, the once respective conference favorites are now barely contenders.

As a result, the build up to this year's LakersCeltics game hasn't been quite as intense as we've grown accustomed to these last four years. Sure, the hate's still there, but it's not overflowing.

Not yet.

But here's what's so great about this rivalry:

Once the ball goes up tonight, none of that other stuff matters. It doesn't matter that Perk's gone or Phil's gone or that both teams are currently more worried about staying above .500 than raising another banner.

Once it's on, it's on. And all the ill will that's been built up over the last few years the last 30 years the last 50 years will come soaring back. Just like it never left.

Call me crazy, but after tonight, win or lose, something tells me that Pau Gasol won't be so comfortable in a Boston area Starbucks.

That is, unless he's already been traded for Rondo.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.