Shaw traveled two-way street

He’s seen rivalry from both sides

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 4, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — In 2008, Brian Shaw tried to tell the Lakers to expect an intense series with the Celtics when the teams met in the Finals. But the Lakers had to go through the experience themselves to understand Shaw’s message.

“These guys that are on this team understand it now — because that team basically manhandled us in 2008,’’ said Shaw, a Lakers assistant who played for the Celtics for three seasons. “I can understand why they didn’t understand the rivalry, because a lot of them either weren’t born or weren’t really following basketball. You’d be surprised how many players today don’t really follow the history of the game.

“The Celtics had been kind of down and out for a while, and now you have a matchup, Celtics-Lakers, and the guys who had been around weren’t really much a part of it anymore. It’s hard to generate — well, we’re supposed to hate them and they’re supposed to hate us — when they missed it all from the beginning.’’

The Lakers got Shaw’s point on the last day of the Finals. Actually, the Celtics made a lot of points that day, taking a 131-92 victory to secure the championship. And, to drive things home, the Lakers bus was subjected to the wrath of the crowd outside TD Garden.

“You lose a game by 39 points in the last game of the series,’’ Shaw recalled, “and what we had to go through on the bus ride from the Garden to the hotel was scary, because the police didn’t have control over the situation outside. I think from that moment everybody realized what it was all about.

“They threw rocks, bottles, they literally knocked police officers off their motorcycles. It was scary. They had the barricades set up right outside the Garden. But that wasn’t the problem. It was once we got past the barricades, it got out of control.

“People were in the streets from that point until we got back to the hotel. As we got farther and farther away, it was less of a motorcade. It was almost to the point where the bus driver would have had to kind of just bowl people over if we really needed to get out of there, because you had no way of protecting yourself.’’

The Lakers will be drawing on those memories for motivation in this series. Shaw, though, was able to resolve the matter of loyalties long ago.

When Shaw was selected by the Celtics in the 1988 draft, he signed a one-year contract for the minimum $75,000 salary. The next year, Raul Gardini, who had made a fortune in the petro chemical industry, offered Shaw a two-year contract, tripling the Celtics’ offer. Shaw and Danny Ferry would play for the Rome-based team Il Messaggero, sponsored by the daily newspaper controlled by Gardini.

Being a free agent on the global market, and with no salary cap to restrict his earnings, Shaw saw the move as a no-brainer.

“That was kind of my first lesson in the business of basketball,’’ Shaw said. “I signed a one-year deal coming out of school, because the Celtics were at the salary cap, so I had to sign for the minimum.

“And they looked at it like, you should be happy to have a Celtic jersey on and play in Boston and be in the NBA. And I was like, I didn’t grow up a Celtic fan, anyway. I grew up a basketball player, for the most part pulling against the Celtics, so if we can’t get the business part straight, I’ll go somewhere else and play basketball because that’s what I’m here to do, anyway, whether it’s their jersey on my back or somebody else’s.

“That was the beginning of the end for me there, but there’s two sides to every story.’’

Often, followers of the Celtics and Lakers are interested in only one side.

“The other night in Phoenix, there was a guy that security had to come and keep order with,’’ Shaw said. “He was yelling to me, ‘Your loyalty is to the Celtics, you still bleed green, how could you sit on the bench with the enemy?’ And this is — what — 22 years later? And he’s still yelling that. So it kind of comes with the territory.’’

Shaw started his playing career as a Celtic but has made his coaching reputation with the Lakers. He signed his 10th one-year deal as an assistant before this season and is now being mentioned as a possible head coach, maybe with the Lakers should Phil Jackson move on.

But the selfless, role-playing elements of the Celtic style still inform Shaw’s thinking on the game.

“I think that’s kind of the old-school way of looking at things,’’ Shaw said. “That’s the way I was brought up. Even in a practice session, when you’re going through a five-on-0 situation, the point guard should be the last one to shoot. He should make sure the center gets a shot, the shooting guard gets a shot, the small forward, the power forward, then yourself. You have to sacrifice.

“In today’s game, a lot of players look at it like ‘Me first,’ because they associate getting paid with how many points you score, and it doesn’t really parallel success and winning.

“I think when you have a team that respects the point guard and the fact he can direct everybody, I think that’s the biggest thing about the Celtics this year. I heard Paul Pierce about a week ago; he said before this year [Rajon] Rondo played off the Big Three, but now the Big Three play off Rondo. That’s huge, that they trust in him to make the plays and tell them where to be on the floor, and follow his lead.’’

Shaw knows where Pierce, a native of Inglewood, is coming from in terms of allegiances.

“I grew up in Oakland,’’ said Shaw. “I was a Golden State Warriors fan but I still wanted to beat Golden State every time we played them in the regular season. The team you’re with, that’s who you’re with.’’

As raucous as the Celtic-Laker rivalry can be, Shaw had a wakeup call in a potentially much more volatile situation in Italy, where resentments can date back centuries. Gardini, accused of financial irregularities, committed suicide in 1993 as his financial empire began crashing.

The Gardini family was from Ravenna, “and I always wondered why, when we went south of Rome, they would never go,’’ Shaw said. “Even in Rome, they had 24-hour-a-day bodyguards, with Kevlar vests, AK-47s, and they went with them everywhere. They had armed guards outside all the time.

“When you have to have that kind of protection you kind of wonder, is there more to it than that?’’

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