Celebration Goes From Center Court to the Locker Room

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No boos from the crowd.

No projectiles hurled onto the floor.

Nothing to interrupt or spoil the moment.

Considering the passion and venom expressed by 76er fans in recent days, it was wise to stage the postgame trophy presentation far from the madding crowd in what used to be a weight room in the bowels of the First Union Center.

"It's a matter of sensitivity," said Brian McIntyre, an NBA vice-president. "When a team wins, it likes to share the celebration with its own fans. But you don't want to celebrate too long on someone else's floor."

Over the years, league officials have learned other lessons about celebrating.

For example, the trophy the Lakers hugged and kissed and clutched to their chests was not the same trophy they would have been handed if they hadn't won until Game 6 or 7.

That would have been the West Coast trophy.

This was the East Coast trophy.

"We now have two," McIntyre said. "That way we don't have to worry about shipping it back and forth. We don't have to worry about a superstitious team trainer who doesn't want the trophy on his team's flight until the series has been won."

As for those hats and shirts the players were given after the game, proclaiming their victory, the league doesn't produce those until a team is within one win of the championship.

Friday's game ended a spirited week in Philadelphia which included the following highs and lows:

Worst Homerism: Although Philadelphia can claim Kobe Bryant as one of its own because he played in high school at Lower Merion in suburban Ardmore, local fans have chosen instead to welcome the Laker guard with boos.

The local papers are also doing their part.

"You don't have to look too hard," wrote the Philadelphia Daily News, "to see that this guy is more Apollo Creed than Rocky Balboa.

"The disdainful head wag, the arrogant grin, the way his shooting hand lingers in the air just so after knocking down a jumper.

"That's not Philly. That's Hollywood. And the air must be thinner out there in Bel Air because Bryant, clearly, has forgotten where he came from."

Most Thoughtful: It's terrible when the facts mess up a good story, but Bryant didn't forget his roots last Friday.

Having watched 76er guard Allen Iverson torch the Lakers for 48 points in Game 1, Bryant called his high school coach, Gregg Downer, in Philadelphia before Game 2 at Staples Center to discuss the task of containing Iverson.

Bryant, who didn't have a college coach because he jumped directly to the pros, maintains regular contact with Downer.

Sharpest Needle: Asked this week about his preference when he jumped into the 1996 NBA draft, Bryant said, "I'd play anywhere . . . even here in Philly."

Toughest Defender: Philadelphia talk-show host Howard Eskin to callers who questioned 76er Coach Larry Brown's decision to take center Dikembe Mutombo out in the final 90 seconds of Game 3 and go with a smaller lineup: "You don't deserve to have Larry Brown as your coach."

Best Gig: A Secret Service agent guarding former President Clinton at the First Union Center during Game 3 of the NBA Finals loves his assignment.

"I've been on this detail a week," he said, "and I've been to the French Open, Belmont Stakes and the NBA Finals."

Of course it would be an even better if he actually got to watch those events rather than being required to focus on the crowd.

Hottest Mom: It's not too hard to figure out who is Iverson's mother. Ann sits in a front-row seat under the basket at First Union Center, a gaudy silver necklace with the number "3," her son's number, around her neck, sweat bands, one with his number and one with his initials, on her fingers and, of course, his jersey on her back.

But just in case there's still any doubt about her identity, Ann hands out her trading card to interested passersby.

On the back, along with a picture of Ann and a 3-year-old Allen, are some words that were particularly fitting Friday.

"Success doesn't always mean that you're the MVP or the winner every time," Ann wrote. "It means you always tried your best."

Mom knows best.

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