EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rooted for the Boston Celtics during his high school days in New York.

He would later be involved in one of the most intense rivalries in sports, going against Boston three times in NBA finals as a Los Angeles Lakers star in the 1980s.

"I saw my first Celtics-Lakers rivalry game in 1969," Abdul-Jabbar recalled yesterday. "I never had a hatred for them. When I was in high school, I was a Celtics fan. I got to meet [then-Boston stars] Bill Russell, [John] Havlicek, [Bob] Cousy, those guys, when I was in ninth grade."

The teams are about to meet in the finals for the 11th time, the first time since 1987 when the Lakers beat the Celtics in the third matchup between the teams in a span of 4 years. The Celtics won in 1984 for their eighth straight victory over Los Angeles in the finals dating back to 1959, but the Lakers broke through in 1985, when Abdul-Jabbar became at age 38 the oldest player to win the finals MVP award.

"For me, it was real intense," Abdul-Jabbar said of the rivalry. "[It was] long ago and far away. I don't hold any animosity."

"It's a classic rivalry, one of the greatest rivalries in sports, and the country seems to be kind of re-energized by it, at least NBA fans," Kobe Bryant said. "I think [the past] adds more fluff for this week leading up to it, all the classic games and a lot more to talk about, about the series." *