WALTHAM - Much was made of the mutual respect that Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and Pistons big man Rasheed Wallace showed each other during the Eastern Conference finals. Some, including Wallace's teammates, found it distasteful. No one has to worry about similar displays between Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen and Lakers supernova Kobe Bryant when the NBA Finals tip off Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden.
Unlike when the Lakers visited the sweltering Boston Garden for the Finals in the 1980s and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sucking on oxygen, the new joint is air-conditioned, but even if it were not, things would be a little frosty between Allen and the league MVP.
Four years ago, after the Lakers shipped Shaquille O'Neal to Miami, Allen, then a member of the Seattle SuperSonics, was quoted the day after a preseason game against the Lakers as saying that Bryant would be more selfish sans Shaq.
"He's going to be very selfish," Allen said. "And he feels like he needs to show this league and the people of this country that he is better without Shaq. He can win championships without Shaq. So offensively, he's going to jump out and say, 'I can average 30 points. I can still carry the load on this team.'
"I think the point production is not going to be so much what people are going to look at because [Tracy] McGrady did it in Orlando, Allen [Iverson] did it in Philly. Can you win a championship? I think that's the question. Carrying guys on your back and making everybody better."
Bryant didn't take kindly to the comments.
"Don't put me and him in the same sentence," Bryant retorted later that month, prior to an exhibition rematch between the Sonics and Lakers.
They were harsh words, considering Allen is an eight-time All-Star and a likely Hall of Famer. Yesterday, Allen wanted no part of rehashing his verbal skirmish with Bryant, but when given the opportunity, he didn't recant.
"Honestly, I said it and I just moved on from it," said Allen. "I didn't make a big deal about it myself. If one person says it, then somebody is going to perpetuate it and grow it and make it more than what it is. We're in 2008. It's a nonissue now."
Well, perhaps Bryant simply misinterpreted what Allen was trying to say. Maybe the remarks weren't intended to be pejorative.
"That's how he took them. I didn't have to say anything more about it," said Allen. "[It happened] at a time when I'm playing in the Western Conference, and I just finished playing them in the preseason.
"So, obviously, the teams that you play and that you see regularly, you have more of a feel for them, so it was that at the time. We're in a different part of our careers and our lives right now. I've got to take care of what's going on with myself and this team."
Like his game on the court, Allen was both silky-smooth and doggedly determined at the same time in answering questions about Bryant. He didn't want to fuel Bryant's fire by adding to the remarks, but he wasn't backing away from them, either.
Out in Los Angeles, Bryant seemed even less inclined to stir anything up. Asked if there were a simmering feud with Allen, Bryant said, "When we get to the arena early, he and I speak all the time. It's fine."
So they're on good terms?
"Absolutely," said Bryant, "I think we've kissed and made up in four years. There's nothing there."
Allen's assessment of the situation was probably accurate at the time. Bryant himself has admitted that he's had to learn how to bring the best out of his teammates, and that it has been an ongoing process. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said that Bryant's evolution is probably similar to that of Paul Pierce.
Bryant also made a prophet of Allen last year when he went public with on-again, off-again trade demands. As part of his comments, Allen had predicted Bryant would request a trade.
"If Kobe doesn't see he needs 2 1/2 good players to be a legitimate playoff contender or win a championship in about a year or two, he will be calling out to [Lakers owner] Jerry Buss that we need some help in here, or trade me," Allen was quoted as saying. "We'll all be saying, 'We told you so,' when he says that."
Rivers said he wasn't concerned about Allen getting caught up in a grudge match.
"No, I don't think they give a [hoot] about each other," said Rivers. "There is nothing wrong with having a little bit of whatever it is. I think that's healthy and good and fine, but I don't think either one of them is thinking about the other guy."
Bryant has been spectacular in the postseason, averaging 31.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game, while shooting nearly 51 percent from the field. Allen, who is averaging 14.1 points, seemed to rediscover his range in the final two games against the Pistons, hitting both tough and clutch shots.
Former Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter told the Orange County Register Sunday that Bryant had difficulty defending Allen.
"You don't want to put Kobe on Allen," Winter told the paper. "Allen has always been very effective against Kobe. Kobe just won't pay enough attention to him."
No doubt Bryant will be paying plenty of attention to Allen whether he guards him or not. One thing Kobe has never lacked is killer instinct. He'd love nothing more than to make Allen the foil for his Finals coronation, the Clyde Drexler to Bryant's Michael Jordan.
Allen acknowledged the feud could be used as motivation.
"Of course," he said. "You have history with every player. I think in your own way you internalize it and use it to motivate you.
"If it's a bad past with a certain player, you use that, and you remember it and you try to stay out of those circumstances and move forward."
Shira Springer of the Globe staff contributed to this report from El Segundo, Calif.