No Jack.

No beach.

No Mercedes-Benz, rolling down Rodeo Drive, big ol’ redhead by my side.

No roller skates.

No movies.

No Lakers.

“Did you hear?” they said. “Houston won.”

“Houston?” I said.

In the NBA finals? Against the Boston Celtics? Say it ain’t so. East meets
. . . Texas? Chowder meets . . . barbecue sauce?

“Houston?” I said. “Are you sure?”

“Houston,” came the answer.

No LA? No battle of the coasts? No crewnecks vs. baggies? No lobster vs. toffuti?

No singing “We love it!” as we cruise through Santa Monica, the radio blasting, the surfboards in the backseat all waxed and ready?

“The Rockets?” I said. “That Houston?”

“That’s the one,”‘ they said.

And they explained. The Lakers had their throne pulled out from under them. It happened in the late hours of Wednesday evening at the Forum: Ralph Sampson threw a last-second shot over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — over him? — it went up, it came down, it went in. The Lakers went out. The Rockets went wild.

The West meant Texas now.

No more surfing.

“Are you sure?” I said. “It was awful late.”

“We’re sure,” they said. Who needs a blind date? How about that? Just when you think you’ve got an annual rivalry going, some cowboy comes and blows it away. LA, Boston. Boston, LA. The words kind of roll off the tongue now, like “thinga” and “majig.” They had become a ritual of late spring. Like going to the prom.

Only now we have Boston standing on the doorstep, corsage in hand, bow tie around its neck, and who should answer the bell? Not the blonde in the Corvette with the lip gloss and the purple-and-gold skirt. Nooo. It’s her cousin. The tall one, the one in the Stetson, with the long arms.

“Are you sure there’s no mistake?” I said.

“No mistake,” they said.

Deserving? Well, of course the Rockets are deserving. They won in five, didn’t they? They shut down a Magic man and chopped the giant steps of Abdul-Jabbar into mortal strides. Akeem Olajuwon. Robert Reid. Sampson. Yes. They are deserving. But that’s not the point.

The point is . . . what’s the point?

Houston vs. Boston has no spark. No life. It’ll be over in five games. For some people, it’ll be over before it starts. They won’t watch.

Ask CBS, which was rooting for Houston about as much as, say, Custer rooted for the Indians. How many people watched the NBA final last year just to see who sat next to John Travolta? Or if Walter Matthau had the beard. A Lakers/Celtics playoff is a happening worthy of prime-time TV, if only because half the actors on the other networks are sitting in the stands.

Not now. Not anymore. Who is Houston going to send out there? Mickey Gilley? No Lakers . . . no tradition “Do you know how many Randy Newman records were cued up for this?” I said. “How many Johnny Carson monologues? How many college kids painting banners? How many security guards just waiting to protect Jack Nicholson?”

“How many?” they said.

“Well . . . lots,” I said.

Why, LA-Boston is a study in contrast, the American landscape in shorts and socks. It’s the Lakers bringing their fuel-injected running attack into creaky old Boston Garden. And the Celtics dragging their smelly-sneaker work ethic to the land of lay-back-till-and-go-nuts.

You don’t trash that kind of tradition. No, sir. But that’s what Houston did. In five games. Ruined the rematch of last year’s final. And the year’s before that. Ruined Abdul-Jabbar vs. Bill Walton. Ruined Larry Bird’s revenge.

No purple. No gold.

No clothes by Adolfo something or other.

You can say it’s good for basketball. You can say it justifies the NBA draft. You can take a hike.

“You’re absolutely sure about this?” I said.

“Absolutely,” they said.

No la la?

No surf?

No Jack?

I love Hous-ton. We love it!

Doesn’t sound right. Sorry.

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