by Lang Whitaker

OK, a few things to get to first today…

• Our friends and the NBA and adidas asked us to pass along this link to all you Celtic fans in case you want to decorate your desktop. Have at them.

• A quick public service announcement: Last summer Khalid and I were contacted and asked to be commenters on VH1′s new series, “I Love The New Millenium.” It’s their latest series of shows a la “I Love The ’80s” and “I Love The ’90s.” We were asked to comment of a lot of sports-related stuff, as well as some entertainment and pop culture topics. They sent us each a 50-page packet of possible topics and notes, and I went through and wrote as many relevant jokes as I could. Then I went in one day in September and sat in the studio for about 3 hours and was taped opining on as much stuff as I could. I have no idea if either of us will ever even make it on the air, although I did take a bite out of a McGriddle on camera. (And I wore my Bynum Brigade t-shirt.) The show debuts Sunday on VH1 and different episodes start running immediately afterwards. Hopefully SLAM will represent well.

• We sort of fell behind on NBA Fridays during the Finals, but our official illustrator, Joel Kimmel, has a little something for you: LeBron James.

“I was thinking about what to do with LeBron for this piece for a long time,” Joel says. “So, in the spirit of Lil Penny getting ready to face the Bulls in ’96, I researched LeBron, I chased chickens, I worked on my body and my brain. I read Ryan Jones’ book “King James,” and I even cut open a Zoom LeBron just to see what was inside. Finally, I decided to portray LeBron as King James surrounded by a pack of lions. I know it’s been done before, where he’s been placed on a throne with lions at his feet (in a photo shoot for Nike), and it’s probably been done other times as well, but I couldn’t resist the chance to paint some lions! Also, since he has a tattoo of a lion on his right arm I thought it would be a nice combination.”

Great stuff, Joel. Next week we get the Pistons. I’m hoping for Sheed. And also, Joel has an online shop where he’s selling prints of some of his NBA Friday pieces. You can check them out here.

• And finally, the Finals.

I’ve been home now for three days and last night was the closest I’ve come to getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Covering the Finals gets a little surreal after a while because the games all start so late, and by the time the game ends and you do the postgame routine and then get back to the hotel, it’s pretty damn late. Then I’m usually so worked up that I can’t sleep for a while, so I hit the hospitality suite for a few hours, and then I wake up and work, and then go to practice, then work, and then…

It just keeps rolling. And in between the games and practices and media sessions and everything else, a lot of funny stuff happens. Some of it is generated by us as a way to kill time, some of it just happens. So here’s my best and worst of the Finals…

BEST PLAYER IN THE SERIES: TONY ALLEN
I say this only from the perspective of a media member covering the series. Allen didn’t get much burn in the Finals, but he was always ready to talk and had something interesting to say. Plus, since he wasn’t a key member of the Celts, most of the media guys weren’t clamoring for information from him, so he was always available. I knew nothing about him going into the Finals, but now he’s one of my favorite dudes in the NBA.

WORST PLAYERS IN THE SERIES: KOBE BRYANT/KEVIN GARNETT
Again, from the point of view of someone covering the Finals, getting close to either or these guys for a quote or a question was out of the question. They were invisible during the pregame media availability, and then postgame weren’t in the locker room at all, instead only showing up on the interview stand dressed to the nines. I understand that either of those guys would’ve caused a riot if they’d tried to sit in the locker and answer questions, but Ray Allen did it every night, and it would’ve been nice to see Kobe or KG at least appear human.

BEST OVERALL MEAL: ROSCOE’S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES
Before hitting the LA Sparks/Connecticut Sun game on Friday night, we stopped for dinner at the iconic LA spot Roscoe’s. I got the Scoe’s — 1/4 chicken, fried, with two waffles. I prepared it the way Ludacris taught me (for real, I interviewed him once and we went to a chicken and waffles spot in Atlanta): butter the waffles, shred the chicken from the bone, pile the chicken meat on the waffles, sprinkle with hot sauce and then cover with syrup. And man did it hit the spot (and then continue to hit the spot for about the next 36 hours).

WORST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: GAME SIX DRIVE TO BOSTON
I am not assigning any specific blame here, because all of us — Sam, Pascal and myself — were complicit. We left New York City around 12:30 on Tuesday to drive up to Boston, which is about 200 miles from New York. Assuming you travel at an average of 60 miles per hour (which is pretty much impossible due to traffic), the trip should be do-able in just over 3 hours. Ben and I actually made it in about 3 and a half hours after Game 2, but that was driving in the middle of the night with little traffic. Anyway, our trip on Tuesday somehow took just over 6 hours. Sam was driving, but Pascal and I both endorsed us exiting from the Interstate in Connecticut in what turned out to be a wild goose chase for some fast food. And as I mentioned in the comments here, when we finally found a McDonald’s, I walked into the bathroom and found an employee shaving in the sink. Which was interesting.

BEST HEADLINE KHALID THOUGHT OF TO DESCRIBE THE BULLS HIRING VINNY DEL NEGRO: “NEGRO PLEASE”
That kind of says it all.

BEST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: VIRGIN AMERICAN AIRLINES
I’d never taken Virgin America, and all I knew about it was that it was owned by the Rebel Billionaire, Richard Branson. But I flew on it both ways cross-country and had a great experience. It’s like JetBlue crossed with a Scandinavian nightclub — TVs in every seat, with mood lighting and rounded white plastic edges. And instead of serving drinks and snacks once or twice per trip, you order them from your seat and they’re brought to you on demand. Good stuff, other than the seats reclining way too far back.

BEST FOOD IN THE MEDIA HOSPITALITY SUITE: MIDDLE EASTERN SNACK
The media hospitality suite that the NBA hosts is one of the greatest things about the Finals. Open bar and open buffet at the media hotel every night until 2 a.m., even non-game nights. Which makes it a great place to end the night, every night. And besides the bar, they always have some food out. On game nights they go all out (shrimp, potstickers, etc.), and on non-game nights they keep it simple (vegetables and dip, etc.). So one night we rolled in, late, stopped by the room, and the buffet appeared to have a large bowl of hummus. But instead of a little card with “HUMMUS” printed on it, there was a little card with “MIDDLE EASTERN SNACK” hand-written on it. A taste-test confirmed it was indeed hummus. But to me, from now on it’ll always be Middle Eastern Snack.

BEST MOVIE REFERENCED: FLETCH REFERENCE
Late one night, a group of us ended up at the hotel bar at the Loews Santa Monica, which is where a bunch of the ESPN folk were staying. A few of us ordered drinks and the waitress asked, “Do you have a room number you’d like to put these on?” But since none of us were actually staying at the hotel, I said, “Well, I’m not staying at the hotel…but I can still give you a room number to put it on.” And she replied, “Would you like me to charge it to the Underhills?” To which I responded, “I’ll have a Bloody Mary and a steak sandwich and…a steak sandwich, please.”

WORST RENTAL CAR SPECIFIC TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: THE GAS CAP
Remember in our Game Two notes how we mentioned a late arrival? Now the story can be told. Ben and I had rented a car to drive from New York to Boston. We left late Sunday afternoon and were making great time, with plans of arriving in Boston around 7:00 p.m. By the time we got to Hartford, CT, we were running perilously low on gas, so we got off the Interstate in downtown Hartford and spent about 10 minutes vainly looking for a gas station. Finally we got to the outskirts of downtown and found a gas station. Ben went to fill up the car and I went inside to de-fill. A few minutes later I was wandering around looking for some coffee when Ben called and asked me to come out to the car. I did, and found the gas cap unable to be removed. Ben and I each tugged on it with all our might, but the thing wouldn’t budge. I suggested maybe we could just break it off and buy a new gas cap, but there was no way the gas station we were at sold gas caps. (Also, we were sure what would happen if we drove without a gas cap. Would the car explode or something? I was pretty sure it was OK to do it, at least to just get us to Boston.) I wondered if it would help if I squeezed the cap while I turned it, so I tried, but the thing broke off in my hand. Worse, the hole where the gas goes was still covered by some kind of plastic sheet the cap had left behind. So now we were not only out of gas but we couldn’t put gas in the car. I pointed out that the Hartford airport had to be nearby, and surely the rental car company would have a big facility there. We turned off the A/C and rolled down the windows and drove the 20 miles to the airport, holding our breath the entire time that we wouldn’t run out of gas. And we didn’t. But it was about an hour delay that we hadn’t planned for. Fun.

BEST RENTAL CAR SPECIFIC TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: XM RADIO
The car they gave Ben and me to replace the gas-blocked car had XM satellite radio in it, but for some reason we could only get about 5 channels. But the car Sam, Pascal and I rented had XM working in full, and we wore it out on the way home. Actually, I had it locked to the ’80s station. I really enjoyed satellite radio, and if I had a car I’d probably subscribe (but to Sirius so I could get Stern).

BEST FAN: CLIPPER DARRELL
The best fan I encountered during the Finals wasn’t even a Lakers or Celtics fan but a Clipper fan. I wrote a lot about Clipper Darrell here, and there’s not much more to say. The man loves his Clippers. And it was pretty amusing to have a table of ten people engulfed in a discussion about Scottie Pippen and then hear from the end of the table, “Hey, what do you guys think about Brevin Knight as a starting point guard?”

WORST MISTAKEN IDENTITY: KHALID AS A BRITISH MAN
I will not call out the offender here, but one night Khalid and I were out to dinner in Ventura Beach with a friend of mine who had never met Khalid, and after he’d said a few sentences, she asked Khalid, “Are you British?” Mindboggling, really.

BEST SPORTSBAR: THE FOURS
Ben and I had some time to kill before Game One of the Finals, so we hit the sportsbar The Fours across the street from the BankCenterNorthGardenHouse. Had a great beer and order of nachos while watching the Sox game (the game where Coco Crisp got in a fight). A great way to set the table for Game One. I kept waiting for George Wendt to walk in.

STRANGEST FOOD CONSUMED: MONKFISH LIVER
This happened at the “Are you British?” dinner. My friend turned out to be an adventurous sushi eater. I tried it, yep — tasted like foie gras mixed with fish. Not bad, but not great, either.

BEST BURGER: IN-N-OUT
I’ve been hearing Russ and Ryan rail on and on about In-N-Out Burger for years, but somehow I’d never actually made it to one. But these guys built it up like the burgers were so amazing that In-N-Out would pay me to eat there, so I was curious to check it out. One day after practice, my friend Jemele Hill and I went over to grab some burgers. Since she’s an experienced In-N-Out eater, I let her order for me (a double-double, fries and a vanilla milkshake). And you know what? It was pretty good. Better than McDonald’s or Burger King or McDowell’s to be sure, but I don’t think it trumps our friendly neighborhood Shake Shack. Between the two, I’d say the burgers are about even, but I thought the fries at In-N-Out were weak. Plus, Shake Shack is about 500 yards from my desk; In-N-Out is about 3,000 miles away.

WORST LOST AND FOUND: THE ONE AT OUR HOTEL IN LA
It was colder than we expected out in Cali, so Khalid went by a Macy’s and bought a light jacket, a windbreaker even. That night he ended up leaving the jacket in the media hospitality…and never saw it again. Not for a lack of trying, though — the next day Khalid must have gone to the front desk a dozen times and asked about that jacket.

BEST CELEBRITY SIGHTING: LIONEL RITCHIE
For all the celebs shown on TV at the games, I never saw any of them down under the arenas in the secure areas. Except for at Game Five in LA, when I stepped off an elevator and nearly stepped on Lionel Ritchie, who was about 5-5 or so. Hello, I said, is it me you’re looking for?

WORST CELEBRITY SIGHTING: JACK BLACK
Normally, I’d enoy seeing Jack Black out and about. But to see him sitting in the front row at an LA Sparks game was just jarring.

BEST MOBILE EMAIL RECEIVED: REDACTED
Actually, the best email I received from someone’s mobile device during the Finals I can not re-print here, but let me give you some of the key words: vodka, showtime, couch, boobs, horse. That’s all I can say.

BEST IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE OF URBAN COMEDIES FROM THE ’80s AND EARLY ’90s: JOHN HOLLINGER
This was maybe the upset of The Finals. One night in the media hospitality a few of us were discussing the funniest movies from the past few decades, and films like “House Party,” “Coming To America” and “Harlem Nights” were being heavily promoted. The big surprise, however, was Hollinger’s comprehensive knowledge of almost every movie that was brought up. I’ve known John for years and never saw that coming.

BEST ALL-AROUND EXPERIENCE OF THE FINALS: BEING IN THE CELTICS LOCKER ROOM AFTER GAME SIX
I’ve now been in three NBA Championship locker rooms as the celebration was raging, and there’s really no experience like it. The NBA turns the winning locker room into the world’s smallest nightclub, allowing just a handful of media members in initially and then enforcing a strict one-in, one-out policy. Somehow Henry Abbott and I were two of the first people in there, and it was exactly as crazy as you’d expect it to be. I stood a few steps back from the main crush of players and managed to stay relatively dry, but still walked out of there smelling pretty horrible. Champagne stings. And stinks.

Anyway, that’s all I got. We had a great time bringing the Finals to you, and hopefully you guys enjoyed them, too.

Catch you guys on Monday for Draft talk…have a great weekend…