Even if you still despise commissioner David Stern, and remain sore at the NBA for allowing carpet-bagging Oklahomans to steal your team, the NBA Finals start today and it will be a challenge for some of us to sustain our disinterest.
Had it been Phoenix and Orlando in the Finals? Forget it. We have our principles, right?
But the Celtics and Lakers? Not watching this feels like turning your back on sports history.
As much as the NBA has evolved into a star-driven marketing enterprise, the Celtics and Lakers are the only names necessary to stimulate interest. The teams, in this case, are strong enough to hold the top of the marquee.
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These two have won 32 titles combined, and nine of the Celtics’ 17 championships have come at the Lakers’ expense. Yes, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and others will be showcased, but even they’re humbled by the historic battles of Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird.
It wasn’t just the big names, either, Jerry West and John Havlicek, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish. Sometimes the hottest action came from Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis going at each other as they captured the appropriate tone of a Boston-L.A. duel.
For a while, these teams were the NBA. From 1959 through 1969, they met in eight Finals. Boston won all of them. They took a lengthy break (presumably to let the bruises heal), before meeting three times in the 1980s, with the Lakers taking two titles in games that were savagely competitive.
Twenty-one years passed before they faced off again, in 2008, in something of an anticlimax as Boston took the series in six games.
But these teams have won the last two titles and meet again this evening.
Although the Lakers are defending champs, it’s not likely they forgot the blowout loss in Game 6 in the 2008 series by a 131-92 score. That was the series when Paul Pierce injured his knee in Game 1 and was taken off the court in a wheelchair. He returned and pumped in a couple of 3-pointers.
Celtics lore. Wanna bet the Lakers recall the moment?
Something about this cross-country pairing spawns drama. While researching the last Finals meeting between these teams, I came across this tidbit: Lakers star Elgin Baylor missed most of the 1961-62 regular season because he was an Army reservist who was called up to active duty at Fort Lewis. They only let him leave camp for weekend games.
Apparently, the Army could sacrifice medical corpsman Baylor on Saturdays and Sundays.
Here’s what he did when he showed up in the Finals: Score 61 points with 22 rebounds in a Game 5 win at Boston Garden. The Celtics overcame Baylor and the Lakers in an overtime Game 7 but needed 30 points and 40 rebounds from Bill Russell to do it.
We come to expect such greatness when these teams meet.
Kobe is going for his fifth championship, which would match Magic Johnson’s total. Decent company. Although he averaged 30 points a game in the 2008 Finals, Bryant came into it as the league MVP, and struggled at times against the Celtics’ defense. He hasn’t forgotten.
Often when these two have met in the Finals, the toughest team wins. One gets physical, and the other has to counterpunch to keep from getting bullied. Let’s see, the Lakers have Ron Artest and the Celtics have Rasheed Wallace. Hmmm, wonder if there’s any chance those two might make things interesting?
Pierce acknowledged that this could get be heated.
“I won’t say it’s two teams that’ll go to blows,” he said this week. “But it’s definitely going to get fiery.”
Of course it will … it’s the Celtics and the Lakers. And that alone will make it worth watching.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org