Since it’s so difficult to get to the Finals, it’s tough for two teams in different conferences to meet often enough to have a bitter rivalry, but if there is an East/West rivalry in the NBA, it’s the Celtics/Lakers.The 2010 Finals will be the 12th time that the two teams have met in the Finals. However, the Lakers have won the championship that year and have enjoyed far more success in the NBA’s modern era.
As the rivalry wore on, it seemed to take on a life of its own. No longer is it just about the Celtics and the Lakers. It’s about East Coast vs. West Coast. It’s about “da Gahden” vs. the Forum. It’s about victory cigars vs. Showtime. It’s about blue-collar work ethic vs. Hollywood glitz and glamour. It’s about tradition and legacy vs. air-conditioning and luxury. Nowhere else in the NBA is there a rivalry with such a study in contrasts.
Nothing dances off the tongue of an NBA commercial narrator like the words "Celtics-Lakers." It's a rivalry that is deeply embedded in our collective sports consciousness, unrivaled across the athletic spectrum. Not only have these franchises combined to win 33 of the NBA's 65 championships, but it seems like each generation over the past 50 years have been able to enjoy their own version of this historic showdown, because they have often been good at the same time.
It started in 1959, before the Lakers had even moved west, with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy going against Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. By the end of the '60s, it had morphed into Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. The 1970s was a dry patch in the rivalry, though both franchises won titles during the decade. The 1980s came back with a vengeance during the Magic vs. Bird years, before the 1990s turned into a nadir for both franchises. The drought extended well into the past decade.
Moreover, Celtics/Lakers Finals are almost always competitive. The two teams have gone to (at least) a Game 6 in eight of the 10 head-to-head Finals matchups, and to a Game 7 four times.
Just when we thought Celtics-Lakers had become fodder for folklore, Boston general manager Danny Ainge, himself a key figure in those 1980s matchups, patched together the Celtics' new Big 3 in 2007, and the rivalry was reborn.
If not for Boston’s dominance in the head-to-head matchups with L.A., the Lakers would probably be regarded as the most successful franchise in league history. Counting their stint in Minneapolis, the Lakers have racked up 16 titles. The Celtics have won 17 titles. The Lakers have won two more titles since the Celtics won their last, so there’s a lot on the line this year.
Do you think the Lakers would tie the Celtics by winning the championship next season? Tell us in the comments.