Rivalry of the Century

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a descriptive essay on the Lakers-Celtics Rivalry and its significance to the sport of basketball.

Submitted: May 31, 2013

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Submitted: May 31, 2013

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The Lakers-Celtics rivalry has been and remains one of the most competitive rivalries in sports. This rivalry captured my attention because whenever I would sit down with elder relatives, the conversation would draw back to talking about all-time greats that used to play in the NBA. And whenever I would ask the question whom he played for the answer would always somehow be the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics. So knowing the high and low points of the rivalry, who played on the team, and when, will greatly increase knowledge of the all-time greats. This rivalry has been competitive for so long, which is tenuous for rivalries in sports. There are always two teams that become less competitive for five years or a decade or two, but these are special teams.  The Lakers and Celtics are the two most decorated franchises in the NBA meaning that they have been to and won the finals many times. These two teams have met in the finals a total of twelve times, which is impressive considering that some teams have never been to the finals.  This rivalry has written so much of NBA history that just knowing about this rivalry will give ample information of the history of the NBA.  So many of the championships, conference titles, and division titles come from this rivalry alone.

The rivalry started in 1959, when the two teams first met in the finals.  Facing each other in the finals six times in the 1960s and three times in the 1980s is something no other rivalry could think of accomplishing.  In the 1960s, the Celtics had a Hall of Fame center, Bill Russell, who gave the Lakers trouble for some time.  In Bill Russell’s era, he was practically playing on the court without defenders because of his size and strength.  Bill Russell played for the Celtics from 1956 to 1969; during his career he dominated the league, winning eight championships; subsequently winning three more as a coach. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have met twelve times in the finals, nine of which the Celtics have won.

The Lakers are a unique franchise in the sense of how many hall of famers they have had play for them. Many future hall of famers have come to the Lakers at the end of their careers because of how consistently successful they have been. Players; such as, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Dennis Rodman, come to the Lakers to try to squeeze in one or more titles before they bring their career to an end. The Celtics have definitely been the more dominant team of the two teams in the rivalry, through the 1960s and 1970s but the Lakers have been the more dominant recently, in the 2000s. Sixteen hall of famers have played for the Lakers some of which are: Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, James Worthy, Karl Malone, and Gail Goodrich. In addition to those players, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Bryant is currently playing for the Lakers while O’ Neal has been retired for two years.

In the season of 1987, the Lakers and Celtics would meet again in the finals for the last time in a couple years, as the rivalry was becoming a faded memory. The season of 1987 had been a season of bad luck, injuries and ultimately a series of unfortunate events. The Celtics had recruited a star in the 1986/87 draft named Len Bias. Bias was a phenomenal talent, but made careless and idiotic decisions. Celebrating his career ahead of him, Len Bias was consuming cocaine, overdosed, and died of a heart attack, as a result. Coming into the draft there was awareness of his maturity problems and the Celtics were aware of these issues, but they went into the draft with the mindset of high risk, high reward. Despite the injuries to Bill Walton, Kevin McHale, and Scott Wedman, (all of whom were forwards for the Boston Celtics), the Celtics had swept Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and squeaked their way past the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in the second and third rounds. But the biggest challenge came in the NBA finals where Larry Bird would meet his competitor Magic Johnson, both nearing the end of their careers. The Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Era was the peek of the rivalry, although a rivalry that didn’t start in the NBA, but in college.  In the 1979 NCAA National Championship game Magic Johnson led Michigan State to victory, defeating Larry Bird and Indiana State in the highest rated college basketball game of all time.

After excelling in the NBA since 1979, Magic Johnson retired in 1991 because he contracted HIV; Johnson was pressured to retire because the NBA feared that he would spread the disease to other players. If Johnson were cut the medical staff wouldn’t be able to tend to him because if his blood entered their system then they would also contract the disease. Magic Johnson came back to play in the NBA in 1992, then retired once more because of complaints from fellow players. Johnson came back again in 1996; he played one season, and retired for the third and final time. The early 1990s were not good years for Larry Bird either he was suffering from chronic back pains. The Lakers would emerge triumphant in the next couple years.

In 1996 the Lakers had acquired Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’ Neal, two future hall of famers, while the Celtics were in a rebuilding stage, unable to compete for titles. The Lakers won three consecutive titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002 under Head Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Pat Riley. The Lakers would meet with the Celtics again in 2008 after the Celtics had signed Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen this time the Celtics would return to Boston with a trophy in their arms. By this point, the Lakers had released Shaquille O’ Neal because Kobe Bryant went to Pat Riley and told him to choose between O’ Neal or him. Bryant wanted the Lakers to be his team and didn’t want to share the credit with O’ Neal. Pat Riley and the Lakers chose Bryant because he was younger and had the higher basketball IQ of the two. For ten years now Bryant has been a coach for his team on the court while also having Phil Jackson, the actual head coach. Phil Jackson was a retired coach (as of 2011), he coached Michael Jordan and the Bulls for six years winning six championships, then he came over to Los Angeles to coach Bryant and the Lakers where he won five championships; in addition to those he won two championships as a player. In total Phil Jackson has thirteen championships most of any head coach or former player. The latest encounter of these two teams in the finals is in 2010. Kobe Bryant, determined to lead his team to a fifth title, would meet the rivaled Celtics, but this time Bryant and Lakers would come out on top. And that brings these two teams to 2012 where the Lakers have acquired an all-star center in Dwight Howard, and a hall of fame point guard approaching the end of his career (yet still a legitimate weapon) in Steve Nash, and still maintaining the Hall of Fame shooting guard in Kobe Bryant, desperate to close out his career with one last ring to tie Michael Jordan. The 2012-2013 season would be plagued with injuries, and the Lakers ended up fighting their way into the playoffs just to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Where as, the Celtics have two deteriorating stars in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and have lost their pinpoint accurate three-point shooter in Ray Allen to the Miami Heat. But don’t be fooled this rivalry isn’t just a string of competitive games on the basketball court; it is a cultural rivalry between Los Angeles and Boston. These two teams have written so much of the NBA’s history and still have so much more to write. In the future, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics will once again emerge dominant teams in the NBA and make another run at the desired championship trophy.

 

The Lakers-Celtics rivalry has been and remains one of the most competitive rivalries in sports. This rivalry captured my attention because whenever I would sit down with elder relatives, the conversation would draw back to talking about all-time greats that used to play in the NBA. And whenever I would ask the question whom he played for the answer would always somehow be the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics. So knowing the high and low points of the rivalry, who played on the team, and when, will greatly increase knowledge of the all-time greats. This rivalry has been competitive for so long, which is tenuous for rivalries in sports. There are always two teams that become less competitive for five years or a decade or two, but these are special teams.  The Lakers and Celtics are the two most decorated franchises in the NBA meaning that they have been to and won the finals many times. These two teams have met in the finals a total of twelve times, which is impressive considering that some teams have never been to the finals.  This rivalry has written so much of NBA history that just knowing about this rivalry will give ample information of the history of the NBA.  So many of the championships, conference titles, and division titles come from this rivalry alone.

The rivalry started in 1959, when the two teams first met in the finals.  Facing each other in the finals six times in the 1960s and three times in the 1980s is something no other rivalry could think of accomplishing.  In the 1960s, the Celtics had a Hall of Fame center, Bill Russell, who gave the Lakers trouble for some time.  In Bill Russell’s era, he was practically playing on the court without defenders because of his size and strength.  Bill Russell played for the Celtics from 1956 to 1969; during his career he dominated the league, winning eight championships; subsequently winning three more as a coach. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have met twelve times in the finals, nine of which the Celtics have won.

The Lakers are a unique franchise in the sense of how many hall of famers they have had play for them. Many future hall of famers have come to the Lakers at the end of their careers because of how consistently successful they have been. Players; such as, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Dennis Rodman, come to the Lakers to try to squeeze in one or more titles before they bring their career to an end. The Celtics have definitely been the more dominant team of the two teams in the rivalry, through the 1960s and 1970s but the Lakers have been the more dominant recently, in the 2000s. Sixteen hall of famers have played for the Lakers some of which are: Magic Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, James Worthy, Karl Malone, and Gail Goodrich. In addition to those players, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Bryant is currently playing for the Lakers while O’ Neal has been retired for two years.

In the season of 1987, the Lakers and Celtics would meet again in the finals for the last time in a couple years, as the rivalry was becoming a faded memory. The season of 1987 had been a season of bad luck, injuries and ultimately a series of unfortunate events. The Celtics had recruited a star in the 1986/87 draft named Len Bias. Bias was a phenomenal talent, but made careless and idiotic decisions. Celebrating his career ahead of him, Len Bias was consuming cocaine, overdosed, and died of a heart attack, as a result. Coming into the draft there was awareness of his maturity problems and the Celtics were aware of these issues, but they went into the draft with the mindset of high risk, high reward. Despite the injuries to Bill Walton, Kevin McHale, and Scott Wedman, (all of whom were forwards for the Boston Celtics), the Celtics had swept Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and squeaked their way past the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in the second and third rounds. But the biggest challenge came in the NBA finals where Larry Bird would meet his competitor Magic Johnson, both nearing the end of their careers. The Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Era was the peek of the rivalry, although a rivalry that didn’t start in the NBA, but in college.  In the 1979 NCAA National Championship game Magic Johnson led Michigan State to victory, defeating Larry Bird and Indiana State in the highest rated college basketball game of all time.

After excelling in the NBA since 1979, Magic Johnson retired in 1991 because he contracted HIV; Johnson was pressured to retire because the NBA feared that he would spread the disease to other players. If Johnson were cut the medical staff wouldn’t be able to tend to him because if his blood entered their system then they would also contract the disease. Magic Johnson came back to play in the NBA in 1992, then retired once more because of complaints from fellow players. Johnson came back again in 1996; he played one season, and retired for the third and final time. The early 1990s were not good years for Larry Bird either he was suffering from chronic back pains. The Lakers would emerge triumphant in the next couple years.

In 1996 the Lakers had acquired Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’ Neal, two future hall of famers, while the Celtics were in a rebuilding stage, unable to compete for titles. The Lakers won three consecutive titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002 under Head Coach Phil Jackson and General Manager Pat Riley. The Lakers would meet with the Celtics again in 2008 after the Celtics had signed Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen this time the Celtics would return to Boston with a trophy in their arms. By this point, the Lakers had released Shaquille O’ Neal because Kobe Bryant went to Pat Riley and told him to choose between O’ Neal or him. Bryant wanted the Lakers to be his team and didn’t want to share the credit with O’ Neal. Pat Riley and the Lakers chose Bryant because he was younger and had the higher basketball IQ of the two. For ten years now Bryant has been a coach for his team on the court while also having Phil Jackson, the actual head coach. Phil Jackson was a retired coach (as of 2011), he coached Michael Jordan and the Bulls for six years winning six championships, then he came over to Los Angeles to coach Bryant and the Lakers where he won five championships; in addition to those he won two championships as a player. In total Phil Jackson has thirteen championships most of any head coach or former player. The latest encounter of these two teams in the finals is in 2010. Kobe Bryant, determined to lead his team to a fifth title, would meet the rivaled Celtics, but this time Bryant and Lakers would come out on top. And that brings these two teams to 2012 where the Lakers have acquired an all-star center in Dwight Howard, and a hall of fame point guard approaching the end of his career (yet still a legitimate weapon) in Steve Nash, and still maintaining the Hall of Fame shooting guard in Kobe Bryant, desperate to close out his career with one last ring to tie Michael Jordan. The 2012-2013 season would be plagued with injuries, and the Lakers ended up fighting their way into the playoffs just to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Where as, the Celtics have two deteriorating stars in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and have lost their pinpoint accurate three-point shooter in Ray Allen to the Miami Heat. But don’t be fooled this rivalry isn’t just a string of competitive games on the basketball court; it is a cultural rivalry between Los Angeles and Boston. These two teams have written so much of the NBA’s history and still have so much more to write. In the future, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics will once again emerge dominant teams in the NBA and make another run at the desired championship trophy.

 


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