Somewhere between Doug Collins’ nightly reminder that he once coached a young Michael Jordan and Vince Carters not-so-magical transformation into an ice cream sandwich during the Eastern Conference Finals, an unprecedented shift took place between a pair of rival fan bases in the NBA.
Lakers and Celtics fans were… (gulp)… rooting for each other.
L.A. fans everywhere were redeeming temporary passes to ride the Celtics bandwagon through the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was a sacrilegious surprising move by the Lakers Nation – but before Red Auerbach starts bracing for an ice storm, it’s important to understand this wasn’t a hell-freezes-over moment in Lakers vs. Celtics history.
It was actually quite the opposite.
Only the most powerful forms of hatred can be temporarily disguised as affection. Lakers fans rooting for the Celtics was simply the evolution of sports hate. It was the sadistic response to a rivalry that has been sprinkled with, as my friend Zupon described it, blind, raging hatred. It was a gesture that said, “I want you to get so high on the mountain of success that when I kick you off of it, the fall will certainly crush you.”
Despite a history of abhorrence for each other, L.A. and Boston fans joined together under the unifying umbrella of mutual revulsion… and both fan bases got exactly what they asked for: A date with each other in the NBA Finals.
In a very twisted and nauseating way, it makes perfect sense. It is the Boston Celtics, not the Orlando Magic or Cleveland Cavaliers, that hold the key to the Lakers redemption.
All week, we have watched hours and hours of Lakers vs. Celtics stories. We have witnesses countless replays of Bob Cousy dribbling out the clock, Bill Russell ripping rebounds away from Wilt and Larry Bird excitedly whipping a towel on the sideline. We have heard countless reporters and numerous writers offer their perspectives on the 51-year-old rivalry. In each instance, the same general sentiment seems to be communicated:
The Boston Celtics own the Los Angeles Lakers.
Granted, the Celtics do have the most recent victory over the Lakers (’08) in the NBA Finals. However, unless we want to dive into a decade of Celtics dominance over the Lakers that ended 41 years ago (’59-’69), the Boston > Los Angeles equation couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.
Since 1970, the Lakers have more than held their own vs. the Celtics in the NBA Finals (2-2, .500). After losing Game 7 to Boston in ’84, Magic and the Showtime Lakers responded by beating the Celtics in the NBA Finals twice in just three seasons (’85, ’87). If you really want to talk about history, the Lakers have won 2 of the last 3 vs. Boston in the Finals – not to mention almost doubling them in the NBA championships department (10-6) during that same duration.
Now for the million dollar question… What does this have to do with the ’10 NBA Finals?
No matter how you try to spin the historical significance of the Lakers vs. Celtics match-up, there is only one thing we can really be absolutely sure of:
This will be an era-defining series for both franchises.
For the Lakers, it is a rare opportunity at sports redemption; for the Celtics, an opportunity to erase all doubt. For Kobe Bryant, it is a chance to fortify himself as an NBA legend; for Paul Pierce, a chance to forever tarnish the career of a Laker-great. For every person involved, the prospect of etching their name into the archives of NBA history.
When the dust settles, the interviews stop and the teams take the court at Staples Center tomorrow night; they will be playing for more than just the Larry O’Brien trophy. They will be playing for the right to author the latest chapter in a rivalry that has transcended their sport.
L.A. vs. Boston, Good vs. Evil, Lakers vs. Celtics.
Exactly how it should be.
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