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 2008 Finals will be the 11th time that the two teams have met in the Finals, with the Celtics holding an 8-2 lead. However, the Lakers have won the last two meetings 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.
How did the rivalry start?
The rivalry began in 1959 when Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and the rest of the Celtics swept Elgin Baylor’s Minneapolis Lakers, starting an unmatched run of eight straight titles and 10 championships in 11 years. Seven of those 10 Boston titles were against the Lakers.
What kept it going?
After the Celtics’ historic streak, the two teams wouldn’t meet again until 1984, when Larry Bird’s Celtics beat Magic Johnson’s Lakers. The two teams would meet in two of the next three Finals, and the Lakers finally got over the Celtic hump, winning those two matchups in 1985 and 1987.
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.
Why is it so heated?
Even though Boston holds the series advantage, the two franchises are much closer in terms of bragging rights as the league’s greatest franchise. 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 14 titles and 55 playoff appearances. The Celtics have won 16 titles and have made 46 playoff appearances, but they haven’t won a title since 1986. The Lakers have won five rings since the Celtics won their last title, so there’s a lot on the line this year.
Important sites relating to the rivalry
Whatifsports.com compiles “all-time” teams for each franchise and pits them against each other using their SimMatchup and Dream Teams features.