Streams and streams of endless confetti fell as Kobe Bryant raised his arm in the arm in a triumphant outcry. Mike Breen, almost oozing with excitement, declares the Lakers back to back champions as the crowd realizes what is happening. Kobe and Pau embrace, as only brothers do… and somehow all the Lakers problems seem to wash away all at once. Somehow, all of Los Angeles was united in a big breath of victory. All championships are amazing. But this one? This one felt like more. It felt personal.
Throughout the course of NBA history, the Lakers always seemed to be at the top. But there was always one thing, one team standing in their way: The Boston Celtics. The Men in Green were always there, ready to eat the Lakers for lunch.
You see, this Lakers vs Celtics thing is more than just bad blood. It’s a bitter and often ugly reality. It’s a relationship between two teams that has defined the NBA since the beginning of its existence. This “rivalry” is not just some over-hyped fairy tale…it’s a feature that has dominated professional basketball for decades.
Its beginning can be traced back to the “pre-historic” days of the NBA. When guys like Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were on the front pages of NBA headlines. Even back then, these two teams were the best-of-the-best. And even way back then, they kept getting in each others way.
It started in 1959 when the two teams met in the NBA finals for the first time. Elgin Baylor led the Lakers to the finals against a Boston team which had been to multiple straight finals appearances.These heated match-ups were defined by images of two of the greatest Centers of all time: Bill Russell and Will Chamberlain. The two men would forever tango for supremacy over the other, and even today there are mixed feelings as to who’s better.
For Wilt and the Lakers, however, they just could never seem to overcome Boston and the might of Bill Russell. YEARS of bitter defeats haunted the Lakers again and again, as they could never seem to beat the Celtics. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1985 until L.A. finally takes down their most sacred rival.
Although the two teams had already displayed their major disdain for each other, it would only get worse. Two players, in particular, would make sure these two teams would not only stay rivals but that it would heat up in a way that grabbed the entire league by its heels. Their names? Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Joe Bird.
Magic vs Bird was what truly defined this rivalry, and it changed the NBA forever. Magic once said of Celtics games: “When the new schedule would come out each year, I’d grab it and circle the Boston games. To me, it was The Two and the other 80.” And often times, that’s exactly how it was. Magic and Bird were the two best players in the game at the time, and they knew the only path to a championship was through the other. Perhaps that’s what made this so different. I mean, everyone knew only one could be the best, right? Which is why it wasn’t just hatred at the heart of this Magic-Bird rivalry. It was also competition. It was a competition so fierce, neither wanted the other to get the spotlight. When Bird scored 50 one night, Magic would make it a point to do it the next. These two stars were intertwined to a point that brought out the best in both of them, and they played each other with such fierceness, entire arenas were captured by the moment.
But, as everything eventually does, both Magic and Bird’s time in the league would end. That time signaled a quiet period for both teams. It wouldn't be until the late 2000’s when the fires of these old enemies would spark again.
The Boston big three and Kobe’s Lakers would meet in 2008 and 2010. Chants of “We Want Boston!” and “Beat L.A.” were taking the league by storm. Both teams played with such an extreme hunger to win, it only increased the level of urgency.
Unfortunately for us though, those last two showdowns between the teams would be the last we see for a while. Now, both teams seem stuck in perpetual mediocrity. Who knows when we will see these teams in a Finals again, or when two superstars will land there.
But this old-fashioned rivalry? There’s always a little something special when these two teams play each other. For longer than anyone remembers, these squads needed to cross each other to win. For longer than anyone remembers, chants like “Beat L.A.” and “We Want Boston” have passed the lips of thousands and thousands of fans, eager to see who wins the battle for supremacy. It made basketball personal, and gave the world a true definition of the word “Rival.” This Lakers vs Celtics thing? It’s real, it’s true, and it’s changed the face of American sports forever.