Last season's NBA Finals between Boston and Los Angeles rekindled a dormant rivalry which has captivated fans on both coasts for decades. From the early days of Russell and Cousy facing Baylor and West to the fierce 1980s battles between Kareem and Magic versus Bird and McHale, many great players and a strong sense of tradition shrouds this classic series with all of its hype. One must dig deep into the past, and take into account many variables, when determining the seven best players to ever play in the NBA's best rivalry...
7. John Havlicek- Havlicek was a Celtic for life, so revered that his number is now hanging retired in the rafters of an arena in which he never competed. "Hondo" was a thirteen-time All-Star, his career earning him a top-fifteen ranking on SLAM's prestigious list of the Top NBA Players of All Time. Havlicek was the epitome of a clutch player, as demonstrated by his perennial toe-to-toe battles with the Lakers' Jerry West. Havlicek had the luxury of playing in five Lakers/Celtics finals throughout his career.
Career Stats: 20.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 43% FG, 78% FT
6. Wilt Chamberlain- Some would wonder why Chamberlain has been ranked so low on this list, but it is important not to forget that Wilt played far from his entire career in Los Angeles. By the time he arrived in California to suit up for the Lakers, his scoring ability had dropped off tremendously yet remained a dominant rebounder. Wilt the Stilt played in only one Lakers/Celtics finals, which took place in 1969 in an epic showdown between the Cinderella Celtics (they were a 4-seed that year) and the dominant Lakers.
Stats w/ LA (5 seasons): 19.3 ppg, 19.1 rpg, 4.3 apg, 62% FG, 47% FT (blocks were not recorded)
5. Jerry West- Mr. Clutch played against Boston in six NBA Finals appearances, yet walked away from his days as a player without a ring. He was, however, named the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 despite the losing effort put forth by the Lakers. West was a prolific scorer with a solid all-around game quite advanced for its time. He was a thirteen-time All-Star and a ten-time member of the All-NBA First-Team.
Career Stats: 27.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, 47% FG, 81% FT (no 3-point line)
4. Bill Russell- One of the greatest defenders in NBA history, Russell was an eleven-time NBA Champion. Seven of his eleven titles came by defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He is a twelve-time All-Star and a five-time winner of the NBA MVP award. He is widely considered a top-ten player to ever play the game and slots into the number-four slot on this storied and legendary list of players.
Career Stats: 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 44% FG, 56% FT (blocks were not recorded)
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- Abdul-Jabbar is commonly considered one of the best big men in NBA history and one of its top-ten all-time players. Kareem also invented the Skyhook, his signature move that no defender could get a piece of before it drained through the hoop. He was a six-time winner of the NBA MVP award and a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Abdul-Jabbar was also a symbol of longevity, playing into his early forties. His ability to remain effective for so long is remarkable for a big man. Nonetheless, it was tough to give him a nod over the top two players on this list -- the two that gave the rivalry its credibility.
Career Stats: 24.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 56% FG, 72% FT, 2.6 bpg
2. Larry Bird- Larry Legend, as some call him, was one half of the NBA's greatest individual rivalry that was ever established. He catapulted the Lakers and Celtics to new heights. Without him, all the nostalgia which surrounded the 2008 NBA Finals (and a lot of the logic behind writing this piece) would not even exist. He was one of the best shooters ever, and Bird could rebound and pass pretty well, too. Bird was also was at his best when the game required a clutch performance, stepping up when it mattered most. All of these reasons culminated into his beating out Kareem for the number-two spot on this list.
Career Stats: 24.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.3 apg, 50% FG, 38% 3P, 1.7 spg
1. Magic Johnson- Did you really expect it to be anyone else? The leader of the Showtime Lakers and the most exciting player in the game at the time falls at the top of the list of greats from the Lakers-Celtics series. If you couldn't tell, he is the other half of that fantastic individual rivalry mentioned earlier. Every single time Magic stepped on the floor, he automatically created a mismatch. He was a point guard trapped in a big man's body which allowed him to essentially do whatever he wanted out on the court. Johnson was the definition of a human highlight reel.
Career Stats: 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 11.2 apg, 52% FG, 30% 3P, 1.9 spg
Honorable Mention (in no order): Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy.
There it is: The seven greatest players to ever appear in the NBA's most-storied rivalry. Most of us can only hope that Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be competing for a place on this list five years from now. The Celtics were victorious in the most recent Finals in what is, in my opinion, a series which could easily go on for years to come. Both teams are primed to keep this legendary rivalry alive!