I'm going out on a limb here but I have to say it. There is no greater rivalry between two teams in all of sports than that between the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics. No teams come close. They are the Yin and Yang of pro basketball. Between them they own half of the available titles in the NBA. The stories of their epic battles are the stuff of legends. Their history as well as their destiny is intertwined in a way that no other rivalry between any two teams will ever be.
And it isn't just the teams. From the start the organizations have always committed themselves to putting the best possible product on the court. They are more than basketball organizations... they are basketball families. The connections between the players and the coaches and the management go back to their roots.
Since the NBA began they have won titles in almost every decade of their existence. The Celtics missed in the 90's while the Lakers came up empty in the 60's. Outside of that there has never been a decade where one or the other didn't win at least one.
The Celtics have won 17 titles, more than any team in the NBA. While the Los Angeles Lakers claim 15, purists (that would be me and almost every Celtics fan alive) will point out that 5 of their titles were actually won by the Minneapolis Lakers. The Lakers have reached the Finals more than any other team. They have also lost more finals than any other team. When it comes to bragging rights, the Celtics can always point to the fact that they have beat the LA Lakers 9 out of the 11 times they have met in the Finals
I was born in 1952. Since I knew what a ball was I have been a Celtics fan. Between 1957 and 1969 there was no other champion other than the Celtics as far as I was concerned. They won 11 titles in 13 years. Of those, six came against the LA Lakers and one against the Minneapolis Lakers. For a kid raised on basketball there was only one team that mattered when it came to who we played for the championship. The Lakers. The other years were so much filler that passed the time between the meetings of these two legends.
And now at the age of 57 I am getting ready to witness the 12th time these two teams will meet in an NBA Finals. Should the Celtics win it will be the 18th Championship banner that I will get to watch raised to the rafters. If the Lakers win it will mean they will be 1 game closer to matching the number they need to tie their arch rivals. The players are different...so are the coaches. The Old Boston Garden has been replaced with a newer arena. Hell... the game itself and the entire NBA has changed; and not necessarily for the better.
But for basketball fans everywhere, the emotion... the excitement... the sheer exuberance that these teams engender when they meet remains the same. You can feel it. You can sense it. The anticipation is palpable.
People that love the sport are excited in a way that a Suns vs Magic series could never bring. People that never watch basketball will tune in to watch these teams do battle. Because it isn't just a sports series... it is sports legend being played out.
From Russell vs. Chamberlain, through the years of Bird vs. Magic to this year's battle between two teams with much to prove to the world, this is just another chance to watch the two greatest basketball teams ever to take the court to once again meet in battle. Both team and individual goals are at stake. Will Kobe claim his place alongside Michael Jordan as the best of the best? Will the Big 3 put to rest the myth that they are too old and prove that experience is an asset?
I have no idea who will win the series. I believe in my Celtics and think they will win... as I always do. But if they lose I will accept the fact that they lost to the only team worthy of beating them.
But I know who will ultimately be the winner once the dust has settled. And it won't be either of the teams. It will be me and all the fans that love the sport of basketball and live for this match-up.
We won the day these teams got to the Finals.