Two most successful franchises could be on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals this year, with a league record for championships won hanging in the balance. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have been bitter rivals throughout their history, in large part because of the NBA record 12 times they’ve faced off against each other in the Finals with a championship on the line.
The Celtics dominated the league throughout the regular season, and they’ve been some of the favorites to win it all since last season ended. The Lakers, on the other hand, saw themselves on the outside looking in for much of the year, but they always kept themselves in a position to strike. With one of the best players (if not the single best) of all time LeBron James on their roster, you can never count the Lakers out, and they’ve caught lightning in a bottle since the playoffs began. Boston Celtic vs Los Angeles Lakers NBA Championship: each team is just four wins away from making the Finals (the Lakers trail 1-0 in their series with the Nuggets, while the Celtics’ series with the Miami Heat begins tonight). If you’re a Boston Celtics fan, Massachusetts sportsbook promos have you covered as the Celtics look to do their part to secure Eastern Conference Championship.
Here’s a look at this historic rivalry throughout the years, as well as all of the Hall of Fame players who have helped make it what it is today. The rivalry began in earnest in the 1950s and 1960s (they first met in the Finals when the Lakers still played in Minneapolis), when Bill Russell spurred the Celtics to 11 championships in 13 years. As such, it really couldn’t be called a rivalry at that point, even if they met in the Finals seven times during that stretch. Russell cleaned house in every single one of the Finals he played in against the Lakers, giving Boston a 7-0 lead in the playoff series against their bitter rivals.
The tide of the rivalry didn’t start to turn until 1975, when the Lakers traded for Milwaukee Bucks center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who, like Russell, is one of the greatest players of all time, one of the league’s most prolific scorers despite playing much of his career before the advent of the three-point line. Los Angeles then drafted point guard Magic Johnson in 1979, giving them a deadly combination of two of the game’s greatest players ever. The championships started to roll in for Los Angeles, who won five rings in the ten-year span that both Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson played together.
They barely missed out on another ring in 1984, when the Celtics defeated the Lakers 111-102 in the decisive Game 7 in Beantown. While KAJ remained one of the better players in the league during these years, the rivalry was defined by the bitter matchup between Johnson and Boston forward Larry Bird, who entered the league together after facing off in the NCAA championship game, starting a bitter feud. While the two men were good friends off the court, NBA Commissioner David Stern knew he could parlay their battles on the court into massive attention for his struggling league, doing so to greet success. Johnson got the better of the rivalry, winning the 1986 and 1987 finals (with help from Abdul-Jabbar, of course).
The rivalry didn’t pick up again (at least as it pertains to the postseason) until the aughts when Lakers’ shooting guard Kobe Bryant and Celtics’ wing Paul Pierce.
Bryant and Pierce each managed one championship win against the other during this time and, while the rivalry didn’t reach the bitter heights that it did during the Bird vs Johnson era, fans of the two teams geared up for war once again. Should they meet up in the finals this year, players like James and Jayson Tatum are sure to etch another incredible chapter in the rivalry.