Few rivalries in sports are as storied as Lakers vs. Celtics. Bill Russell. Larry Bird. Kobe Bryant. Magic Johnson. Jerry West. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wilt Chamberlain. Elgin Baylor. Since the late 50's, no two teams have offered the nexus of talent and spotlight that Boston and Los Angeles have provided.
The two historic powers are set to meet in the Finals for the 12th time, with Game 1 slated for Thursday night in Los Angeles. But before we focus on the upcoming series, let's take look back:
2007-08: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2
MVP: Paul Pierce, Boston
Kobe Bryant pulled Phil Jackson close, embracing his coach and looking him straight in the eyes. After all they'd been through, this was their moment, their championship, their time. This was the one to top all the others.
The one without Shaq.The one to pass Red.
Bryant's seven-year chase of a coveted championship is finally over. He's got his fourth title, and Jackson his record 10th. One year after failing in the finals, Bryant and the Lakers have redemption, and all the rewards that go with it. Full Recap
1986-87: Los Angeles Lakers def. Boston Celtics, 4-2
MVP: Magic Johnson, Los Angeles
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was almost 40 years old heading into the 1986-87 season. And as long as anyone could remember, he had been the focus of the Los Angeles Lakers' offense.
But Riley wanted to change that. Abdul-Jabbar's retirement was inevitable, and Riley wanted to begin shifting the burden to other players. He wanted Magic Johnson, and to a lesser degree James Worthy, to become the focus of the offense. So Riley and his staff began formulating their ideas of how this transition should work and took their notions into training camp that fall. Full Recap
1984-85: Los Angeles Lakers def. Boston Celtics, 4-2
MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Lakers couldn't get out of town immediately after the 1984 Finals. They had to spend one more night in their Boston hotel, saddled with the Celtics blues again. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night.
Magic Johnson was joined by his two close friends, Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons and Mark Aguirre of the Dallas Mavericks. They talked the night away. About music. Cars. Old times. Anything but the Finals. Occasionally the conversation would drift that way, but they'd steer it away. It was too tender a subject.
The pain would remain for months. Everywhere he turned, there seemed to be something to read about it. The Celtics were having fun with their victory. Kevin McHale even dubbed him "Tragic Johnson." Asked about the 1984-85 season, Larry Bird said of the Lakers, "I'd like to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves. I'm sure they have guys who feel they didn't play up to their capabilities." Everyone knew who he meant. Full Recap
1983-84: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
MVP: Larry Bird, Boston
For four seasons they had danced around each other in the NBA, meeting only twice each year in regular-season games. But Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were always aware of each other.
"Championship rings ... I live for them," Bird would say. Magic did, too. A showdown seemed inevitable -- and it was. On three glorious occasions in the mid-1980s, Magic and the Lakers met Bird and the Celtics in the Finals. Each battle was portrayed as a clash of many opposites. East versus West. Tradition versus New Wave. Hollywood versus Beantown. Showtime versus Shamrocks. Celtics Pride versus L.A. Cool. Full Recap
1968-69: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
MVP: Jerry West, Los Angeles
Championship No. 11 was a bit tougher for Boston. The 1968-69 season found player-coach Bill Russell struggling with leg injuries that forced a brief hospitalization. With Sam Jones also hurting, Boston came to rely on John Havlicek and Bailey Howell again.
In a blockbuster move, rival Philadelphia had traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Celtics still struggled in the Eastern Division, finishing fourth with a 48-34 record. But once in the playoffs, they drew on their pride and chased off the upstarts one final time. First Philadelphia, then New York fell. Full Recap
1967-68: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2
Many times in the years to come, John Havlicek would think about that night in Philadelphia in 1967 when the 76ers beat the Celtics for the NBA championship.
"The Sixers' crowd kept yelling Boston was dead," he recalled in 1989, "and I kept reminding reporters we were dead only until October. I think I also expressed the feeling we'd had too many proud days to start hanging our heads that night."
"We were very anxious, of course, for them to begin," recalled Celtics forward Bailey Howell, who averaged 19.8 points. "The season had been very long and very tiring. But we felt like we had a good shot at it. It was like a new season. We knew that the Philadelphia team was very strong, and if we could get by them, then we had a real shot at winning it." Full Recap
1965-66: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
The doctors told Los Angeles Lakers star Elgin Baylor that his knee injury had ended his playing career. For a while, he believed them.
The main ligament in his knee had been severely damaged and his kneecap had been split practically in half. Immediately after the injury in the 1965 Western Division Finals, he was worried about just being able to walk again. But the pain subsided, and Baylor found he still had some mobility. "The more I thought about it," he said, "the more determined I became to prove the doctors wrong." Full Recap
1964-65: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1
Celtics owner Walter Brown died in September 1964, leaving coach Red Auerbach alone to guide Boston to further greatness. Brown's passing and the fact that a new group of young officials had come into the league convinced Auerbach to tone down his act.
He still prowled the sideline while clutching a tightly rolled game program, and he still picked his spots. He just didn't pick them as often or as loudly. In some ways it didn't matter. Every time he stirred from the bench during a road game, the boos followed him. Full Recap
1962-63: Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2
"The Boston Celtics are an old team," declared Sports Illustrated in March 1963. "Tired blood courses through their varicose veins."
The Celtics, of course, went on to win their sixth title that spring and they added five more over the next six seasons. But SI's underestimation of Boston's strength had some basis in fact. Bob Cousy had announced that he would retire after the 1962-63 season. Observers viewed his departure as a major loss to the Celtics, but coach Red Auerbach wasn't losing any sleep. Full Recap
1961-62 Boston Celtics def. Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
Once again, the Boston Celtics returned to the NBA Finals, this time to meet the Los Angeles Lakers, who were coming off a wonderful season.
With their success in the 1961 playoffs, the Lakers had quickly gathered a following in Los Angeles, and they soon became popular with the Hollywood crowd. Among the courtside celebrities in those days were Doris Day, Danny Thomas, Dinah Shore and Pat Boone. Not exactly Jack Nicholson, Arsenio Hall and Dyan Cannon, but the Lakers nevertheless attracted the stargazers, and their games became a place to be seen.
For the team itself, it was one of those golden seasons in which almost everything seemed to go right. Even their only real setback during the regular season had its advantages. Elgin Baylor began the year like a terror but was called into reserve duty with the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash. As a result, he was able to appear in only 48 regular-season games. He made the lineup mostly on weekends or with an occasional pass, and when he did he was fresh, ready and virtually unstoppable. His average of 38.3 points per game was second only to the prodigious Wilt Chamberlain's. Full Recap
1958-59 Boston Celtics def. Minneapolis Lakers, 4-0
Even though the St. Louis Hawks had won the 1958 title, many insiders felt the Boston Celtics were the superior team heading into the 1958-59 season.
About the only thing undermining the glorious beginning of Boston's dynasty was the undercurrent of racial discord. The NBA and the Celtics were integrating ahead of society. There were few, if any, problems on the team, but Boston was a racially troubled town, as were many American cities. Some sportswriters in Boston made little effort to mask their contempt for Celtics center Bill Russell, and road games were sometimes rough, particularly in St. Louis, where the fans delighted in verbally abusing the player.
As with the rough play on the court, Russell wasn't about to back down. Full Recap