One aspect about this NBA Finals that’s being underplayed, in my opinion, is how little most young basketball fans can relate to the historic rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers. Young fans like myself. For instance, when Kevin McHale attempted to decapitate Kurt Rambis in the ’84 Finals, I had just celebrated my first birthday a few months prior to that series-changing event.
All of the relevant Celtics-Lakers moments – The Russell/Wilt wars; the surreal ’69 Finals; Larry Bird calling out his teammates in the aforementioned ’84 series; Kareem finally winning a title over the hated Celtics in ‘85; Magic’s baby skyhook in ‘87; Jack Nicholson risking his life by sitting front and center in the Boston Garden with a sh*t-eating grin on his face the whole time; the bloodthirsty “Beat LA” chants; all of it – I am aware of only from watching a ton of ESPN Classic and reading the countless articles and books that have been written about them.
There’s nothing visceral about the rivalry for me, and many others – we didn’t get to experience the games in real-time, and therefore, cannot truly grasp the significance of what is to begin tonight.
(As for the Laker and Celtic teams of today, it’d be more than a stretch to say that a real rivalry exists between them. The Celtics only became relevant again after nearly two decades this year; the Lakers, though always a big draw on television and on the road, hadn’t been considered legitimate title contenders in almost five years.)
All of that being said, I bleed Laker purple and gold, and I feel as though it is my duty to despise the Celtics. As such, below I’ll go through Boston’s roster, and try to find reasons to begrudge everyone in a green uniform.
Kendrick Perkins: Although the curators of Perk is a Beast and I have had our differences in the past, I enjoy Perkins’s hustle and non-stop motor. Unfortunately, he could also prove to be an x-factor in the series, as he causes all types of matchup problems for the Lakers. Final verdict: Disapprove.
Sam Cassell: He’s turning into stone before our very eyes, even though he seems to be the only one who doesn’t realize this. Regardless, he remains one of the more entertaining personalities in the League, and may be the only athlete on the planet who regularly reminds us of the size of his cojones. Final verdict: Approve.
Kevin Garnett: One my favorite players of all time. A relentless competitor, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and one of the most intense players to ever lace ‘em up. You cannot claim to enjoy the game of basketball, and not be a fan of KG. Final verdict: Approve. Gah! This is even harder than I thought it would be…
James Posey: Ah, this is more like it. He’s hated by fans from coast-to-coast for his dirty play on the defensive end, and well, that’s good enough for me. Final verdict: Disapprove.
Brian Scalabrine: The man has red hair, is beloved by Celtics fans (and this being Boston, it’s not hard to guess why), and generally looks like someone who should be bagging groceries somewhere as opposed to being gainfully employed by one of the most storied basketball franchises ever. Oh, and there’s this. Final verdict: Grudgingly approve.
Ray Allen: Shuttlesworth possesses what is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing jumpshot in the history of the sport. He was one of the few players in the League with enough guts (certainly the only star) to call out Kobe when Shaq got traded by the Lakers (something, even though he may claim otherwise, Bryant will surely have in the back of his mind during the series.)
Even more importantly, Allen participated in a threesome with two pornstars in a memorable scene from the movie He Got Game. How in the world am I supposed to hate this man? It’s impossible. Final verdict: Approve.
Eddie House: I’m completely unmoved by him. The only thing I can say about Eddie House, is that he seems like the kind of guy who spends a lot of time thinking about the next tattoo that he’s going to get. Final verdict: Disapprove.
Rajon Rondo: He’s done an admirable job of holding his own, despite having the unenviable task – at the age of 22 no less – of keeping three stars happy on the offensive end. His name is also now a verb. Final verdict: Approve.
Leon Powe: I probably couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. Final verdict: push.
Glen Davis: He’s fat and cuddly, and reminds me of the stuffed animals I, er, my sister used to play with when we were kids. I have a sister, sure, as far as you know. There’s also the outside chance that he’ll swallow a player whole before it’s all said and done. Final verdict: Approve.
P.J. Brown: Old and wise. I bet, though, that he reminds everyone of that fact. I hate people like that. Final verdict: Disapprove.
Paul Pierce: How many dudes do you know that not only got stabbed in the offseason, but returned to the court the next year and didn’t miss a single game? Not only that, but how many other NBA players do you know will casually flip foes a gang sign in the middle of a Playoff game? Exactly. Paul Pierce is undeniably awesome, and a championship would do wonders for his stature among Celtic greats. Final verdict: Approve.
So, there you have it. The Celtics have a mostly likable team, filled with compelling characters and stories. Not exactly the kind of opponent I want to be going up against for the championship. I’m sure, though, that my feelings on the team will change as the series evolves.
At the crack of dawn on Monday morning, I will hop on a plane bound for Los Angeles, and will be in that city for the entire week. There’s an issue with getting into the games that I desperately need to resolve – details of which I will get into a little bit more over at Deadspin next week.
Enjoy the games everyone, and prepare to regale your grandkids with stories from this sure-to-be classic confrontation. Not that they’ll necessarily be listening.