The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers aren't exactly title contenders at this stage of the 2012-13 season, and that poses a problem for the NBA.
David Stern and the rest of the people in charge of basketball's premier league need the two rivals to be powerhouse teams.
Few teams evoke the same level of feelings as these historically great franchises.
Whether you hate or love them, you can't help but care about the Celtics and Lakers.
Going into the 2011-12 season, I ranked all 30 NBA franchises in terms of historical success, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, the two teams in question held down the top two spots. With 17 titles since they were created in 1946, the C's finished at No. 1, while the Lakers' 16 championships since they were birthed in Minneapolis in 1948 gave them the second spot.
To date, the article has received 87 comments, and 70 of them directly involve either the Lakers, the Celtics or both rival franchises. That alone should speak to the relevance that these two teams still have.
Let's break down why the NBA needs for these squads to be powerhouses.
While each team has gone through spells of lackluster play, they've always bounced back. It's extraordinarily rare to find a season in which neither the Lakers nor the Celtics played a part in the postseason.
You have to go back to 1993-94 to find such an example. And amazingly enough, that's the only one.
The Lakers have sat at home for the duration of the postseason just five times in franchise history, while the C's have done so 16 times. It's not hard to see why there isn't much overlap, especially as seven of the seasons in question for Boston came in the late 1990s and early 2000s
We're just used to seeing these two teams be in the thick of things throughout the basketball portion of the year. On top of that, we're used to being reminded of the great players who have suited up in either green and white or purple and gold.
It's hard to have a serious discussion about basketball history without mentioning one of the all-time greats who played for either Boston or L.A. Here's an example of just how solid the players have been for this team, though it's by no means the only measure of their greatness.
In the summer of 2011, I ranked each franchise's best 12-man lineup, and—surprise, surprise—the Celtics finished at No. 2, second to only the Lakers. Just look at these rosters:
Boston's starting five was comprised of Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, Larry Bird and Bill Russell, while Dave Cowens, Tommy Heinsohn, Dennis Johnson, Sam Jones, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Jo Jo White made up the bench. Rajon Rondo would be included in an updated version, but this was back when he had one less excellent season under his belt.
As for the Lakers, they started Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with Elgin Baylor, Michael Cooper, Derek Fisher, Gail Goodrich, Robert Horry, George Mikan and Shaquille O'Neal coming off the pine.
Stop and think about that for a second. Between the two teams' benches, you can make a five-man squad of DJ, Jones, Baylor, McHale and O'Neal. That's a historically great lineup by itself.
Even though none of this history is directly relevant to what happens on the court today, the mystique can't help but creep into the back of your mind whenever you see either of these two teams come out of the locker room.
It's not like the Lakers and Celtics are utterly devoid of star players, even if they don't have as many wins as one might expect based on their histories.
The Lakers feature a fearsome foursome, comprised of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. Even if no one can stay healthy and the chemistry has been utterly nonexistent, the star power is still there.
As for the Celtics, their Rondo-less lineup still allows Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to put on a show. The veteran superstars might have quite a few years under their belts, but they're still undeniably household names.
In fact, Rondo, Kobe and Dwight all were among the top 10 best-selling jerseys going into the season. The teams themselves didn't do too poorly in terms of jersey sales either, each finishing in the top five. L.A. came in at No. 3, trailing the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, and Boston was at No. 5.
The NBA might have 150 starters at any given point during the season, but people care more about the stars. Whether we like it or not, the Association is a star-driven league, and each of these two teams features more than just one marquee player, even if some of them are a bit past their prime.
It's What the People Want
If you're really looking to figure out what people want, look no further than what they spend their money on.
According to Forbes, the Lakers and Celtics generate $197 million and $143 million in revenue, respectively, the second- and fifth-highest totals in the league. Not too surprisingly, these rankings correlate quite well with jersey sales.
Forbes also reveals that Boston has the third-highest average ticket price, $69, in the Association, and here's where simple supply-and-demand concepts come into play. That average wouldn't exist if the fans weren't willing to pay such an exorbitant price to view games in the Garden.
As for the Lakers, they're willing to shoulder a hefty luxury tax because they can afford to do so. After signing a $3.6 billion television deal with Time Warner Cable (per Forbes), L.A. isn't exactly strapped for cash.
Again, why would Time Warner invest so much money into a basketball franchise? Well, they wouldn't do it if there wasn't a demand for that type of service.
We fans might not be investing billions of dollars on the Lakers, but we're laying the groundwork for that investment simply by tuning in. And the NBA loves it.
If both Boston and L.A. fail to reach the postseason or suffer early exits, much of the drama of the 2012-13 season will fly out the window.
The league is just better off when the two teams are powerhouses.
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