With the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss on February 18th, so ended a great chapter in NBA history.
It was under his reign that the Los Angeles Lakers finally exacted some revenge on the Boston Celtics after the latter's decades of dominance.
Buss, a chemist and real estate mogul, had an eye for a shrewd deal as well as a hunger for success. When he bought the Lakers in 1979, it set the stage for the greatest rivalry the NBA had ever seen.
To date, the Lakers and Celtics have combined for 33 NBA titles—17 for Boston and 16 for L.A. (by way of Minneapolis, hence the "lakes").
They're actually tied at 17 if you count the Lakers' 1948 National Basketball League championship, which, of course, the Celtics do not acknowledge.
The Lakers rose to prominence in 1949 when they followed up their NBL title with one in the BAA (Basketball Association of American). By 1950, the good old NBA was born.
Behind George Mikan, the Lakers pulled off the NBA's first three-peat from 1952 to 1954. And just as Mikan began to break down, the team had the foresight to draft Elgin Baylor in 1958.
By 1957, the Celtics had put together an unstoppable triumvirate consisting of Bob Cousy and Bill Russell with Red Auerbach at the helm.
1959 saw the first championship bout between the Celtics and Lakers. They looked resplendent in their short shorts and crew cuts as Boston pulled off a clean sweep.
This set the stage for 25 years of dominance.
In 1960, the Lakers drafted Jerry West, who would literally become the symbol of the NBA.
They also moved the team from the lakes of Minneapolis to the palm trees of Los Angeles. There seemed to be great success in store for them.
There was a man named Bill Russell, however, who became the bane of the Lakers' existence.
Led by Russell, the C's took down the Lakers in both the 1962 and 1963 NBA Finals (in seven games and six games respectively).
The same thing happened in '65 and '66 (in five games and seven games).
That made eight straight titles for Boston.
Red Auerbach retired as coach after that season and the temperamental Russell stepped in to be player/coach. The C's met the Lakers again in the 1968 finals, and after six games it was the same result.
But in the summer of '68, the Lakers acquired Wilt Chamberlain from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wilt figured to provide a huge boost for the Lakers since he averaged on or about 35 points and 25 rebounds a game.
He had also won his first championship when Philly ended the Celtics' unequalled dominance in '67.
So what happened to Wilt and the Lakers? They lost again to the Celtics in the finals, this time in seven games in '69.
Seven meetings in the NBA Finals in 10 years and the result was the same each time.
Were the Lakers cursed?
Sadly, Elgin Baylor retired during the 1971-72 season due to knee problems. He made 11 All-Star teams, but never won an NBA title.
That year, the Lakers reeled off an incredible 33-game winning streak. They also captured their first championship in 18 years, taking down a New York Knicks squad that included future Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
That title surely tasted all the sweeter after the long wait, but the Lakers still had to get revenge on Boston for thwarting their title hopes no less than seven times.
They would have to wait until 1984 for the next opportunity.
The Celtics had added a couple more titles to their resume in '74 and '76 behind Tommy Heinsohn and Dave Cowens.
I Love the '80s
The dawn of the 1980s changed everything. Larry Bird was now on the Celtics with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
In Los Angeles, new owner Jerry Buss had paired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Magic Johnson.
The decade started off auspiciously for both teams and the titles went as follows: Lakers in '80, Celtics in '81, Lakers in '82.
After Julius Erving and the Sixers won the title in '83, the stage was set for another Lakers and Celtics showdown.
The 1984 NBA Finals turned out to be one of the greatest playoff series of all time. There were so many epic moments that it can be hard to appreciate all of them.
With the Lakers taking a 2-1 series lead, Bird called out his team after the 137-104 loss. And the Celtics responded.
In Game 4, McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis on a breakaway, creating an atmosphere between the teams where fisticuffs could fly at any moment. That was considered the turning point of the series.
Kareem got in Bird's face and Cedric Maxwell paved the way for Reggie Miller by making a "choke" sign after a missed free throw by James Worthy.
The Celtics took Games 4 and 5, the latter being played in sweltering conditions since the Boston Garden lacked air conditioning.
Naturally, after a grueling series, Boston won yet again in seven games, their eighth NBA championship victory over the Lakers in 25 years.
Thankfully, the teams met in the finals again in '85.
The Lakers dropped the first game 148-114 in what was dubbed the "Memorial Day Massacre."
On the strength of Abdul-Jabbar's play, who was 38 at the time, the Lakers finally beat the Celtics for a championship. Fittingly, the series ended at the Boston Garden.
A 10-ton gorilla had been lifted off the Lakers' backs.
After the game, Buss stated on national TV: "This has removed the most odious sentence in the English language. It can never again be said that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics" (via the Los Angeles Times).
The teams squared off again in the 1987 finals and (gloriously, for Lakers fans) '85 wasn't just a once off.
This was the series that gave us the baby sky hook, as the keys to the Lakers were officially passed from Kareem to Magic.
This was the final meeting in the playoffs between the Lakers and Celtics for over 20 years. The rest of the NBA got a break while the Chicago Bulls dominated for the next decade.
A New Millennium
But Celtics fans were hungry for another championship. In 2007, GM Danny Ainge assembled "The Big Three," bringing in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce.
In 2008, the Big Three found themselves facing Kobe and the Lakers in the finals.
And they restored the C's to their familiar position: beating L.A. to win the title.
It was a six-game series, but Boston took the final game by a staggering 39 points.
The Celtics had their first title in 22 years and their ninth at the expense of the Lakers.
Two years later, Boston and L.A. combined for some deja vu yet again.
The teams met in the 2010 NBA Finals where Kobe Bryant looked like a man on a mission.
The series went to seven games, but the C's could not "Beat L.A." despite their fans chanting for them to do so.
It was Kobe's fifth championship and the win helped cement the Lakers' modern dynasty.
So there you have it, 12 meetings in the NBA Finals and Boston has a 9-3 lead.
I guess the Lakers still have some catching up to do. They really could have used Chris Paul!
It's almost unthinkable in today's NBA of hard caps and luxury taxes that a modern dynasty could be built and survive for more than four or five years.
But given the rich history of the Lakers and Celtics and the deference inspired by it, I think we'll be seeing the green and white take on the purple and gold for the title sooner rather than later.
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