I Love the 80s: Celtics, Pistons, Lakers Renew Rivalries

John McCloryAnalyst IJanuary 6, 2008

Every so often, some loon tries to pawn off the 80s as a revolutionary decade.

Wait, so the tie-dye shirts, constant Corey Feldman cameos, and Journey jingles were somehow cool?

No. They were horribly lame. (Journey sucks, admit it.)

Seriously, nothing exciting in the history of the world took place in the 80s. The 80s were the 60s and 70s', um, "special" half-brother.

But at least NBA fans had something to pass the time in between episodes of Webster and Small Wonder.

The 80s bore witness to Bird, McHale, Magic, Worthy, Isiah, and Laimbeer, among others—competitors who brought out the best, and worst, in each other.

Think back to the cheap-shot elbows, all-out brawls, and trash-talk that took place—it was electrifying. When any combination of the Celtics, Lakers, and Pistons met, you knew there would be blood spilled.

You don't see that sort of full-blown hatred in the NBA today. It's no longer about sticking it to your opponent. Instead, it's about playing for a better contract, tanking the second half of the season, and demanding management give you a new team for Christmas.

Combine that me-first M.O. with the Tim Donaghy scandal and you get a lackluster game—at least in comparison to what once was. Sure, it's fun to watch LeBron James jump through the roof every night, but I'd gladly trade that for some smashmouth rivalries.

Well, sometimes wishes do come true.

Watching the Celtics battle the Pistons and Lakers during the last few weeks has brought me back. The faces have changed, but the competitive spirit is still there.

Who's more passionate about winning than KG and Kobe? Who's more likely to stage a tirade during a Game Seven than Rasheed Wallace?

I can see it now: The Celts and Pistons jawing and scrapping in Eastern Conference Finals. Chauncey Billups flashes through the lane and draws a semi-dirty foul from Ray Allen. The refs toot their whistles a few times and split up the two teams before the scene gets ugly. Next thing you know, KG brushes past 'Sheed and makes a crack about his bald spot, and...


The last pieces of the puzzle were KG and Allen in Boston. Once the Celts distanced themselves from the WNBA, the rivalries became inevitable.

(Okay, cheap shot. But I still have a green hangover from the last decade or so.)

The Celtics finally toppled the Pistons in Motown on Saturday, thanks to some key bench play. Glen "Big Baby" Davis played a vital role down the stretch.

That's another blast from the past. One of the many elements that made these rivalries superior were matchups between guys like Dennis Johnson and Michael Cooper. It wasn't always about the big names—it was the lesser lights too.

(Remember Bird's steal in Game Five of the Conference Finals versus Detroit? Brilliant play and classic Larry. But not nearly enough credit is given to Dennis Johnson for darting back down the court and finishing at the rim. That's why Big Baby's performance was crucial—the role players make a playoff team a championship team.)

And how refreshing was it to watch a classic East-versus-West tussle? Of course, I'm referring to the Celtics and Lakers—Lamar Odom's sideline tackle, KG's bloody gash, and the rowdy Hollywood crowd.

The only thing missing was a coked-out Jack Nicholson screaming audible obscenities on the sideline.

Oh wait, some things never change.

The bottom line? The NBA is back. The pieces are in place and the rivalries are renewed. Fans from East to West can kick up their feet and fondly relive the league's best decade—the 80s.

Journey soundtrack not included.


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