Larry Bird and the Los Angeles Lakers' 20 Worst Enemies in Franchise History
The Los Angeles Lakers have one of the greatest winning traditions in professional sports history. In the past 31 years, the team has won 10 championships—the most of any of the four main North American sports leagues.
Along the way, legends have put on shows for the team’s fans, including Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
But along with winning a lot comes many enemies. And like all franchises, quite a few players have found ways to stop Los Angeles from winning.
Basically, if it weren’t for these so-called “enemies,” the Lakers organization may have another 10 Larry O’Brien trophies in the team’s collection.
Whether you are a Lakers fan or you love to see LA get beaten, this article is for you!
Enjoy this dive back through NBA history and feel free to comment at the end about the picks. Have there been any thorns in the Lakers’ side that I should have included?
The '80s decade featured one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history; Larry Bird led Boston and created the ultimate rivalry for the Magic Johnson-led Lakers.
Ultimately, Los Angeles holds bragging rights over Bird’s teams, as LA won two out of three Finals matches. However, the first match in 1984 was won by Boston behind a dominant performance by Bird.
If not for a few bad plays by Magic and James Worthy, Los Angeles could have won the championship in 1984. But Bird robbed Los Angeles of that opportunity.
As a leader of the Celtics, Bird represents everything a Lakers fan hates. He wore green, and he was pretty darn good.
In the early 1970s, many fans think of the dominant Lakers team of 1971-1972 that won a record 33 consecutive games and was led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.
However, the New York Knicks won two out of three Finals series between 1970 and 1973. As Willis Reed was the leader of those Knicks teams, he bears primary responsibility for preventing another couple of championships for LA.
He was the Finals MVP of both series won against Los Angeles. In addition, he had that momentum-changing entrance into Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Previously, he had been sidelined due to a torn thigh muscle that kept him out of the prior game.
A thief of two Lakers rings definitely makes him a prime Lakers' enemy.
Paul Pierce should have been a Laker by all accounts. He grew up in LA near the Fabulous Forum and was a big Lakers' fan during his youth.
Then, the Boston Celtics stole him. He has gone on to become one of the Celtics’ all-time brightest stars and will likely surpass Larry Bird in career scoring.
Playing against the Lakers seems to bring out the best in Pierce. His 26.0 ppg career average against LA is the highest against any team.
And then there is the “wheelchair incident” from the 2008 Finals, where he faked an injury to have his own Willis Reed moment and put the momentum back on the Celtics’ side, en route to a Finals MVP performance.
Isiah “Zeke” Thomas was the leader of the legendary “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons teams. The franchise made three consecutive Finals trips from 1988 through 1990.
In Game 6 of the 1988 Finals against LA, Thomas scored a record 25 points in the third quarter, despite playing on a severely sprained ankle. The Lakers, however, would go on to win the series in seven games behind a triple double from Finals MVP James Worthy.
The following year, Thomas helped lead Detroit to a four-game sweep over the Lakers. While it was hard enough to take the loss for LA fans, seeing the way Thomas celebrated after LA was without its starting backcourt of Byron Scott and Magic Johnson (both had major hamstring injuries) was downright annoying.
Had they been healthy, it could have possibly led to another Lakers title, considering the team went 11-0 in the playoffs before meeting Detroit. That just makes Thomas’ celebration even more unbearable.
According to many Lakers fans, Kevin McHale is evil.
For starters, he played for the team in green. While playing for Boston, McHale displayed some of the most dominant moves and skills of any post player in NBA history.
But perhaps Lakers fans most remember McHale for his clothesline of Kurt Rambis. Had this move happened in today’s league, McHale would have been suspended for at least a game or two, giving LA a huge advantage.
Instead, this play seemed to help shift some of the series momentum towards Boston. Going back to Larry Bird’s comments earlier in the series when he said his teammates were “playing like sissies,” McHale stepped up and showed the world yet another Celtics player willing to play dirty in order to win.
Before all of the tattoos, crazy hair styles and wedding dress, Dennis Rodman was a key member of the “Bad Boy” Pistons. Unlike his stints with other teams later in his career, Rodman was a more capable scorer to go along with his tough defense.
After helping to steal the 1989 Finals from LA, Rodman teamed with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to dominate the league from 1995-1998. Then in 1999, he decided to join the Lakers for a cameo performance.
While the Lakers signed him in order to bring toughness to the team, Rodman served more of a nuisance to the team than provide any semblance of help for Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Are you starting to see a theme here?
Another Boston Celtics legend with a “stellar” personality makes this Lakers’ enemy list. And Bill Russell was about as mean and arrogant as the NBA has seen (he got into many fights with other players, for example).
Say what you want about Russell, but the guy knew how to win while battling some rather ugly racism. As one of the best rebounders and shot blockers of all-time, Russell proved victorious over the Lakers seven times without a loss.
Along the way, Russell put up some dominant performances in some of the biggest games of those series.
Nevertheless, any player that won seven Finals over the Lakers and has an ego the size of Massachusetts has to be one of the top enemies for LA.
As the third member of the “Bad Boy” Pistons on this list, Bill Laimbeer holds a special place in the cockles of Lakers fans’ hearts.
Actually, he was mostly despised everywhere around the league except in his home market Detroit.
This was due to his style of play, which featured him committing hard fouls on opponents while serving as an excellent role model for Vlade Divac in flopping at the slightest contact.
While he was a tough player who gave a great boost to his teams, Laimbeer has to be an enemy of the Lakers due to his strong performances against LA.
Just for fun, check out this video that features Bill Laimbeer getting into a fight with Charles Barkley (with bonus footage of Isiah Thomas punching Rick Mahorn). Seriously, Detroit: you are proud of this team?
Many people forget about Don Nelson and his role in defeating some great Lakers teams.
In Game 6 of the 1968 NBA Finals, Nelson hit some clutch free throws at the end to win the series for Boston. Then at the end of Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, he made a winning shot that sealed the 11th career NBA championship for teammate Bill Russell.
On a team with several Hall of Famers, Nelson did his part to squelch any chance of the Lakers winning.
If that weren’t enough, Nelson had the nerve to take his talents to coaching where his teams were known for playing up-tempo with little defense. Lakers fans had to sit through those games. Lakers players had to actually play in those games.
Yeah, he was definitely no friend of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tim Duncan, aka “The Big Fundamental,” is one of the best big men in the history of the game. Unfortunately for Lakers fans, his reign came during the Lakers dynasty years led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
It is possible that if it weren’t for Tim Duncan and his stellar play, Los Angeles might have won extra titles in 1999 and 2003.
Unlike the Boston and Detroit enemies on this list, Duncan’s character showed a lot of class.
However, he also shows very little emotion. While playing an incredibly efficient brand of basketball, Duncan is about as exciting to watch as waiting for paint to dry.
For his wins against LA and making us endure his emotionless character, Tim Duncan easily makes this list.
John Havlicek was one of the best all-around players in NBA history. While with the Boston Celtics, he won eight championships, five of which came at the expense of the Lakers.
One of his most memorable performances against LA came in Game 7 of the 1963 Finals when he scored 14 first half points to help lead Boston to victory.
Unlike some of the other Boston Celtics players mentioned earlier, it’s actually difficult to find fault with Havlicek as a person. Still, when you beat LA that many times, one has to realize he is no friend of the Lakers franchise.
Chauncey Billups is a player that seems to play his best against the Lakers. A vastly underrated player, Billups is a dominant shooter and a decent defender. He has learned plenty of veteran tricks to wreak havoc against the team from the City of Angels.
Of course, one shouldn’t be surprised as he started his career with the Boston Celtics.
Still, Billups put up a performance for the ages when he led Detroit to a championship over Los Angeles in 2004. While going up against an overrated LA team (Shaq was aging, Gary Payton was ineffective, Karl Malone was injured, and the bench was weak), Chauncey Billups averaged 21.0 ppg while shooting 51% FG, 47% 3FG, and 93% FT.
Try finding another player with that type of shooting performance in NBA Finals history, and of course, it happened against the Lakers. That makes him an enemy.
Sam Jones is the second greatest team winner in professional sports history behind Bill Russell. Throughout his career, Jones won 10 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics.
Known for his clutch shooting and bank shots, Jones proved himself as one of the top guards during his era.
The Lakers should have known he was trouble from the very beginning. After claiming Jones when the team was still in Minneapolis, Jones returned to college and would end up playing with Boston.
Then in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, films show Jones pushing Elgin Baylor away from a game-winning, put-back shot that would have won the series for LA. The title that Baylor should have won was stolen by Jones and the poor NBA officiating crew.
Before Tim Duncan and David Robinson formed the twin tower duo in San Antonio, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon formed a towering pair in Houston.
While his career was cut short due to injuries, Sampson had his career highlight in making an incredible shot against Los Angeles in the 1986 Western Conference Finals. What could have been a third consecutive year of having LA and Boston in the Finals was upset by the 7’4” Sampson.
Of course, after his incredible shot against LA, it turned up a wasted effort against the Boston Celtics.
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Ray Allen hates Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant. That automatically makes him an enemy of the Lakers.
But to his credit, Allen may be the best long-range shooter in NBA history. In Game 2 of the 2010 Finals against LA, he hit a record eight three-point shots. And soon he will surpass Reggie Miller’s mark for most three-pointers made in regular season games.
Of course, LA fans will always relish his 0-13 donut in Game 3 of last year’s Finals.
Nevertheless, Allen proved highly important in securing Boston’s win against LA in 2008 and is having another impressive season with the Celtics.
While everyone remembers Willis Reed’s comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, few may recall Walt Frazier being the MVP of that game.
In securing the big win for the Knicks, Frazier poured in 36 points and 19 assists against the Lakers.
What should have been a championship for Los Angeles went the other way, thanks in part to Frazier.
Then for good measure, he had another amazing series in the 1973 Finals win against LA.
Walt Frazier may have been an incredible leader, scorer and defender, but many of those LA fans would surely like to forget about what he did to their team.
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Kevin Garnett is one of the most talented players in NBA history. His versatility, defensive prowess and intensity have made him highly valuable to his teams.
But unfortunately for Lakers fans, Garnett plays for the evil team in green. To make matters worse, his move to Boston came after the Lakers tried for several years to pick up Garnett.
Similar to the other Celtics enemies on this list, Garnett has picked up some bad habits along the way. For instance, he constantly gets away with moving screens.
See if you can spot the four times Garnett sets a moving screen in this video. The fact he gets away with these plays most of the time is even more incredible.
Celtics fans whined about LA getting the benefit of some calls in last year’s Finals. After the murder Garnett got away with in 2008, one could only laugh at the glaring hypocrisy.
Scottie Pippen will forever be known as the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman.
Perhaps the greatest wing defender of all time, Pippen’s versatility proved to be the perfect compliment for Jordan.
Yet, it was his play with the Portland Trailblazers that really ticks off Lakers fans. Known for his dirty play, Pippen nearly helped Portland pull off a huge upset in the 2000 Western Conference Finals against LA.
When Portland lost to Los Angeles, Pippen proved to be a poor sport by pouting.
That alone makes him undesirable with the Lakers franchise.
Michael Jordan switching hands in the 1991 NBA Finals
The greatest player of all time had his moments of dominance against LA. In the 1991 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan averaged 31.2 ppg, 11.4 apg and 2.8 spg while shooting 56 percent from the field.
While that series is one of the greatest NBA Finals averages, Jordan consistently put on great performances when he played LA.
Although it was inevitable, Jordan took away what could have been Magic Johnson’s sixth and final championship and would eventually one-up him in the process.
I admit I’m a big fan of Jordan’s game. But any player that destroyed LA the way he did is an enemy of the franchise.
Karl Malone was known for years as being a dirty player, throwing elbows and setting hard picks. Along the way, Malone proved himself as the greatest scoring power forward in NBA history.
In 1997 and 1998, Malone’s dominant play helped bounce the Lakers from the playoffs. In what could have been a highly anticipated series in 1998 between LA and Chicago (think Jordan and Pippen versus Shaq, Kobe, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel), Malone had to spoil the dream matchup.
For years, the Lakers wanted to lure Malone to LA. Every time the team tried, Malone stayed true to being loyal to the Utah Jazz franchise.
Then, when Malone finally did sign with LA in his final season, Malone suffered through injuries which hurt the team’s chances at winning a title in 2004.
Had he joined the team earlier, LA could have won an extra title in 2003 and earned that elusive four-peat.
In the end, Malone ended up being a “big tease” for the Lakers and definitely more of an enemy than a friend for the team.