Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Which Is the NBA's Greatest Franchise?
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
Such is the sentiment of many basketball fans of other franchises. This attitude, however, is simply a reflection of the success of the Celtics and Lakers.
After all, these two teams have won 33 of the 65 championships in league history (greater than 50 percent). In addition, either the Lakers or Celtics have been in the Finals 40 times.
Clearly, when it comes to winning, these franchises know what they are doing.
After an intriguing debate of Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, featured columnists Rich Fernandes and Ethan S have taken things to a new level with this classic debate between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
Please enjoy this latest submission from Bleacher Report’s NBA Debate Team and feel free to share your opinions about which franchise is better or which columnist made stronger arguments.
Describe the Legacy of the Boston Celtics (Rich)
Bill Russell and Red Auerbach
The Boston Celtics have arguably the most awesome legacy of any team in the history of the NBA. In fact, only the L.A. Lakers can make a legitimate challenge to that claim since the league's inception back in 1946.
While the legacies of these two dominant basketball towns are very impressive, it’s the Boston Celtics’ continuum that has been more remarkable.
It’s impossible to talk about Celtic Pride without understanding and embracing the powerful legacy of Boston’s gigantic coaching icon and GM, Red Auerbach. That’s because even in death, he remains at the center of the Boston Celtics’ universe and he will forever be intertwined with Celtic Pride and Beantown’s winning traditions.
Red started his NBA coaching career in Boston, which marked the 1950-51 season, at a time when the Celtics organization’s financial situation was in dire straits and further dilapidated following a losing season the previous year.
He immediately started making decisions like a championship chess player. One of his very first moves is now ingrained into the very soul of the NBA: Red infamously picked an African-American (Chuck Cooper) with the 13th pick of the draft.
It was a refreshingly color-blind move (among many of Red’s controversial decisions) that successfully broke the color barrier in the days of a backwards NBA. He also helped Bill Russell become the first black coach in NBA history in 1966.
It was back then that Celtic Pride and the hunger to win was born; Red orchestrated a successful season that saw Boston go all the way to the 1951 NBA Finals, before losing to the New York Knicks.
But the chess master wasn’t done and his unconventionally bold moves continued to be criticized as he built Boston’s first dynasty and juggernaut. It was the 11-championship reign of the Celtics that boasted many Hall of Fame players including Bill Russell as its centerpiece.
Red was the very foundation of the Boston Celtic’s winning tradition and Celtics’ Pride that spanned 16-of-17 championships; you can bet that he was there in spirit for even the last in 2008.
He had a direct hand in all of Boston’s titles, including two dynasties and one mini-dynasty. He had a direct hand in assembling all of Boston’s great teams—with the exception of the 2008 era of the Big Three—and he brought a long list of winners and Hall of Famers to Beantown.
Red was not just a man in the amazing organization that he built, because for all intents and purposes he was the Celtics organization itself—and his immense legacy and aura will forever be an NBA legend.
If you look directly into the eyes of Red Auerbach’s statue that was built 21 years before he died, you will be overcome with goose bumps as you recognize the spitting image of the man who built the Boston Garden by hand from the very first brick.
That first brick began an amazing winning tradition in Boston, where Celtics fans have taken ownership of their team’s incredible legacy.
And they celebrate that legacy by rehashing stories of Boston’s multitude of championships at neighborhood pubs. They embrace that same legacy by always supporting their beloved team—and sometimes they paint themselves green so the world can see just how proud they are.
Describe the Legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers (Ethan)
Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Please note that throughout this debate, the entire story of the Lakers is considered. Los Angeles is the current location of the franchise, but as the title of this article indicates, this debate is one between two franchises.
Unlike the Boston Celtics, the Lakers have been winning since the club was founded.
When the team was founded in 1948 in Minneapolis, the Lakers won an NBA championship in their inaugural season.
The Lakers even won a championship the season prior to that as part of the National Basketball League (NBL), which merged with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to become the NBA in 1949.
Whereas the Boston Celtics have failed to qualify for the playoffs 16 times, the Lakers have only missed the postseason five times. The winning consistency is truly remarkable.
The NBA describes the Lakers as having the first superstar of the league in George Mikan. With Mikan and coach John Kundla leading the team, the Lakers would win five titles in six years (six in seven if including the NBL), making the team the first dynasty in the NBA’s history.
The team has always been a pioneer in the NBA. Besides having the first dynasty, the team became the NBA’s first West Coast team when the club moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.
While the 1960s featured seven Finals series losses for L.A., the team was still tops in the Western Conference, led by arguably two of the best five players in the league at the time in Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
After NBA titan Wilt Chamberlain joined the team, sweet victory finally came in 1972, when the Lakers won a then-record 69 games in the NBA en route to their first championship in L.A. The team set a North American professional sports record of 33 consecutive wins and still holds the point differential record for a team (12.3 points per game).
After acquiring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 and Magic Johnson in 1979, the Lakers entered the age of its second dynasty, going to the Finals nine times in 12 years and winning five championships. The dynasty was stacked with amazing talent through the 1980s, including James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, Bob McAdoo and Mychal Thompson.
Of all the Lakers and Celtics' dynasties, the 1980s Lakers were the most impressive of them all when considering the competitive era of the NBA as well as the depth of the team.
With new owner Jerry Buss acquiring the team in 1979, Lakers games quickly became one of Los Angeles’ hottest venues. Along with the “Showtime” offense, Lakers’ band and Lakers' Girls (the NBA’s first cheerleading squad), games were an event to see and to be seen. Even to this day stars fill the seats, including Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman, Dyan Cannon and, of course, Jack Nicholson.
After a few slow seasons in the mid-1990s, the team once again established a new dynasty with the acquisitions of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. With three titles paired with O’Neal and two additional with Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant has led the Lakers to the top of the basketball world over the past 15 seasons.
When reflecting about NBA teams of each decade, the Boston Celtics dominated the 1960s and the Chicago Bulls dominated the 1990s. Yet, the Lakers franchise was the “Team of the Decade” three times: the 1950s, the 1980s and the 2000s.
Few other teams in professional sports have the aura of the Lakers. Being a combination of the championship and winning tradition or the glamour of Hollywood and Los Angeles, athletes want to play for the Lakers. It’s this legacy that has made it easier for the team to attract and retain talent in order to keep up the franchise’s winning ways.
With Several Dynasties Among Each Franchise, Which Was Best? (Rich)
Robert Parish, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale
From the 11-championship Bill Russell dynasty, to the two-championship mini-dynasty of Bill Cowens and finally to the three-championship Larry Bird era—the Boston Celtics have won 16 of their 17 titles over periods that marked multiple winning seasons.
In fact, the only exception has been the recent Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, who have won only once since 2008 and fallen below expectations.
As impressive as Bill Russell’s dynasty was, however, it occurred at a time when the science behind NCAA scouting, diet and nutrition, as well as exercise and rehabilitation, were still in their prehistoric days.
The two-championship mini-dynasty of the 1970s was also impressive, especially considering the dominance of the extremely underrated David Cowens. You also cannot forget about John Havlicek’s contributions that saw him play in Boston’s first two dynasties, racking up a total of eight championships. But in the end, that 1970s team won only two titles, though they should have won more.
However, it’s the Larry Bird era of the 1980s that’s remarkable for reasons the previous two cannot boast, including the reason mentioned above.
Boston’s 1980s dynasty marked the incredible rivalry of not only the Celtics vs. the Lakers, but also the unprecedented rivalry between the two best players in the game. It was that heated head-to-head rivalry between two of the best players in the NBA—Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
And both of these guys were not only multiple NBA championship winners, but also multiple regular season MVP and Finals MVP winners.
Boston won three titles on a team that marked the NBA’s first Big Three with Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. They were considered to be the NBA’s best frontcourt, which also boasted the 1986 champion Celtics—arguably the best team ever assembled.
Bird’s career statistics (as pointed out earlier) are astoundingly close to Michael Jordan’s in every single category that sees the Hick from French Lick top MJ in several of those stats.
And surely if Bird had not suffered from back problems, this dynasty would have been even more impressive.
“As far as Bird, he’s the only Celtic I can't possibly hate, I respect the hell out of him. I mean, the guy wrecked his back setting a driveway on his mom's house. Think about it: King of Boston, Mr. Larry Bird working with cement to fix a driveway. If that's not down to earth, loyal, and a measure of character I don't know what is.” (Courtesy of Hayk Jernazian.)
Kevin McHale was an extremely underrated player and basketbawful.com says it best in their description of him:
"Back in the day, guarding Kevin McHale in the low post was correctly referred to as being in The Torture Chamber. This was primarily due to McHale's towering height (6'11"), precise footwork, and pinpoint shooting ability. It also helped that McHale was assembled at the Freaky Body Parts Depot.
"He had the arms of a 15-foot man, and they either didn't have any joints, or the joints swiveled in every conceivable direction. Seriously, his arms would twist and bend in ways that no human limb ever should. It's a little creepy. Okay, a lot creepy."
Robert Parish was a beast in the post and Boston’s other role players completed an overwhelmingly polished and talented team. Other great contributors included Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Cedric Maxwell and Bill Walton among others.
But what makes the Bird era truly special is that it boasted the best defensive juggernaut in the history of the game.
With Several Dynasties Among Each Franchise, Which Was Best? (Ethan)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Magic Johnson
Some may argue that the 1960s Celtics dynasty was the best NBA dynasty of all time. I would argue, however, that the 1980s Celtics were better than the teams led by Bill Russell.
While it’s true that the 1960s teams had several Hall of Famers, the 1980s Celtics were led by the franchise’s greatest player, Larry Bird. In addition, Bird’s teams were taller, more athletic and played more complicated defensive and offensive schemes in a more competitive era.
Yet, as I argued in the debate piece with Rich, the 1980s Lakers were better than the 1980s Celtics. Despite holding a five-to-three advantage in championships, the Lakers held a two-to-one advantage head-to-head over the Celtics in the Finals.
As incredibly talented as this Boston dynasty was, the Lakers dynasty’s roster was deeper. In addition, Los Angeles was a dominant team over a longer period of time, going to the championship round nearly twice as often.
And it is the depth of the 1980s Lakers roster that trumps the 2000s and 1950s Lakers dynasty teams. Although no other dynasty from the Lakers or the Celtics had two players as dominant as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (especially from 2001 to 2003), the supporting cast of these two superstars paled in comparison to those from the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird dynasties.
Which Franchise Has Had Better Coaches? (Rich)
Red Auerbach usually smoked a victory cigar when the Celtics won
Both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics have had the most dangerous minds behind their benches, but only three of their leaders are in the argument for best coach in NBA history.
For Boston, it’s a runaway train, with Red Auerbach manipulating the X’s and O's and winning nine titles. L.A. also has two excellent candidates, including Pat Riley (four titles) and Phil Jackson (six titles).
Some might argue that another coach and multiple NBA title winner (John Kundla of the Minneapolis Lakers) is in the argument as well. But the fact that his first two titles came before the NBA’s color barrier was lifted and the other three when African-Americans were still the extreme minority in the league should account for a strong disqualification argument.
You cannot deny that both Riley and Jackson inherited a couple of very talented Lakers teams, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy (for Riley), Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (for Jackson).
It is also a well-known fact that after Shaq’s departure and the Lakers' subsequent and sudden drop to mediocrity, it was Jerry West (not Jackson) that orchestrated the bank heist that brought Pau Gasol to Tinsel Town from the Memphis Grizzlies. That was enough to give Jackson another powerful one-two punch combination that led to two more Lakers titles.
In addition, both Riley and Jackson were excellent coaches that could incorporate sound offensive and defensive strategies that helped their respective Lakers teams become winners. But they were not original minds and bold thinkers like Red Auerbach. The fact that Jackson’s trademark triangle offense was really the idea of assistant coach Tex Winters, and that Riley’s run-and-gun offense was not an original concept either, says as much.
In fact, the run-and-gun offense was the original idea of none other than Red Auerbach, who was the first to implement such a scheme. It was a bold an unconventional strategy that faced much criticism until he proved it as extremely effective.
Furthermore, while both Riley and Jackson did inherit amazing teams—Auerbach was Boston’s major architect who built dynasties from scratch from the very start—they included nine titles as coach and seven more as either GM or president.
Indeed, if you just count Auerbach’s nine coaching titles, they fall short of the sum of both Jackson’s (six) and Riley’s (four) by just one. Add the fact that Red’s bold and unconventional wisdom proved to be the birth of new and original ideas, and you can see him as a true pioneer of the game.
Auerbach coached from 1950 to 1966, was GM from 1951 to 1984 and team president from 1970 to 1997. As you can see from the overlapping of responsibilities and level of management achieved, Auerbach always had his fingers on the controls through every single Boston Celtics championship, except the last one that came shortly after his demise (2008).
It’s definitely worth mentioning that the Celtics had three other multiple championship coaches that included Bill Russell (1966 to 1969, including two titles as a player/coach), Tim Heinsohn (1969 to 1978, with two titles) and K.C. Jones (1983 to 1988, with two titles).
Auerbach laid the foundation brick by brick for every Celtic dynasty (nine as coach) and was both a brilliant team architect and original strategist. Jackson and Riley cannot make the same claims—not even close.
Even when you consider Jackson’s overall 11 titles, you can make an argument that Auerbach could easily have surpassed that number if he had remained the coach, instead of moving up to management while the Celtics were still winning championships.
“Red was decades ahead of his time. The old saying was that Red was playing chess while the rest of the coaches and GMs were still playing checkers. He outsmarted all of them. When confronted, he punched first and asked questions later. He dared his rivals to beat him. And none ever could. Drove them crazy.” (Boston.com)
Which Franchise Has Had Better Coaches? (Ethan)
Phil Jackson and Pat Riley: 2 of the 3 greatest coaches of all time
In order for a more simple comparison of the coaches, only those who won championships with the Lakers and Celtics will be considered.
I think many would agree that (in no particular order) Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson were the three greatest NBA coaches of all time.
Auerbach certainly was impressive during his time coaching the Celtics, winning 795 games at an impressive 67 winning-percentage rate. In the playoffs, he won 61 percent of his games (90 victories) en route to winning nine championships.
Bill Russell coached about three seasons, but won two championships during that span. While it’s impressive that he was a player-coach, it is less remarkable that Russell did poorly as a coach with the Seattle Supersonics and Sacramento Kings.
Tom Heinsohn (today known as one of the most biased sports announcers) actually did a decent job coaching the Boston teams led by Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White; he won two championships in the 1970s.
Bill Fitch won over 240 games with the Celtics at a respectable 74-percent win rate, but he only won a single championship with the team. In addition, he currently ranks second in NBA history in losses and has the worst winning percentage of coaches with over 500 wins (at 46 percent).
K.C. Jones has the highest win rates of any Boston coach, winning 75 percent during the regular season and 64 percent during the postseason. He coached the team to two championships, including the 1985-86 Boston squad that posted a 40-1 home record.
Doc Rivers, the current coach of Boston, has also put up impressive numbers, with over 300 wins, while winning 59 percent of his games en route to a single championship.
Meanwhile, on the Lakers side, John Kundla coached the Mikan era teams to over 400 victories and five championships, winning 58 percent of the time.
The next great Lakers coach was a former Celtic by the name of Bill Sharman. Under Sharman, the Lakers franchise won its first title in Los Angeles and had the historic 33-game winning streak during the 1971-72 season.
Paul Westhead ushered in the Magic Johnson era with a championship and won an impressive 69 percent of his games.
Then there were Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. With four and five titles respectively, Riley and Jackson have represented the best in NBA coaching for the past three decades.
Both teams have clearly had several amazing head coaches, but in the end it comes down to the tiebreaker of Riley, Auerbach and Jackson. Los Angeles has had two of the top three coaches whereas Boston had just one.
Which Team's Players with Retired Jerseys Is More Impressive? (Rich)
Bob Cousy and Bill Russell
The Boston Celtics have the longest list of retired jerseys compared to any other team in the NBA, including the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, Boston has retired 23 jerseys compared to only 14 for the Lakers (the second leading team in this category).
The following are the five best retired jerseys by the Celtics, which represent some of the greatest players of all time and they are all in the Hall of Fame. All five of these players were also known for playing serious and extremely effective defense—the key ingredient in each of Boston’s dominant days that brought championships to Beantown.
Honorable mentions include Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
No. 5: John Havlicek, Retired Jersey (17)
John Havlicek, aka Hondo, has more rings (eight) than any other player, with the exception of two other Celtics—Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10).
He played during both the Russell years and the David Cowens mini-dynasty in the early 1970s.
In fact, Hondo helped the Celtics win championships in each of his first four years in the league.
He was a versatile player that played strong defense and revolutionized the sixth-man position.
No. 4: Dave Cowens, Retired Jersey (18)
After Bill Russell retired, the Boston Celtics went into rebuilding mode and lucked out with an immediate impact type player in Dave Cowens.
Cowens helped Boston win two NBA championships (1974, 1976). He was so good, in fact, that it’s unlikely the Celtics would have won any championships during the 1970s without him.
He was the first NBA player to lead his team in all five major statistical categories in a season. Since Cowens, only three others have followed in reaching this prestigious club, including Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.
No. 3: Bob Cousy, Retired Jersey (14)
Bob Cousy’s dominance brought the concept of having incredible handles to the game of basketball as well as a new meaning to the point guard position. His agility and versatility enabled him to lead the league in assists for eight-straight years and he was dubbed the Houdini of the Half Court.
Cousy helped Boston to six championships.
No. 2: Bill Russell, Retired Jersey (6)
Bill Russell is remembered as the most dominant player of the NBA’s greatest dynasty, consisting of an astounding 11 championships over Russell’s 13 seasons—all with the Celtics.
He was a defensive force in a game where defense wins championships; how can you argue with 11 titles?
For the most part, Russell was a gentleman, but on one occasion he punched New York Knicks center Ray Felix unconscious with one punch for antagonizing him during a game—a foul that cost Russell a whole $25 at the time.
Russell was always surrounded by an amazing core group of players that included Bob Cousy (six titles), John Havlicek (eight titles), K.C. Jones (eight titles) and Tommy Heinsohn (eight titles).
As dominating as Russell was, he also had the best collection of teammates (compared to the competition at the time) of any team in the history of the NBA.
No. 1: Larry Bird, Retired Jersey (33)
Bird was, without question, one of the most effective and lethal assassins the game has ever seen. Think about it—how many players have won at least three championships as the Batman of their respective teams?
Only Shaquille O’Neal (3), Tim Duncan (4), Magic Johnson (5), Michael Jordan (6) and Bill Russell (11) come to mind.
He was aka as Larry Legend and the Hick from French Lick.
His focus to win was comparable to Michael Jordan’s before His Airness even came onto the scene.
Bird averaged a double-double for his career with an absolutely solid 24.3 points and 10 rebounds per game to go along with 6.3 assists.
"Bird is the only player in NBA history to have career averages of at least 20 PPG, 10 RPG and five APG. His versatility has been matched by few in NBA history, currently ranking fifth in triple-doubles with 59. He was the first player to make the 50-40-90 club and he did it twice (making at least 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his three-point attempts and 90 percent of his free throws).
"Last and perhaps most impressive was how Bird would often tell his opponents how he was going to beat them (even the exact position where he would make a game-winning shot) and then go on to follow through exactly like he planned." (Ethan S)
Bird was so dominant that he finished second in MVP voting three times before winning it three successive times himself.
But what is more intriguing is how close Bird comes to Michael Jordan when doing a statistical comparison that reveals he is the closest thing to the GOAT. In fact, the only career stats that are not close include points per game (Jordan 30.1 vs. Bird 24) and rebounds per game (Bird 10 vs. Jordan 6.2).
But the rest of their career stats are astoundingly close: assists per game (Jordan 5.3 vs. Bird 6.3), field-goal percentage (Jordan 49.7 percent vs. Bird 49.6 percent), free-throw percentage (Jordan 83.5 percent vs. Bird 88.6 percent), three-point percentage (Jordan 32.7 percent vs. Bird 37.6 percent), steals (Jordan 2.3 vs. Bird 1.7) and blocks (Jordan 0.8 vs. Bird 0.8).
And Bird wins in four categories over Jordan (rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and three-point percentage).
These numbers clearly support the argument that Larry Bird is a top five (if not top three) NBA player of all time.
Which Team's Players with Retired Jerseys Is More Impressive? (Ethan)
The Boston Celtics have retired 21 jerseys, the most for any North American professional sports franchise. However, comparing the list of players with retired jerseys between the two franchises is a matter of quality over quantity.
Of all the players with their jerseys in the rafters of TD Garden, only two players make most people’s lists of top 20 all-time NBA players: Bill Russell and Larry Bird. These two players were definitely impressive, especially Larry Bird, whom I consider to be the best small forward in NBA history and the best player in Celtics history.
It seems like the Celtics franchise will retire any player who wears the green and sneezes. For instance, Tom “Satch” Sanders only averaged 9.6 PPG and 6.3 RPG, whereas Jim Loscutoff (Loscy) averaged an impressive 6.2 PPG and 5.6 RPG. Then you have Don Nelson (10.3 PPG), Frank Ramsey (13.4 PPG) and K.C. Jones (7.4 PPG).
On the other hand, most consider five Lakers to be in the top 20, including Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. In fact, Magic Johnson is usually considered to be the best point guard of all time.
The only Lakers player that has a jersey retired that was not elected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team is Gail Goodrich, who averaged 19.0 PPG with the Lakers and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Consider the next few players to likely have their jerseys retired by Boston and L.A. Regarding Boston, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the likely candidates. Although they have been amazing players, few would rank both among the top 20 players of all time.
For Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal seem like the next likely candidates. Not only are both among the top 20 players, but most also consider them to be among the top 10.
Whichever way one looks at this comparison, the smaller Lakers group seems to trump the Celtics' list of players with retired jerseys.
Overall, Which Franchise Is the Greatest in NBA History? (Rich)
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen
The Boston Celtics (17 titles) and L.A. Lakers (16 titles) are easily the two most dominant franchises in the history of the NBA. From the time of the NBA’s inception in 1946, these two teams have won a remarkable 33 titles.
Through the ages, the rivalries between L.A. and Boston have been truly intense, but there are several reasons as to why the Boston Celtics are the greatest franchise in NBA history.
The first and foremost argument has to do with the number of real championships L.A. has. While the Celtics organization does indeed have 17 championships, the city of L.A. has 11 and not 16. This is because the franchise’s first five championships came while the organization was in Minneapolis and this fact excludes its inclusion in the city of Los Angeles’ winning tradition.
But it’s not the only reason that the Minneapolis Lakers championships should be discounted. The other reason (at the time) is that the NBA color barrier prevented African-American integration into the league until 1950. This means that the Minneapolis Lakers had already won two championships before the color barrier was lifted.
Furthermore, the Minneapolis Lakers' post integration championships (1952-1954) represented titles that had a very low number of African-American players in the NBA. That is to say that the teams in those years did not have the best overall athletes. This was simply because the number of African-Americans that played in the NBA was held in check during a time that should be labeled as the dark ages of the league.
So all of a sudden we have Boston with 17 real titles and L.A. with 11 real titles, but the case as to why the Celtics are the greatest NBA franchise in history doesn’t end there. In fact, of the 12 times that these teams have gone head-to-head in the NBA Finals, the Lakers have won just three times.
You simply cannot deny that the head-to-head winning percentage is strongly in Boston’s favor.
Red Auerbach has been the league’s greatest coach and GM and Bill Russell it’s biggest championship winner with 11 rings.
L.A. has most certainly closed the gap in more modern times (dating back to 1980), with an edge of 10 titles to four. This particular period represented the exciting rivalry of Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird—the most intense rivalry between two players that the game has ever seen.
Magic led the Lakers to five titles, compared with Larry Bird, who helped Boston win three. That was followed by the Shaq/Kobe and Kobe/Gasol years that have given L.A. five more championships compared to Paul Pierce and Boston’s Big Three that have come up short with just one since 2008.
But the tremendous success the Celtics have had versus the Lakers over the ages is what seals this argument in favor of the Boston Celtics. And the final tally should really be 17 championships to 11.
Overall, Which Franchise Is the Greatest in NBA History? (Ethan)
Shaquille ONeal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and George Mikan
After already determining that the Lakers franchise has the advantage over the Celtics in regards to coaches and retired players, consider some facts.
The two main arguments in favor of the Celtics are winning 17 NBA championships compared to 16 for the Lakers and the fact that Boston has won nine out of 12 Finals series.
In order to say Boston’s postseason accomplishments trump those of the Lakers, one has to believe one extra championship is greater than 10 extra Finals appearances by the Lakers. One also has to discredit the NBL championship the Lakers won in 1948, even though the NBL was a viable competitive league compared to the BAA (remember, both merged in 1949 to become the NBA). This would be like saying that the AFL prior to its merger with the NFL was a joke of a league.
So in essence, both clubs have the same number of professional championships.
While Boston has the advantage in head-to-head matchups, the Lakers hold the advantage, 3-2, since the ABA merger. Most of the matchups the Bill Russell teams won against LA came during a period with less competition—there were only about eight teams in the NBA and they only needed to win about half the games compared to today in order to become champions.
Regarding the Lakers, the franchise wins in just about every other statistical category. Even though the Lakers have been in the NBA for two fewer years than the Celtics, the Lakers have 3,084 wins (most in the NBA) compared to just 3,028.
Boston has an impressive .595 winning percentage, but the Lakers are tops in the NBA at .620. That mark also happens to be the best winning percentage in all of North American professional sports (yes, higher than even the New York Yankees).
The Lakers also win in playoff wins (430 compared to 329) and playoff series wins (107 compared to 89). Meanwhile, the Lakers have only missed the playoffs five times compared to 16 times for Boston, meaning that the Lakers have been the most consistent winning team in the NBA.
Since 1980, no team in professional sports has had more success. Over the past 31 years, the Lakers have won a championship one out of every three years (10) and have made the championship round 50 percent of the time (16).
And think about this: The Lakers are the only NBA team to reach the Finals in every decade of the league’s existence from the 1940s to the 2010s.
Finally, one should mention the legacies of two of the best basketball announcers. Boston fans were privileged to have Johnny Most call the team’s games for nearly four decades. But as usual, the Lakers trump Boston.
Chick Hearn was the Lakers’ answer to Johnny Most and when considering the record consecutive games Hearn called and all of the basketball terminology he coined, Chick Hearn must be considered the greatest basketball announcer of all time.
And with that, this debate is in the refrigerator. The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the Jell-O’s jigglin’!
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