Lakers-Celtics: A rivalry that’s been on break since 1987

WALTHAM, MASS. — Those familiar “Beat L.A.!” chants, once the sweetest sound of springtime in Boston, were replaced by a most unrecognizable chorus in the dead of winter last year.

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant looks at coach Phil Jackson during basketball practice in El Segundo

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant looks at coach Phil Jackson during basketball practice in El Segundo

WALTHAM, MASS. — Those familiar “Beat L.A.!” chants, once the sweetest sound of springtime in Boston, were replaced by a most unrecognizable chorus in the dead of winter last year.

“MVP!” cries for a Los Angeles Laker in the Boston Garden.

Oops, make that the TD Banknorth Garden.

Plenty has changed in the two decades since the last NBA finals series between the Lakers and Celtics, and not only the arenas where it’s contested.

The rivalry that made the NBA must-see TV — the finals were still shown on tape delay when Magic Johnson was a rookie — was largely ignored in recent years, to the point that some Boston backers couldn’t even bother to show up when the Lakers were in town in January 2007, making it easier for all those Los Angeles fans to come cheer Kobe Bryant.

That’s not the way it was in the days of Johnson and Larry Bird, when you couldn’t think of one without the other — those players or their teams.

“We talked about it every day,” Johnson said Tuesday. “Actually, Larry probably will feel the same way. During the regular season, that’s all we watched. Where are the Celtics? Did they win last night?”

With the Lakers and Celtics meeting again Thursday in the NBA finals, the NBA got Johnson and Bird together on a conference call to talk about the way things were then. But it’s so long ago, it has no relevance today.

“It doesn’t mean anything now, and there’s nothing that’s similar now,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “The coaching staffs aren’t the same, the philosophy of basketball isn’t the same. The towns are still the same. A lot of the same type of people. Beantown is still Beantown, that’s for sure. But they’ve won a baseball World Series now, so they’re not so bedraggled.”

Back in the mid-1980s, when they met for the championship three times in a four-year span, Los Angeles and Boston had the most important rivalry in pro sports. It lasted through three cities, starting with the Celtics’ sweep of the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959, and more than 25 years.

Now it’s been almost that long since their last meeting, in 1987, also Boston’s most recent finals appearance. So while veterans such as Paul Pierce and Bryant can talk of Kevin McHale’s hard foul takedown of Kurt Rambis in 1984, or Johnson’s baby sky hook to pull out a victory in Boston in 1987, the younger players in this series have no memories of anything special between the teams.

“Last time it was a rivalry, I was born. It was in ’86 (actually ’87), so it’s been a long time,” Celtics second-year point guard Rajon Rondo said. “I know a little bit about the history, but not too much.”

The Celtics haven’t always been relevant since, managing only four playoff appearances from 1996-2007. The Lakers went on to have meaningful rivalries with San Antonio, Sacramento and most recently, Phoenix. Even Miami felt like a rival after acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from Los Angeles, since that game got the marquee Christmas Day national TV slot three years running.

Meanwhile, Celtics-Lakers has been mostly out of sight, out of mind.

ESPN showed a game between the teams two years ago, but ABC hasn’t bothered since it landed the NBA’s television rights. TNT, the league’s other broadcast partner, hasn’t televised a Lakers-Celtics game since 2002.

“Well, the Celtics weren’t good enough to be on TV and the Lakers were always good with Shaq and Kobe,” Celtics guard Sam Cassell said.

“The intensity is not up to that level right now. I think if they get to the finals, if we play the Lakers next year in the finals and the year after that, I think the rivalry will become like it was in the ’80s. But right now it’s just two teams who respect one another.”

—————

AP Sports Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, an iPhone displays the Facebook app in New Orleans. Facebook says it’s going all in to block the spread of bogus vaccine claims. In practice, that means the social network plans to ban a new bunch of false claims in addition to the old bunch of false claims about vaccines or COVID-19 that it has already banned. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
Facebook says it will pay $1B over 3 years to news industry

Facebook says it will choose which publishers it will support

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

NDP and Liberals both promised some kind of pharmacare program

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Admiral Art McDonald has voluntarily stepped down as Chief of Defence Staff due to an investigation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Admiral Art McDonald steps aside as defence chief amid investigation

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre appointed acting chief of the defence staff

Meteor spotted over Edmonton, Alta., on Feb. 22, 2021 by several, who took to social media to share their surveillance camera captures. (@KixxAxe/Twitter)
VIDEO: Fireball meteor streaks across sky, spotted by early-morning risers in Alberta, B.C.

Videos of the quick streak of light flashing across the sky before 6:30 a.m. MST

FILE - The Paramount Pictures gate is pictured on Aug. 23, 2016, in Los Angeles. The studio is joining other major Hollywood studios in slashing the traditional 90-day theatrical window. ViacomCBS on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, announced that the studio’s films, including “Mission: Impossible 7” and “A Quiet Place Part II,” will go to its fledgling streaming service, Paramount+, after 45 days in theaters. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
‘Mission: Impossible 7’ will hit Paramount+ even sooner

90-day theatrical window reduced to 45 days

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson yells to her sweepers at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Defending champion Einarson stays unbeaten in Tournament of Hearts

Players suggest a spectator-free debut made it less intimidating

Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the 17th hole on his way to winning the Canadian Open Championship at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont. on Sunday Sept.10, 2000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘The Tiger I know is a survivor and a fighter,’ Bill Paul weighs in on Tiger Woods

Woods was hospitalized after a single-vehicle crash near Los Angeles on Tuesday

Calgary Flames goaltender David Rittich (33) makes a save on Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Jimmy Vesey (26) as Flames' Christopher Tanev (8) and Joakim Nordstrom (20) defend during first-period NHL action in Toronto on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘Misunderstood’ Nylander ties game late, scores winner as Leafs beat Flames 2-1 in OT

‘Misunderstood’ Nylander ties game late, scores winner as Leafs beat Flames 2-1 in OT

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson yells to her sweepers at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Young Quebec team in the hunt to join Einarson, Homan in Hearts’ championship round

Young Quebec team in the hunt to join Einarson, Homan in Hearts’ championship round

A crane is used to lift a vehicle following a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. Woods suffered leg injuries in the one-car accident and was undergoing surgery, authorities and his manager said. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Golf without Woods? Battered leg brings it closer to reality

Golf without Woods? Battered leg brings it closer to reality

Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien looks towards the ice as his team takes on the Ottawa Senators during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. The Canadiens have fired head coach Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Montreal Canadiens fire head coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller

Montreal Canadiens fire head coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller

Most Read