Best All-Time NBA Rivalry
In my opinion, there are far fewer big time rivalries in the NBA than there are in the other 2 of the 3 largest professional sports. However, there are a number of rivalries that do exist, but they tend to be less annual and more recurrent in nature.
What I mean is that, in general, the rivalries tend to flare up when the teams in question are both successful, and then become less intense if one or both of the franchises are struggling. Some examples of this are the Detroit vs. Chicago rivalry, the Boston vs. Philadelphia rivalry, and the New York vs. Miami rivalry (often referred to as the Pat Rile-valry after the slicked back former coach of both the Knicks and Heat, Pat Riley).
However, there is one rivalry that, while similarly recurrent in nature, has had at least two major periods in which it was a tremendous and dominant rivalry, and those periods were separated by at least 20 full years. As a result, it would seem that this rivalry has stood the test of time, and is one that with almost near certainty will come back again to the top of the NBA's intensity list, and possibly soon. That rivalry is the one that exists between the NBA's Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The rivalry first boiled up in intensity in the 1960's, when the two teams were considered head and shoulders above any other team in the NBA at the time. The two teams were expected to meet in the NBA Finals on a nearly annual basis, and rarely did they disappoint. Both teams were star studded, with the Celtics ultimately led by their dominant big man Bill Russell, and the Lakers led by their superstar Elgin Baylor. In fact, from the period of 1957 through 1969, the Lakers appeared in the NBA Finals 7 times, and each time they did they faced off against the Boston Celtics, (coached by Red Auerbach until 1967) who during that stretch appeared in a grand total of 12 NBA Finals in 13 seasons (only missing in 1967).
And of those 7 head to head matchups between the Lakers and Celtics, the Celtics won all 7 of the meetings. However, 3 of the 7 series were extremely close, with the Celtics winning in seven games (4-3).
The 1970s was marked by the real distinct lack of any one dominant team, with 8 different NBA teams winning titles. The Lakers and Celtics each won two NBA championships during the decade. However, neither played the other in any of those 4 finals.
Had a couple of college rivals not conveniently been drafted into the NBA by the two teams, the rivalry may have dissipated and become nothing more than a fond memory of yesteryear. Instead, the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to the NBA took the Lakers - Celtics rivalry to new heights.
Indeed. Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics resurrected one of the NBA's greatest rivalries at a time when the NBA so desperately needed an infusion of energy, and it certainly got it. While the teams did not meet nearly as often in the NBA Finals in the 1980's as they did when the rivalry was built in the 1960's, this was unsurprising given that parity was more common in the NBA during this period. However, the teams won a combined 8 NBA titles during the decade (with the Lakers winning 5 to the Celtics 3), and they met in the NBA Finals on 3 occasions.
Each of those 3 NBA Championship series was tremendously entertaining and hard fought. Many of us fondly recall those great Celtics - Lakers matchups. The Lakers ultimately one 2 of the 3 series'.
Those games were basketball at its finest, as much a chess match as an athletic event. Each team tried to force its playing style on the other. Bird and the Celtics trying to slow the game down and play a half-court game; Magic and the Lakers trying to open the game up into a full-court track meet. Bird, McCale, DJ, Parrish vs. Magic Johnson, Kareem, Worthy, Wilkes.
No doubt, the LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics rivalry is the best NBA rivalry ever.
Ah, to have that back again….
What has happened to the NBA?
Actually, we are sort of "back to the future" with the Celtics and Lakers facing each other again in the 2010 NBA finals. This time the LAKERS WON in 7 games (first time they have ever beaten Boston in a game 7). So, the rivalry heats up again and L.A. closes to within one all-time NBA Championship. The totals now have the Celtics with 17 Championships; Lakers with 16. Huge, huge win last night for Kobe (named MVP) and the Lakers.
You can read more about this great rivalry at Best All-Time Pro Basketball Rivalry.
You might also like to read about these other great rivalries:
- Biggest All-Time College Football Rivalry
- Best All-Time SEC Football Rivalry Games
- Best All-Time Baseball Rivalry
- Best SEC Baseball Rivalry
- Biggest SEC Basketball Rivalry
- Biggest All-Time Tennis Rivalry
- Best Golf Rivalry of All-Time
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