Monson: Lakers and Celtics are NBA's comfort feud
The Pasadena obstetrician turned to me in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 9, 1985, and said, "You think we can get this done quickly? I've got to get home to watch the Lakers and Celtics. Maybe this time, we will finally get it done."
"Oh, yeah. We."
Eight times, actually seven with the franchise in L.A., to that point, the doc had seen the Lakers go up against the C's, and each time he had watched them fail. Worst of it had been just the postseason prior, when Larry Bird had swung his towel courtside at the old Garden, grinning it up as his team put down the Lakers, again.
That series had been painful for the doctor, and all L.A. fans, having watched Gerald Henderson steal the ball in an overtime Celtics win in Boston, Kevin McHale chop down Kurt Rambis at the Forum, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bird jawing at one another in Game 4, and, ultimately, the Celtics win in seven. Didn't McHale hang the nickname "Tragic" on Magic Johnson after that?
Yeah, that Sunday was going to be a good day for me.
And a great day for the doc.
Sometime before opening tip of Game 6 of the '85 NBA Finals, he delivered my first child, a healthy baby girl, instructing the nurse to hand me my spanking new babe, before jumping in his Porsche and heading home to watch on TV the Lakers not only beat the Celtics, but beat them in front of their own fans straight on the hallowed parquet floor. Abdul-Jabbar took over in the fourth quarter that afternoon, going for 29 points, many of them coming on deliveries from Magic, in that historic win.
The doc must have been proud.
I'd take my own historic delivery, thank you, but I remember the game, too.
That's what I love about the Celtics and Lakers in the NBA Finals. These teams have faced one another for a championship 11 times. This Thursday's opener will bump that number to 12.
And a lot of us baby boomers have marked our lives, one way or another, by those title matchups. There were the great Bill Russell teams of the 1960s going up against Jerry West's Lakers. There was Magic and Bird. There was and is Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
Remember the other names in these championships: Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, James Worthy, and there are a whole lot more.
The teams have played in the Finals in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2008, and now 2010.
And the great moments: Baylor scoring 61 points in a single playoff game, Cousy dribbling out the clock to end his career, Red Auerbach announcing after a Game 1 blowout loss in 1966 that Russell would replace him as coach the following year, West scoring 53 points, the Memorial Day Massacre, Magic's junior, junior, junior skyhook, Paul Pierce sending Kobe home a loser, and, again, there are a whole lot more.
One that stands out was when former Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons stored in the rafters, ready to drop on the arena when the Lakers clinched the title in 1969's Game 7. USC's marching band was on hand to play "Happy Days Are Here Again" at the game's conclusion. Russell and the Celtics, of course, took note of all this and, duly motivated, put an end to the plans, beating the Lakers, owning them and a championship once more.
Some may grow weary of the same old dominance of the same old franchises. I, too, like fresh teams, fresh faces, fresh rivalries, but not to the exclusion of a classic match that carries with it so much tradition.
Often in the past, the teams represented opposite players, opposite coaches, opposite cities, opposite coasts, opposite philosophies. The Lakers were Bel Air, the Celtics were Roxbury. The Lakers were led by coaches like Pat Riley, the Celtics were coached by guys like Auerbach and K.C. Jones. The Lakers had Laker Girls, the Celtics had not a pompon in their building. The Lakers played at the Fabulous Forum, the Celtics played in the old Garden, a rickety erector set of an arena that was small, crowded, full of rats, poorly ventilated, and smelled like stale beer.
It's different now.
There's not much variance from one team to the other, as far as glitz and glamour or overall aura. Kobe, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom on one side, Pierce, Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo on the other.
But the green and white and purple and gold remain the same, as do the logos and names on the front of the jerseys, familiar logos and names, logos and names that carry with them memories and personal frames of reference, marking the lives of anyone who has lived longer than a few decades and who loves basketball, and life.
Nothing wrong with holding onto those memories while making new ones.
My daughter turns 25 next week.
GORDON MONSON hosts the "Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Familiar Finals foes
This season will mark the 12th time the Celtics and Lakers have met in the NBA Finals. Boston has come out on top in nine of the previous 11 matchups:
1959 Celtics, 4-0
1962 Celtics, 4-3
1963 Celtics, 4-2
1965 Celtics, 4-1
1966 Celtics, 4-3
1968 Celtics, 4-2
1969 Celtics, 4-3
1984 Celtics, 4-3
1985 Lakers, 4-2
1987 Lakers, 4-2
2008 Celtics, 4-2
NBA Finals schedule
Boston vs. L.A. Lakers
All NBA Finals games are televised on Ch. 4
Game 1 • Thursday, Boston at L.A. Lakers, 7 p.m.
Game 2 • Sunday, Boston at L.A. Lakers, 6 p.m.
Game 3 • Tuesday, June 8: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 7 p.m.
Game 4 • Thursday, June 10: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 7 p.m.
*Game 5 • Sunday, June 13: L.A. Lakers at Boston, 6 p.m.
*Game 6 • Tuesday, June 15: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 7 p.m.
*Game 7 • Thursday, June 17: Boston at L.A. Lakers, 7 p.m.