The Score

Lakers-Celtics: History of Excellence

By Fred Bowen
Friday, April 25, 2008

With the National Basketball Association playoffs underway, there is talk of a possible Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics matchup in the finals.

Kids who follow pro basketball must wonder: What's the big deal about the Lakers and Celtics? The Lakers won three titles in a row not too long ago with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. But the Celtics have been lousy for years.

To understand the excitement behind the talk, you have to know some hoops history. The Lakers and the Celtics have been a big part of the NBA.

The league started in 1946. The Lakers were the top team in the early years, winning five championships from 1949 to 1954. The team had a 6-foot-10 center named George Mikan who wore thick glasses and dominated under the basket. The Lakers were located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, back then. Minnesota is called The Land of 10,000 Lakes, which is how the team got its name. (It kept the name after moving to California in 1960.)

The Celtics were the NBA's next great team, winning an amazing 11 championships in 13 seasons from 1957 to 1969. Boston had a host of Hall-of-Fame players: Bill Russell was the shot-blocking center, Bob Cousy was the ball-handling wizard, Sam Jones was the clutch shooter and John Havlicek was the first famous sixth man, the name given to the first reserve off the bench.

Six of Boston's 11 championships came against the Los Angeles Lakers, and three of those series went the full seven games.

The Lakers had some terrific players. Jerry West was a fabulous shooting guard who averaged 27 points per game during his 14-year career. He was so good that the NBA's red-white-and-blue logo depicts his image. His teammate, D.C. native Elgin Baylor, was a high-scoring forward and rugged rebounder. But the Lakers didn't win another championship until 1972, after Bill Russell and several other Celtics retired.

The Lakers-Celtics rivalry was red-hot in the 1980s. The Lakers won five championships as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made every Lakers game Show Time in Los Angeles. Larry Bird, a forward who could shoot, pass and rebound, led the Celtics to three championships. Back then, every Lakers-Celtics game was a must-see event for any basketball fan.

Will the two teams meet again in this year's finals? The Celtics had the NBA's best regular-season record -- 66 wins, 16 losses. They should beat anyone in the weaker Eastern Conference. To get to the finals, the Lakers will have to survive the Western Conference, where every team is tough. Still, I love the way that Bryant and Pau Gasol, obtained in a February trade, are playing together.

If the Lakers and the Celtics meet in the NBA Finals, it will be a big deal . . . and more hoops history.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is an author of sports novels for kids.

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