Commentary

History of Celtics-Lakers rivalry

Their meeting on Sunday could be the last relevant one for years

Originally Published: March 11, 2012
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus
RondoLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesRajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics are clinging to championship hopes this year.

Nothing dances off the tongue of an NBA commercial narrator like the words "Celtics-Lakers." It's a rivalry that is deeply embedded in our collective sports consciousness, unrivaled across the athletic spectrum. Not only have these franchises combined to win 33 of the NBA's 65 championships, but it seems like each generation over the past 50 years have been able to enjoy their own version of this historic showdown, because they have often been good at the same time.

It started in the late '50s, before the Lakers had even moved west, with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy going against Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. By the end of the '60s, it had morphed into Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. The 1970s was a dry patch in the rivalry, though both franchises won titles during the decade. The 1980s came back with a vengeance during the Magic vs. Bird years, before the 1990s turned into a nadir for both franchises. The drought extended well into the past decade.

Just when we thought Celtics-Lakers had become fodder for folklore, Boston general manager Danny Ainge, himself a key figure in those 1980s matchups, patched together the Celtics' new Big 3 in 2007, and the rivalry was reborn. In the four full seasons that followed, the Lakers and Celtics ranked first and second, respectively, in regular-season wins, accounted for three of the four championships and, of course, gave us two more chapters in the ongoing Boston-Los Angeles Finals storybook.