We’ve heard all the talk this week about the renewing of a rivalry between the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics in these NBA Finals. The match-up will mark the 11th time that L.A. and Boston have hooked up in the finals. But this showdown will feature a different dynamic. The Boston Celtics have long been known as the team that white America rooted for. Over the years the franchise has had a number of star white players, hall of fame players. From Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn in the 50’s and 60’s, John Havelicek and Dave Cowens in the 70’s, to Larry Bird and Kevin Mchale in the 80’s. Most importantly they were winners and became the NBA’s dominant franchise for nearly four decades. They were always a team whom white America could relate to.
In the 1980’s when the NBA rapidly began to become dominated by black ball players the Celtics had Larry Bird, Kevin Mchale, Danny Ainge, and Bill Walton. The team won three championships in the decade, and Larry Bird had already won three consecutive NBA mvp awards from 1984-86’. That’s in stark contrast from today’s NBA where no white American player has won the award since and no team has a core of white American players. In the classic Lakers-Celtics showdowns of the 80’s the Lakers were the team that represented the new spawning of the NBA with their up tempo fun to watch “showtime' style of basketball. A team whose stars were all black, led by a 6'9 point guard in Magic Johnson who was on his way to revolutionizing the game. A big man who could handle the basketball which is something we see a lot in today's NBA. Now in 2008 the dynamic is completely different.
These Boston Celtics are not your Grandfather's nor father's Celtics. The team finished this season with the NBA's best record and they have reached the NBA finals again for the first time since 1987, and they return with an all black team where the only white player on the roster, Brian Scalabrine, is hardly if ever activated and in uniform. Everyone from the head coach to the last player on the bench is an African-American, which was never close to being the case for the franchise during any one of their dynasty years. This 2008 version of the L.A. Lakers have six players on it's 15 man roster, four of which: Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Vladamir Radmanovic, and Pau Gasol play critical roles to the team's success. Walton however is the only one among that four who is a white American, as the Lakers are one of the best examples of the NBA's growing international player base.
These Lakers however takes its lead from its hall of fame head coach Phil Jackson, who has won 9 of these NBA finals, and the great Kobe Bryant. They've had a shocking year which began with Bryant doing everything in his power to force a trade out of Los Angeles because of the team's struggling ways. The team had been mediocre at best since they traded star center Shaquille O'neal in the summer of 2004, something Bryant co-signed, and Bryant had become frustrated with the lack of a supporting cast. But with the emergence this season of 20 year old big man Andrew Bynum, the trade for all-star center Pau Gasol, and the growth of a supporting cast of role players who have fit into Jackson's system perfectly, the team had itself a fabulous year that saw them win the western conference regular season championship in a year in which the west was the toughest conference the league has maybe ever had. They enter these Finals winning comfortably in all three of their playoff rounds.
The Celtics on the other hand come into this Finals appearance having had the best record in the entire NBA this season after finishing with the second worse record in the league last season. But with the off-season additions of All-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen via trade to go along with existing member Paul Pierce, it gave the Celtics a core of three potential hall of famers. When the trades were made last summer a lot was expected from this team and they backed it all up by reaching the NBA finals. This team was challenged and criticized all throughout these playoffs as they were taken the distance in their first two rounds against a young athletic up and coming Atlanta Hawks team and a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by the “King” Lebron James who carried his team to the finals a season ago all by himself. The Celtics then knocked off the Detroit Pistons in six games in the eastern conference finals, winning two games in Detroit including the close out game after not winning a road game in these playoffs before that point. For as much criticism as the Celtics took over the last six weeks in the playoffs they need to be commended. Before these playoffs head coach Doc Rivers had not won a playoff series as head coach in his career, and now he will have the ultimate challenge of locking wits with a man who has won 9 NBA championships on the other sidelines. For a team that had not played together before this season the Celtics showed great perseverance with great expectations over their heads throughout these playoffs. It should be a battle and has the potential of being a special series.