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The History and Legacy of the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers Rivalry

We're going down memory lane to relive one of the best rivalries in NBA history.

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If you're a diehard NBA fan, you were on one side of this fence. You either rallied behind the Purple and Gold squad, calling for a "Boston Massacre," or you screamed out "Beat L.A!" at the top of your lungs amongst.

Whichever side you were on, you were part of history. There was always a special moment or two every time the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played against each other. It is a rivalry that stood the test of time, beginning when the Bob Cousy-led Celtics drew first blood in 1959 to when Kobe Bryant's Lakers won it for Los Angeles in the 21st Century.

There isn't that much heat between the Celtics and Lakers these days. But after six decades of memorable matchups that drew out rabid appreciation from fans, their rivalry turned out to be one of the most fabled ones in NBA history.

Now, let's travel back in time.

"I Hated Green For a Long Time"

This statement perfectly captures the sentiments of point guard Jerry West. West suited up for the Lakers during its last year in Minneapolis in 1960. He is one of the old school who bore the brunt of the Celtics' onslaught of that era.

When the Lakers moved to Los Angeles during the 1960 off-season, it was then the rivalry really started to heat up. But it was the Celtics who always ended their night in jubilation. Over the next decade beginning in 1959, the guys in green emerged victorious through the seven times they've met during the Finals.

For West and his comrades in Los Angeles, these beatings were became a lot more personal.

In his own words:

I hated green for a long time. I wouldn't wear anything green. It just got to the point where it was so frustrating to hear the noise and shouting after games that we had lost.

Newsweek AMPLIFY - Celtics Lakers Rivalry

Los Angeles didn't go down without a fight. In 1968, the team acquired future legend Wilt Chamberlain, with the hopes of ending the curse. But that too wasn't enough to ward off Bill Russell, Don Nelson, and the rest of the green and white squad.

West did pick up his first and only NBA title in 1972, but he failed to exorcise the ghosts of those heartbreaking moments given to him by the Celtics.

It would take 15 years before the two teams met back in the Finals in 1984. They were entirely different squads comprised of a new breed of superstars. The Celtics boasted a formidable lineup made up of Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird. Los Angeles, on the other hand, had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson as primary weapons.

The Lakers had a renewed sense of confidence, but they weren't able to shake off the stigma just yet. They even had a promising start, kicking off the series with a 1-0 lead. And like how it's been through the years, both teams fought tooth and nail, bring the series down the wire.

But once again, Boston proved to be the better team, notching victory number eight over their rivals in the Finals.

Magic's Revenge

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Just like Jerry West ahead of him, Magic Johnson developed the same animosity towards Boston. Most of his ill feelings were focused on fellow superstar Larry Bird.

As he recalls:

I hated Larry. No other words were really used. And I disliked the Celtics.

Fueled by that hatred, Magic made it his mission to turn things around the following year. And when he once again met Bird and the Celtics in the 1985 Finals, the level of motivation is a lot different.

It all happened during a time when every Celtics-Lakers championship was automatically a classic, and this one was no exception. Boston got win number one, Los Angeles got it back the next game. The series would be a tug-o-war, but the turning point happened during Game six.

The Lakers played like a team on a mission, but this time, it was big man Kareem who did most of the work. He finished the game with 29 points, helping to hold down the Celtics to just 18 points in the third period.

What made this revenge much, much sweeter for the Lakers is that they slew the almighty beast right in their own lair. Larry Bird stepped out of the court in the dying moments as the silenced Boston crowd watched their beloved team falter.

After a 111-100 victory, the Los Angeles Lakers left the Boston Garden that night, ecstatic, redeemed, and fulfilled. After years of torment from being the Celtics' whipping boys, they finally got the last laugh.

The Celtics-Lakers Rivalry in the 21st Century

You know you're witnessing a historic rivalry when it transcends through generations. After another triumphant year for the Lakers over the Celtics in 1987, the two teams crossed paths in 2008.

Boston had their own "Big Three" comprised of All-Stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. And fueling Los Angeles' firepower were Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. It was also a battle of great basketball minds with Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers manning the helm of each ball club.

Newsweek AMPLIFY - Celtics Lakers Rivalry

The Celtics pretty much set the tone of the entire series with their commanding 2-0 lead. Phil Jackson and his wards did take games three and five, but Doc Rivers and his boys already had momentum in their side.

In six games, the Boston Celtics were once again NBA champions, after 22 years of abysmal games, missed playoff appearances, franchise-worst records.

But the NBA Finals rivalry didn't end there just yet. Boston and LA bannered the 2010 NBA Finals. And knowing Kobe Bryant's competitive nature, a repeat of what happened from two years prior is out of the question.

This time around, luck, momentum, and the bigger will to win were all on LA's side as they picked up the very first win. But, neither team allowed themselves to be beaten. Boston fought hard and even led the series three games to two.

The Lakers, however, were the hungrier team, and they fought harder. After pulling away in game six, they sealed the deal in a thrilling series closer through an 83-79 win. And if you're a Laker fan, it is an extraordinary feeling to temporarily close this chapter as the victors.

The Legacy of Green vs. Gold

Newsweek AMPLIFY - Celtics Lakers Rivalry

Those who thrive in competition welcome a staunch rival who would bring out the best in everybody. During his 15-year run with the Boston Celtics, star forward Paul Pierce relished in that.

As the man himself recalled in a February interview, playing against the Lakers was a different game altogether.

Any given year whether the team was good or bad, you're up for this game. This game always meant something for me, regardless of how good or bad the teams I've been on.

I remember, my ten years in the league, I've averaged more points against the Lakers than anybody in the league. And that's a fact.

Like in numerous moments throughout the franchise's history, the Celtics are currently back on rebuilding mode. The Lakers, on the other hand, made the 2020 Playoffs, their first post-season appearance in seven years.

It may take a few more years before we see another Green vs. Gold-themed NBA Finals. But as a basketball fan looking back on the rich, colorful history between these two ball clubs, it's difficult not to feel amazed and grateful for witnessing countless classic moments.

Relive the Celtics-Lakers Rivalry Through the NBA Store

No matter where your allegiance stood during the height of these matchups, you'll find them all in the NBA Store. As soon as you visit the Hardwood Classics section, you'll immediately find some exclusive merchandise of the late, great Kobe Bryant.

But if you want to rewind further back, these autographed Larry Bird jerseys should help bring out a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Better hurry, though. Because these pieces of memorabilia sell out fast.

If you hold a deep appreciation for anything old school NBA, head over to the Hardwood Classics section of the NBA Store.

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