Lakers, Celtics Rivalry is Not What it Once Was

Before Chris Jericho returned to Monday Night RAW a month ago, the promo videos hyping up his return claimed it’d be the end of the world as we knew it.

This past Monday, Jericho finally addressed the reason he’s back for another run with the WWE: he wanted to reclaim the title of “Best in the World” from CM Punk, the current champion of the company. Jericho boldly called CM Punk a “wannabe”.

It’s the ultimate rivalry between the past and the present. In professional wrestling, dream feuds, such as Jericho vs. Punk, pan out perfectly, as the executives have complete control over who wins what and when.

In the NBA, fans don’t enjoy that luxury. Nothing is scripted in the NBA and that’s the beauty of it, any team can win at any time with the acquisition of a player through the draft, a trade or both (see: Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Durant with the Oklahoma City Thunder).

As a result of the unpredictable nature of the league, rivalries cannot be forced; bad blood between two teams must be developed over years of heartbreak and triumph.

This is why I laugh at the notion that the modern Lakers and Celtics matchups come anywhere close to a rivalry.

You’re going to have to pardon my ignorance, but in my lifetime the Lakers’ biggest adversaries have been the San Antonio Spurs, the Chris Webber Kings and the Steve Nash Suns, in no particular order. All three of those teams have had epic playoff series with the Lakers over and over and over.

The Lakers and Celtics of old was a true rivalry. In the 60’s the Celtics and the Lakers met in the finals seven times over the span of 10 years, the C’s won every single time. The rivalry was then refueled by the emergence of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who’s personal duel traces all the way back to their college days.

What have this current batch of Celtics done to provoke hate from the Laker faithful beyond being clad in green?  Before you stop reading, I’m fully aware these two teams have competed in the finals two out of the past five years,  but so did San Antonio and Detroit in the early 2000’s, and that wasn’t as much as a rivalry as much as it was the two best teams in the league at the time playing each other.We were forced to believe these two teams disliked each other when in reality it’s a rivalry that’s been fuelled by the media and nostalgia.

When the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007 coupled with the Lakers trading for Pau Gasol right before the deadline, these two moves planted the seeds for a renaissance of the rivalry. Sports Illustrated had Kobe and KG on their cover for their playoff preview issue before the teams themselves even thought about playing each other. It’s the equivalent to two fathers, who were childhood friends, coercing their kids to be friends because if nothing else they’d like to relive the past.

Sure when the two teams inevitably met in the 2008 finals, it was a fairy tale ending to a spectacular season of NBA basketball. But when the Celtics lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy above their heads, the narrative revolved more around Kevin Garnett having his first taste of team success in the NBA and Paul Pierce deserving all the credit in the world for sticking it out in Boston despite having to endure some awful teams than beating the bad guys. Because truth be told, there was no tension between those two teams before they met; hard to blame them when they have to trace back 15 years before the last time both  teams were title contenders.

The 2010 finals felt more natural. The Lakers were looking to avenge their loss in 2008 while the Celtics felt cheated out of their title defense when Kevin Garnett went down with a season ending injury. Boston’s head coach, Doc Rivers, added fuel to the fire when he demanded each of his players to leave $100 each in the ceiling of the visitor’s locker room at Staples Center after a game in February. Even then, one unforgettable seven game series doesn’t create a rivalry. Compared to what Magic and Bird put each other through, this current chapter of the Laker and Celtic rivalry feels sort of like, to borrow Jericho’s terminology, a wannabe version of what came before them.

Heading into tonight’s matchup, the rivalry is all but dead. There are very few players from the Celtics 2008 team that are still with them today besides the big four. Gone are Eddie House, James Posey, P.J. Brown and Kendrick Perkins. They’ve been replaced with Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Sasha Pavlovic and Jermaine O’Neal. Even this current Celtic team is a wannabe of their championships squads.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s probably safe to say that it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing the rubber match in the series between Kobe’s Lakers and Pierce’s Celtics in June with the way the teams are currently constructed. But that won’t stop the media and the fans from generating an incessant buzz surrounding this matchup come tip-off.

My only hope for these two teams is that they won’t be exposed as wannabe title contenders when all is said and done, as that would truly be the end of the world as we know it.

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