Top 10 NBA Finals storylines
It's the NBA Finals that David Stern and the league's TV partners have been dreaming about all season (though they would never admit it). The Celtics and Lakers, two premier franchises and rivals, meet up for this year's championship. Even casual hoops fans figure to tune in to this one, even if just to reminisce a bit about the good old days.
Here's a look at the 10 best storylines to follow:
Bird-Magic. Russell-West. East Coast vs. West Coast. Simply put, it's the greatest rivalry in NBA history. The Celtics have won 16 titles, the Lakers 14. Boston and L.A. have met 10 times in the Finals, with Boston winning eight. But the Lakers won the last meeting, back in 1987.
Just how intense was the Boston-L.A. rivalry in the 1980s? In 1982, as the Celtics were LOSING in the final minutes of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Boston Garden, the team's fans famously began chanting "Beat L.A.!" ... to the Sixers players. From Kevin McHale's clothesline foul on Kurt Rambis to the Memorial Day Massacre in Boston, the two clubs gave their fans plenty of reasons to despise the other.
Ever since Shaquille O'Neal left in 2004, Kobe Bryant has been out to prove he could lead the Lakers to a title without the Big Diesel. Now he gets his best shot. The MVP has taken his leadership to another level this season, picking up his defense and trusting his teammates more. It has been an amazing turnaround for Bryant, who made headlines last summer when he ripped Lakers management and demanded a trade. If he can finish it off with a championship, Kobe will have burnished his résumé as one of the all-time greats and all will be forgiven in La-La Land.
The Big Three
Celtics All-Stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are in the Finals for the first time in their celebrated careers. All three thirtysomethings are desperate to win a ring, having come close once before. Garnett led the Timberwolves to the Western Conference finals in 2004, the same year he won MVP, but they lost to the Lakers. Pierce got there with the Celtics in 2002, but lost to the Nets. Allen made it with the Bucks in 2001, but came up short to the Sixers. Like Bryant, they are on a mission.
Zen and Red
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has won nine titles as a coach, tied for most all time with the late Red Auerbach. The two Hall of Fame coaches used to spar over it, with Auerbach suggesting Jackson was lucky to have coached Michael Jordan and Shaq/Kobe, and Jackson joking that he'd send Red a cigar when he passed him. Celtics fans surely don't want to see the Zen Master notch that magical No. 10, especially at the expense of Red's beloved franchise.
Kobe and 'that dude'
Speaking of bad blood, Kobe and Allen have been carrying on a feud for several seasons. It began in 2004 when Allen, then with the SuperSonics, predicted that Kobe would be sorry for his role in running off Shaq. "In about a year or two he will be calling out to [Lakers owner] Jerry Buss that, 'We need some help in here,' or 'Trade me,' " Allen said. "We'll all be saying we told you so when he says that." Allen also said: "He's going to be very selfish. And he feels like he needs to show this league and the people in this country that he is better without Shaq."
Responded Kobe: "Don't even put me and that dude in the same breath."
Never mind that the two say there is no lingering hostilities. They clearly don't like each other, and it might not have been a coincidence that Allen received a nasty flagrant foul by Lamar Odom during the Celtics' 110-91 victory at Staples Center on Dec. 30.
It's only fitting that Pierce would lead the Celtics back to the Finals against the Lakers. The six-time All-Star, who ranks sixth on the all-time Celtics scoring list, was a diehard Lakers fan while growing up in Inglewood, right near the old Forum.
"As a kid, I hated the Celtics," Pierce said after Boston eliminated Detroit in the conference finals. "I'm going back home to play against my team that I grew up watching. It's a dream come true, man, just thinking about it. I think that rivalry really revolutionized the game of basketball, and now I'm a part of it."
"To me, I think that's what pretty much got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and the Celtics, and it's ironic, just being a Celtic, growing up, now you're playing against the Lakers in the Finals.
Hope for all
Last year at this time the Lakers and Celtics were sitting at home, recovering from disappointing seasons. They both seemed a long way off from competing for a ring. But Boston got Garnett and Allen in separate trades, and L.A. snagged Pau Gasol in midseason. Now they're meeting for the championship. Regardless of who wins, it should bring hope to fans of downtrodden teams everywhere.
It's a great time to be a Boston sports fan. The Finals mark the third time in eight months that Boston has a chance to win a major pro sports championship, following the World Series (Red Sox) and Super Bowl (Patriots). The Celtics no longer play in old Boston Garden, but they sold out every game this season at TD Banknorth Garden. They will have home-court advantage in this series, which could be significant since they finished 35-6 at home during the regular season and are 10-1 so far in the playoffs.
Jack vs. The Hoodie
The Lakers in the Finals means lots of TV time for Hollywood celebrities, including superfan Jack Nicholson. The famous actor still attends Lakers home games regularly, just like he did in the '80s, sporting sunglasses and trading comments with referees from his courtside seat. The Celtics have their own set of celebrity fans, most notably Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Cheerleaders vs. Cheers
This Finals pit the league's most famous cheerleading squad (the Laker Girls) against the city known for Cheers. But while Sam and Diane are no longer around to help Kevin McHale raise money for his orphans (or count bolts in the old Garden's parquet floor), the Celtics do have their own dance squad now. They finally broke down a few years ago, becoming the last NBA team to do so. The Celtics' dance team made its debut just days after the passing of Auerbach, who had long been opposed to the idea.