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You call this a rivalry?

Celtics have dominated the Lakers in their championship matchups, winning the first eight times and routing L.A. in the clinching game two years ago.

June 02, 2010|Chris Dufresne

The definition of a rivalry depends on whom you ask.

A Celtic, sipping suds on a bar stool, could look a Laker square in the eye and say, "What rivalry?"

Notre Dame versus Navy in football was a rivalry, maybe, for Navy. It wasn't for the Irish, which won 43 straight until Navy turned the ship in 2007 (and 2009).

Was it a rivalry all those stretches the Yankees clobbered Brooklyn in the World Series … or just same time next year?

Angels fans looked at the Dodgers as adversaries 25 years before Dodgers fans knew the Angels had been awarded a franchise.

It is, frankly, impossible for a Celtics fan to wish a contagious skin rash on a Lakers fan more than the opposite is true because Boston has the half-baked bean facts in its can.

Any L.A. sports fan born in the early baby boom, who went to bed crying after most NBA finals, and refused to wear green on St. Patrick's Day, knows this.

When one team owns the other, as the Celtics have owned the Lakers, what you think is a rivalry may actually be "Oh, You guys again?" vs. "Oh, YOU GUYS again!!"

It took the Lakers nine tries before they beat the Celtics in the NBA Finals. That's misery, not rivalry.

People can Kareem Abdul jabber about the Lakers trailing the Celtics only 17-15 in championships, but that requires disengaging the lunar module from 15 championship finals losses and also annexing five championships from the Minneapolis Lakers.

A staunch Celtics fan might argue the Lakers can't co-opt those titles any more than the Indianapolis Colts can claim Johnny Unitas.

Others disagree — the Lakers didn't ditch Minneapolis at night in U-Haul trucks — but you can't deny the Lakers are a mediocre .500 in the NBA finals, 15-15, while the Celtics are 17-3.

The Celtics are also 9-2 against the Lakers. Any thought that the curse was over after the Lakers beat Boston in 1985 and 1987 was put to rest two years ago after the Lakers blew a 24-point lead in Game 4 and then got potato-peeled by 39 points in the series clincher.

The Celtics, to the Lakers, will always be bitter rivals.

The Lakers, to the Celtics, are more like belt notches.

"I couldn't' believe how much they were against us," former Boston player Tommy Heinsohn recounts in Roland Lazenby's new biography of Jerry West. "because we had the utmost respect for them as opponents."

Easy to say when you win all the time.

After the Methuselah Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 7 in the 1969 series, Boston's 11th championship in 13 seasons, Bill Russell came over to the Lakers' locker room and shook West's hand after he contributed 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to another silver medal.

West was named series MVP and received a car for winning the honor. It was green. Pathetic.

The rivalry is ours, not theirs.

No one from Boston comes to L.A., rents a car, drives to the Forum and stands outside and screams at the columns.

In 2008, though, the NCAA staged the East Regional finals in the new Boston Garden, built next to the hallowed grounds of the old Rat Trap.

A writer (me) covering the event felt a pang of joy noticing that the NCAA, which mandates all tournament venues look the same, made the Celtics remove the 17 championship banners from the rafters and replace the parquet floor with compliant NCAA hardwood.

You don't easily recover from childhood trauma.

In 1985, the paper assigned the same reporter a story a story on then- Milwaukee Bucks Coach Don Nelson, the former Celtic and all-time Lakers villain. It was Nelson who, in 1969, clanked a knuckleball off the back rim to help sink the Lakers in Game 7.

Sitting in his office, in Milwaukee, with the tape recorder running, Nelson confessed 16 years after the crime: "It was probably the luckiest shot in the world."

And: "I'd like to say that I shot it real well but I didn't. I shot it so badly."

With the Celtics back in town for the 12th all-or-nothing matchup with the Lakers, there's no use crying over history but…

The pain for Lakers and their fans was not how many times they lost to Boston — it was how they lost.

Four of the Lakers' nine NBA Finals losses were in seven games — all stab wounds — and there is nothing worse in sports than losing after coming so close to winning.

You could make the case, without sounding like a Cry Baby Davis, things could have been different.

Consider the 1956 NBA draft. With the first pick, the Rochester Royals couldn't wait to get their mitts on Sihugo Green, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Duquesne.

Boston's Red Auerbach, meanwhile, traded "Easy" Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis for their No. 2 choice … Bill Russell.

Sihugo Green?

He played nine years, with four teams, and averaged 9.2 points a game.

Russell became a one-man Lakers eater.

There are enough "what ifs" to have at least kept three or four cigars in Auerbach's pocket.

This year's Boston team looks a lot like Russell's last one. Aging and, coming off a mediocre regular season, possibly on its last legs.

Just like 1969.

So don't even think about blowing up a balloon, Lakers fans, unless you're working a birthday and your name is "Chucko."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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