Celtics/Lakers: The NBA's Yin and Yang

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Three reasons the Boston Celtics meeting the L.A. Lakers for the NBA championship is simply perfect:

1) Classic

This is the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. The Cowboys and Steelers in the Super Bowl. No greater rivalry in basketball history. It's Russell and Havlicek against West and Baylor. Bird and McHale against Magic and Kareem. East-coast-grit vs. west-coast-glam. Red's cigar (may he rest in peace) vs. Jack's shades. Producers at ABC are licking their chops in anticipation of the television ratings, fingers crossed for a seven-game series.

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2) Kobe

With apologies to LeBron James (named MVP the last two seasons), the best player on the planet will be front and center on basketball's biggest stage for a third straight season. If you saw the last few daggers Kobe Bryant buried against Phoenix in the Western Conference finals, you begin to understand how the combination of supreme skill mixed with the will of a paid assassin can result in a fairly decent basketball player. Bryant's personality is as pleasant as psiatica, but when he's on the court, you can't take your eyes off him. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are overshadowed by this guy. Consider that.

3) A Standard

Winning an NBA title is hard. Fourteen of 30 teams have yet to do it. But the recipe isn't complicated. Lock up a superstar, surround him with at least one near-superstar, then mix veterans with two or three young "energy" players and make room for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The post-Shaq Lakers were flailing until they acquired Pau Gasol to run with Kobe. Pierce was a lost soul in Boston until KG was acquired. Teams knocking on the door -- Cleveland, Orlando, Phoenix, Utah, Denver -- have a model to follow. For the next two weeks, that championship formula will be on display as it should this time of year.

And three reasons the Celtics meeting the Lakers for the NBA championship is simply the pits:

1) Again?

The Celtics and Lakers have combined for 32 NBA championships. The rest of the league has combined for 30. These two franchises have played for the title 11 times. I'm having flashbacks to high school, where three out of four years it was green and purple (or purple and green) come June. It's like watching a Tom Cruise movie on opening weekend. Great hair, great smile, cool shades. But haven't we seen this before?

2) Kobe

There are some fine NBA players who have yet to get a whiff of the NBA Finals. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant. Some young (Derrick Rose), some not so young (Steve Nash). But here's Bryant again, playing in his seventh Finals. That's one more than Michael Jordan and two more than Larry Bird. It would be one thing if the guy was worth rooting for. But he's not, and we'll leave it at that.

3) A Distant Standard

If you're a Memphis Grizzlies fan, never has a championship seemed further away. It was one thing when expansion franchises like Miami, Dallas, and Orlando were reaching the Finals. But if this were European soccer, Memphis would play in a separate classification than the Celtics and Lakers. A complementary "almost-superstar"? The Grizzlies have to lure their first superstar. A combination of veteran support with young energy players? The Grizzlies have mastered the young part, if not the energy or support. Blame ownership, management, the current roster, whomever. Fact is, the gap between contenders and also-rans is greater in the NBA than it is in the NFL or Major League Baseball (even with MLB's complete disregard for salary disparity between clubs). Watching the Celtics battle the Lakers -- again-- for the NBA crown only rubs it in.

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