Best All Time Professional Basketball Rivalry

It's looking like it could well be a Lakers - Celtics 2011 NBA Final. That to go with the 2010 Celtics vs Lakers NBA Finals update you can read about at bottom of this story. Just more and more confirmation (as if any was needed) that this is the best all-time professional basketball rivalry. No doubt about it.

One of the biggest things that drives our love of sports is great rivalries. Where there is love, there is hate. I hate the Green Bay Packers as much as I love and adore my Chicago Bears. It's hand in glove; two sides of same coin, etc.

There are a number of candidates for the greatest rivalry in all of sports: Packers-Bears, Michigan-Ohio State, Yankees-Red Sox; indeed some sports even have several rivalries that rival one another on the hatred-meter. However, in the NBA, there is one rivalry that rises far above the rest: that of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.

This is not to say that there are not other great rivalries in the NBA. Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks fans hate one another with a deep and enduring passion; one that stretches back to the early 1990s. As a Bulls fan, I also hate the Detroit Pistons with a passion that borders on the pathological. However, while enduring, these great rivalries fail to measure up to that of the Celtics and Lakers.

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is the best the NBA has to offer for a number of reasons. First, these two franchises have achieved individually than any other team in the league and, together, they have accomplished more than the rest of the league combined. Between the Celtics seventeen titles and the Lakers sixteen, these two franchises have won thirty three of a possible sixty one titles and dominated every decade in league history except the 1990s. Furthermore, these titles have hardly occurred in opposing periods of strength; the two have consistently fielded great franchises and fought one another for top dog status. The two have clashed from the NBA’s inception onward as the Lakers won five of the first six available titles (1949, 50, 52, 53, 54) behind Hall of Fame center George Mikan but then lost their mantle to Bill Russell’s Celtics.

Russell’s Celtics then dominated the NBA with twelve titles between 1957 and 1975. However, the Golden Age of Celtics basketball was not met without resistance as the Lakers fielded an outstanding squad including guards Jerry West and Elgin Baylor; a team that, with the addition of the great Wilt Chamberlain, claimed the 1972 title. The rivalry equalized in the mid 1970s and continued to be extremely competitive throughout the Bird-Magic period in the 1980s.

Unlike the other major rivalries, which were punctuated by a few periods of close competition but largely featured huge stretches of mediocrity (Bulls-Knicks anyone?) the Celtics-Lakers rivalry was really only dormant in the 1990s since Michael Jordan’s Bulls cleaned out the entire decade. However, the Lakers roared back with a vengeance in the late 1990s and have dominated the last decade (2000's) with four titles in the last nine years.

Kevin Garnett
Thanks to Keith Allison from for this great picture of Kevin Garnett.

While the Celtics remained in decline for much of the last decade, the 2008 Kevin Garnett trade revitalized the franchise and the two teams dueled for the NBA Championship that year. Ultimately, looking into the future, both the current Lakers and Celtics squads are aging teams challenged by younger rivals but, at least for the next few years, the Celtics Big Three (four now) and the Lakers duo of Bryant and Gasol should keep the storied rivalry going for everyone’s benefit. After all, looking back, where would basketball be without the titanic struggles of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry?

And, as an update, the future of this rivalry looks bright. In fact, the Lakers beat the Celtics in game 7 of the 2010 NBA Championship Finals. After losing to Boston in the 4 game seven's they'd played before, L.A., led by Kobe Bryant, finally pulled out a win and got it's second straight NBA Championship.

The Celtics now have 17 NBA Championships to the Lakers' 16. The Head to head Championship Series record is 8-3 in favor of Boston. The two teams have now combined to win more than half the Championships in the history of the National Basketball Association. Wow. What a rivalry!

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Celtics - Lakers Is Basketball 
Nice article Paul. For me, the great Celtics - Lakers rivalry is what basketball is all about. Looking back now I see how lucky I was to grow up in the …

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