These Celtics are most reminiscent of the 1969 Last Legs model that beat the Lakers in seven games with guile rather than strength. The '69 Celtics had more players over 30 than below it, lost Bill Russell and Sam Jones to retirement immediately after the series, and Bailey Howell, Larry Siegfried and Emmette Bryant within two years.
Plus, the '69 team is the only Celtic finalist with a worse regular season record (48-34 to this season's 50-32), which means that they do not come to this series as titans so much as memories of titans. The '69 Celtics finished fourth in the East, and so did these, and it's hard to claim the crown as a four-seed until you've actually won it.
As for the Lakers, this may be the first Finals team they have assembled with only one Hall of Famer - Kobe Bryant. Sure, maybe Pau Gasol can be one in time, and his function in the Laker engine has always been underestimated, but the Lakers have always been about two great players in search of a third, or so many brilliant support players to make the third unnecessary.
Jerry West and Elgin Baylor didn't win until Wilt Chamberlain finished the group. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes and the emergent Michael Cooper, but Magic Johnson changed them into the dominant team of the '80s. Bryant won with Shaquille O'Neal, and didn't win again until Gasol became his subtle but effective counterpoint.
Even the coaches, Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson, have taken on their preordained roles, as befits men who have been at the same job for a long time. Jackson has been in L.A. for 10 of the last 11 years, long enough for owner Jerry Buss to get pretty well sick of him, and long enough for his preseries referee-baiting to have even worn out David Stern.
And Rivers, the second longest-serving Celtics coach since Red Auerbach (Tom Heinsohn being the first) is starting to look the part, with an edge to his voice and demeanor that indicates he is eager for this series to play as the '69 series did, with the Lakers assuming the mantle of lofty superiors and the Celtics as grizzled old counterpunchers.
Oh, there are intriguing new faces that could take this series in unexpected places - Glen Davis and Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom as sixth man and Kendrick Perkins and, of course, Rondo. There is, in short, new to be found among the old, the Paul Pierces and Rasheed Wallaces and Derek Fishers and Ron Artests. And yes, Kobe Bryants.
But for the most part, this series begins as prisoner to the past, and it may well end there as well. One can hope for different, but that's not the way to bet - not when so many forces are aligned against it.
- #05 (Walton)
- #08 (Wedman)
- #12 (Sichting)
- 1971-72 Lakers
- 2007-08 Scores
- Banner 17
- Grassy Knoll Network
- Green Mile
- Larry & Magic
- NBA Scoreboard
- Russell v. Chamberlain
- Walton Gang (1977)