This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
It never makes sense to me when analysis of an upcoming game or series includes the records of the teams from bygone eras. If the Colts and the Packers face off, for instance, analysts go back decades and talk about how the Baltimore Colts fared against Green Bay so long ago that today's Indianapolis Colts find the conversation irrelevant. Many of these kids have never heard the name Johnny Unitas. Some of them are unaware that the Colts were the pride of Baltimore, long before they packed their bags for Indy. But tonight's tip-off of the Lakers/Celtics NBA Championship series does bring some exciting…and relevant…history with it. While it's still true that the breakdown of the outcome of the series has nothing to do with the great showdowns of Lakers/Celtics past, there is a national buzz about this final that emanates from all those storied face-offs.
Actually, when the two teams first met, way back in 1959, the Lakers were still located in Minneapolis. By the time their rivalry heated up, the Lakers were in L.A., led by their exciting forward Elgin Baylor and their fiery guard Jerry West. Even if they lost six of eight NBA titles to the Celtics and Bill Russell in the 1960's, it was a memorable time for professional basketball. And the three historic series of the mid-80's left a huge imprint on the game's future evolution, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale sparking magic on the famous parquet floor of Boston Garden, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy lighting up the Forum here in L.A., It's true that many of tonight's players weren't even born or were toddlers when Magic and Bird went head-to-head, that they will take the floor tonight with only the now, not the past, on their minds. But they are certainly aware that a nation of baby boomers lived the Lakers/Celtics history. They know there will be an added layer of emotion to this final, almost as if the shadows of Robert Parish and Danny Ainge still hover above the signature parquet.
You can bet that both ABC and the NBA are ecstatic that these two teams wound up the marquee names for the final. ESPN earlier this week already aired the 1987 final Game 6 which the Lakers took behind Kareem's patented sky hook. And ABC has the big Magic, McHale, Bird, Worthy moments all cued up to throw in as Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant flash us back to 20 and sometimes 40 years ago.
That 1987 Lakers/Celtics series pulled in an average of 24 million viewers per game, two and a half times more than last year's Spurs/Cavaliers finals. Due to the wide variety of live sports coverage and media choices these days, we don't see the huge television audiences of the 80's any more but there are predictions of as many as 10 million for some of these upcoming games, especially if they're close and the series extends to a sixth or seventh game.
I'm from New York so naturally I'm neither a Lakers nor a Celtics fan. (Please, no obvious rude comments about the Knicks at this time.) But I must say I seem to be among others who have experienced a particular lack of appreciation for Kobe Bryant. His athletic abilities have always been undeniable but his personality and behavior both on and off-court have driven many away. But this year, watching him share his League MVP award with his teammates, watching him finally show confidence in and respect for his supporting cast on the court, I've come around to applauding him.
So either way…either Kobe sparks memories of Magic in the purple and gold or Pierce harkens us back to the squeaks of Bird's sneakers on the parquet floor. Either way, this Lakers/Celtics series has something for all of us, from Generation Y to us baby boomers.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Boston forward Larry Bird shoots a jump shot during the third quarter of the Celtics game versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport