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The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are two of the most iconic franchises in the NBA. Their rivalry has spanned decades, and both teams dominated in the 1980s. Either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals every year that decade, and they squared off against each other for the championship three times.

Both franchises lead the NBA in championships with 17 apiece. We’ll take a fun approach and do our best to break that tie. We’ll take a look at the jersey numbers from each team and decide which player was better or more meaningful to their respective team. It’s certainly not a true test on how to break the tie, but it’s fun, and it’ll do for now.

There have been several players who have worn multiple numbers, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Gail Goodrich, Antoine Walker, and more, so we simply took the jersey number they wore more often. We also looked at what the player did with his respective team, not his whole career. For example, Dominique Wilkins enjoyed a Hall of Fame career but played just 77 games for the Celtics in his No. 12 jersey.

Jersey numbers worn only by Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers players

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots past Boston Celtics’ Shaquille O’Neal (36) in the first half during an NBA game at the Staples Center on Sunday, January 30, 2011, in Los Angeles. | Keith Birmingham/SPORTS.

First, we’ll take a peek at jersey numbers in numerical order that were worn by players on one team and not the other. These numbers won’t factor in on our championship tiebreaker, but they’re worth mentioning.

  • No. 29: Nobody has ever worn No. 29 for the Lakers, while four players — Lou Tsioropoulos, Bud Olsen, Hank Finkel, and Pervis Ellison — wore it for the Celtics.
  • No. 36: Shaquille O’Neal and Marcus Smart are the only two Celtics players to wear this number.
  • No. 39: Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  • No. 46: Aron Baynes (Celtics)
  • No. 49: Mel McCants (Lakers)
  • No. 51: Charles Claxton, Todd Mundt, Kevinn Pinkney, Keyon Dooling, and Tremont Waters all wore No. 51 for the Celtics.
  • No. 56: Brandon Hunter and Sean Williams (Celtics)
  • No. 60: Jonathan Gibson (Celtics)
  • No. 63: Coty Clarke (Celtics)
  • No. 71: Dennis Schroder (Celtics)
  • No. 73: Dennis Rodman (Lakers)
  • No. 77: Sasha Pavlovic and Vincent Poirier (Celtics)
  • No. 86: Semih Erdin and Chris Johnson (Celtics)
  • No. 89: Clyde Lovellette (wore it during the 1954 season for the Lakers).
  • No. 90: Amir Johnson (Celtics)
  • No. 93: P.J. Brown (Celtics)
  • No. 94: Evan Fournier (Celtics)
  • No. 95: Juan Toscano-Anderson (Lakers)
  • No. 97: Brodric Thomas (Celtics)
  • No. 98: Jason Collins (Celtics)

Celtics vs. Lakers by the (jersey) numbers: Who wore it better?

Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics shoots over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1984 NBA Finals June 1984 at The Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Note: Jerseys No. 1 and No. 2 are not included because the Celtics retired the numbers without anyone wearing them. No. 1 was retired in honor of Walter Brown, the founder and original owner of the Celtics. Boston also retired the No. 2 jersey for former coach and president/GM Red Auerbach.

No. 00: Robert Parish (Celtics) vs. Benoit Benjamin (Lakers): Technically, Lakers guard Byron Scott wore No. 00 for one season, but he can’t be used here because No. 4 was his primary number. Even if he was eligible, Parish easily wins this one. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 0: Jayson Tatum (Celtics): vs. Kyle Kuzma: Whether it’s Kuzma, Russell Westbrook, or Orlando Woolridge, Tatum takes this matchup as Westbrook and Woolridge had their best years with other organizations. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 3: Dennis Johnson (Celtics) vs. Anthony Davis (Lakers): Two completely different players who mean a whole lot to their teams. Before DJ’s arrival in Boston for the 1983-84 season, the Celtics were bounced from the playoffs in 1982 and 1983. With Johnson clamping down on defense and coming up clutch on the offensive side, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals in each of his first four seasons with the team.

Davis is a stud on both ends of the floor for the Lakers, but his availability is always questioned as he misses too much time with various injuries. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 4: Isaiah Thomas (Celtics) vs. Byron Scott (Lakers): The Celtics had 26 players put on the No. 4 jersey. The most notable was Thomas, who played in Boston for two-plus seasons. In his two full years, he made his only two All-Star appearances. Scott and Adrian Dantley were two of 12 LA players to sport No. 4. Scott gets the nod, playing 11 seasons with the purple and gold and winning three titles. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 5: Kevin Garnett (Celtics) vs. Robert Horry (Lakers): In his first season in Boston in the 2007-08 season, Garnett led the Celtics to their first championship since 1986. He played six years in Boston, reaching the NBA Finals twice. Horry, the owner of seven championship rings, played six-plus seasons with the Lakers, mostly as a role player off the bench. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 6: Bill Russell (Celtics) vs. Eddie Jones (Lakers): LeBron James wore No. 23 longer than he wore No. 6, so Jones is the next option. Let’s just move on to No. 7. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 7: Jaylen Brown (Celtics) vs. Lamar Odom (Lakers): People say Brown doesn’t get enough respect, so we’ll give it to him here by giving him the slight edge over Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald to represent the Celtics. Odom edges out Carmelo Anthony for the Lakers, but Brown (and Archibald) outshines both. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 8: Antoine Walker (Celtics) vs. Kobe Bryant (Lakers): Bryant wore the No. 8 jersey more than he did No. 24. Walker (20.6 ppg.) and Scott Wedman were great for the Celtics, but not Kobe great. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 9: Rajon Rondo (Celtics) vs. Nick Van Exel (Lakers): Rondo was an All-Star in four of his nine seasons with the Celtics. Van Exel played five seasons in LA, making his lone All-Star appearance with the Lakers. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 10: Jo Jo White (Celtics) vs. Norm Nixon (Lakers): While Nixon was an outstanding guard for the Lakers, White registered seven consecutive All-Star appearances, won two championships, and averaged 18.4 points and 5.1 assists during his 10 seasons in Boston. Nixon had one All-Star appearance during his six years with the Lakers (two total). With the Lakers, he averaged 16.4 points and 7.9 assists. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 11: Kyrie Irving (Celtics) vs. Bob McAdoo (Lakers): Twenty-nine players wore No. 11 for the Celtics, including Hall of Famers Chuck Cooper (1951-54) and Charlie Scott (1976-78). McAdoo was one of 23 players to wear it for LA. Goodrich wore it, but he was better known for wearing No. 25. McAdoo also wore it during his one season with the Celtics. Whether it’s Irving, Cooper, or Scott, McAdoo gets the nod. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 12: Don Chaney (Celtics) vs. Vlade Divac (Lakers): This is a tough one. Chaney spent 10 seasons with the Celtics, earning All-Defensive honors five times. He also was part of two championships. Divac spent eight seasons with the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. This could go either way, but Divac was traded for Kobe Bryant, so that’s the tiebreaker. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 13: Delonte West (Celtics) vs. Wilt Chamberlain (Lakers): While 23 players wore No. 13 for the Celtics, nobody really stands out. That’s OK because nobody had a shot against Mr. Chamberlain. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 14: Bob Cousy (Celtics) vs. Brandon Ingram (Lakers): Next number, please. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 15: Tommy Heinsohn (Celtics) vs. Dick Schnittker (Lakers): Who the heck is Dick Schnittker, you ask? He’s nowhere near as good as Heinsohn was. Schnittker was the fifth overall pick in 1950. He did win two titles with the Minneapolis Lakers. He averaged 8.2 points in five seasons with the Lakers. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 16: Tom ‘Satch’ Sanders (Celtics) vs. Pau Gasol (Lakers): Sanders is an eight-time champion who spent all 13 years of his career with the Celtics. He averaged 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. Gasol has the bigger numbers in his seven years with LA, averaging 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds. During his Lakers days, Gasol was a three-time All-Star. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 17: John Havlicek (Celtics) vs. Rick Fox (Lakers): We like Fox, but he loses big-time here. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 18: Dave Cowens (Celtics) vs. Sasha Vujacic (Lakers): Nothing to say here. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 19: Don Nelson (Celtics) vs. Vern Mikkelsen (Lakers): Nelson is a five-time NBA champion who spent 11 years with the Celtics. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. Mikkelson, a 6-foot-7 power forward, was a six-time All-Star who put up 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in his 10-year career with the Minneapolis Lakers. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 20: Ray Allen (Celtics) vs. Whitey Skoog (Lakers): Skoog, a 5-foot-11 guard, played for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1951 to 1957. He won three titles and averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 assists. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 21: Bill Sharman (Celtics) vs. Michael Cooper (Lakers): Sharman played 10 of his 11 seasons with the Celtics, winning four titles. He was an eight-time All-Star who averaged 18.1 points for Boston. He led the league in free-throw percentage seven times. Cooper played all 12 seasons with the Lakers, winning five championships. He was named All-Defense eight times. Tough call here. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 22: Ed Macauley (Celtics) vs. Elgin Baylor (Lakers): Baylor wins the battle of Hall of Famers. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 23: Frank Ramsey (Celtics) vs. LeBron James (Lakers): The 6-foot-3 Ramsey was a heck of a player, a Hall of Famer who played nine seasons with the Celtics. He won seven championships with Boston and averaged 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds. James is one of the best to ever suit up in the NBA. Even though he’s played just four seasons with the Lakers, he still wins handily. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 24: Sam Jones (Celtics) vs. Kermit Washington (Lakers): Many associate Kobe Bryant with No. 24, but he actually spent more time wearing No. 8. That leaves the Lakers thin at the number, with Washington leading the way. He’s no match for Jones, a five-time All-Star, a 10-time champion, and Hall of Famer. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 25: K.C. Jones (Celtics) vs. Gail Goodrich (Lakers): Jones was a solid player for the Celtics in his nine-year career, but he can’t compete with Goodrich, LA’s 6-foot-1 guard. Goodrich averaged 19.0 points and 4.2 assists in his nine years with the Lakers. He’s a five-time All-star and a Hall of Famer. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 26: Aaron Nesmith (Celtics) vs. Danny Schayes (Lakers): This might be the ugliest battle of them all. Schayes is the lone player to wear No. 26 for the Lakers, and he played just 13 games for them. Nesmith is one of nine players to wear it for Boston. Kermit Washington wore it for 32 games for the Celtics, but we’ll let Nesmith represent the Celtics after his two-year stint. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 27: Kevin Stacom (Celtics) vs. Jordan Hill (Lakers): It was either Stacom or Daniel Theis for the Celtics. Neither put up great numbers, but Stacom won a championship in his five seasons. Hill played four years with the Lakers, averaging 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 28: Quinn Buckner (Celtics) vs. Jason Kapono (Lakers): Kapono only played 27 games with the Lakers, but he’s the best of the five who wore No. 28. The others are DJ Mbenga, Alfonzo McKinnie, Tarik Black, and Quinn Cook. Buckner wins. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 30: M.L. Carr (Celtics) vs. Julius Randle (Lakers): Carr put up some big numbers with the Detroit Pistons, averaging 18.7 points and a league-high 2.5 steals during the 1978-79 season. When he got to the Celtics, he became a role player as he played with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. Randle averaged 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in his four seasons with the Lakers. We’ll give him a slight edge. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 31: Cedric Maxwell (Celtics) vs. Kurt Rambis (Lakers): These two went at it in the 1980s, and now they square off in the jersey game. Maxwell was a star early with the Celtics, but then Bird, McHale, and Parish took over statistically. Maxwell played big when the spotlight was on. Rambis played his role to perfection with the Showtime Lakers. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 32: Kevin McHale (Celtics) vs. Magic Johnson (Lakers): This is the first of several heavy-hitting matchups in the 30s. McHale teamed with Bird and Parish to form arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history. He won three championships and averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. He was a seven-time All-Star and was on the All-Defensive Team six times. McHale was a two-time Sixth Man of the Year winner.

Johnson was the floor general of the Showtime Lakers. He was a three-time MVP, five-time NBA champion, and a 12-time All-Star. Magic could play big or small. He led the league in assists four times as a 6-foot-9 point guard. While McHale was outstanding, Magic wins here. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 33: Larry Bird (Celtics) vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers): This is clearly the marquee matchup. It features two Hall of Famers and a pair of superstars who were among the best to ever suit up in the NBA.

Bird is arguably a top-five player in NBA history. The 6-foot-9 forward from Indiana State singlehandedly turned around a struggling Celtics franchise in his rookie season. He guided them to their first championship of the 1980s in his second year with the team.

A 12-time All-Star, Bird won three consecutive MVPs from 1984 to 1986. With Bird leading the way, Boston won championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986.

Like Bird, Abdul-Jabbar is arguably a top-five player in NBA history. He spent 14 of his 20 years in the NBA with the Lakers after beginning his career with the Milwaukee Bucks. With LA, Abdul-Jabbar won five championships and three MVPs. For his career, he won six titles and six MVPs.

Abdul-Jabbar remains the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, although LeBron James is expected to pass him at some point this season. He led the league in blocked shots three times with the Lakers (four total) and was an All-Star in 19 of his 20 seasons. This is, by far, the closest matchup of the group. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 34: Paul Pierce (Celtics) vs. Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers): This is the third of three straight matchups among superstars. Pierce led the Celtics to a championship in 2008. He spent 15 years with the Celtics, putting together 10 All-Star seasons. Pierce averaged 21.8 points and 6.0 rebounds with Boston.

Shaq spent eight of his 19 NBA seasons with the Lakers, teaming up with Kobe Bryant and terrorizing the league. With LA, Shaq continued his role as one of the most dominant centers in the game by averaging 27.0 points and 11.8 rebounds. Shaq won three championships with the Lakers. Although Pierce’s longevity with the Celtics holds some weight, Shaq was just too dominant. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 35: Reggie Lewis (Celtics) vs. Rudy LaRusso (Lakers): Lewis was Boston’s promising young star who was expected to be the face of the franchise when the Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish retired. Lewis, an athletically-gifted swingman, averaged 17.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in his six seasons. Lewis died of a heart condition at the peak of his career in July 1993.

LaRusso, a 6-foot-7 power forward, played 10 seasons for the Lakers, averaging 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds. He was a five-time All-Star. This one is close, but we can’t base this on what could have been. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 37: Semi Ojeleye (Celtics) vs. Metta World Peace (Lakers): World Peace, also known as Ron Artest, spent six years with the Lakers, winning a championship in 2010. That’s plenty good enough to win this one. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 38: Vitor Faverani (Celtics) vs. Chaundee Brown Jr. (Lakers): These two are the only players to wear No. 38 for their teams. It’s an ugly matchup, but Faverani’s 4.4-point average in his 37 games with the Celtics wins out. Brown appeared in just two games for the Lakers during the 2021-22 season. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 40: Dino Radja (Celtics) vs. Travis Knight (Lakers): Radja put up some solid numbers in his four NBA seasons, averaging 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. Mike McGee played five years with the Lakers, averaging 8.2 points. Sam Perkins, who played one season with the Lakers, and Travis Knight were the two others in consideration to represent LA. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 41: Kelly Olynyk (Celtics) vs. Elden Campbell (Lakers): Olynyk spent four seasons in Boston, putting up 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds. Campbell had nine solid seasons in LA, averaging 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 42: Al Horford (Celtics) vs. James Worthy (Lakers): It was either Horford, Tony Allen, or Chris Ford for the Celtics. None of them are in Worthy’s class. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 43: Kendrick Perkins (Celtics) vs. Mychal Thompson (Lakers): Perkins played eight of his 14 NBA seasons manning the middle for the Celtics. He won a championship in 2008 and averaged 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in Boston. Thompson played five years in LA, putting up 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. Another tough call here, but the slight edge goes to Thompson. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 44: Danny Ainge (Celtics) vs. Jerry West (Lakers): Ainge was one heck of a player, but he wasn’t in West’s category. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 45: Raef LaFrentz (Celtics) vs. A.C. Green (Lakers): LaFrentz was a solid player during his three years with the Celtics, averaging 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Green played a much more significant role in his nine seasons in LA, with 10.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and multiple championships. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 50: Eddie House (Celtics) vs. Ed Fleming (Lakers): It’s either House or Greg Kite for the Celtics, so we went with House’s 7.8 points and one championship in his three years in Boston. We will give him the nod over Ed Fleming’s three years (7.4 ppg.) in Minneapolis. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 52: Vitaly Potapenko (Celtics) vs. Jamaal Wilkes (Lakers): Wilkes beat out Happy Hairston for the Lakers, but either one of them easily wins over Potapenko. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 53: Rick Robey (Celtics) vs. James Edwards (Lakers): Intriguing one here. Artis Gilmore also wore No. 53 for the Celtics but averaged 3.5 points in 47 games. It’s a close call, but Robey gets the edge here, mainly because he was traded for Dennis Johnson. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 54: Ed Pinckney (Celtics) vs. Horace Grant (Lakers): Pinckney had a lackluster six seasons with the Celtics, averaging 6.1 points in 19.2 minutes. Grant came over to LA late in his career and had two one-year stints with the Lakers. In his first year with the Lakers, he averaged 8.5 points and 7.1 rebounds while playing more than 30 minutes. That’s enough to win. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 55: Eric Williams (Celtics) vs. Brian Grant (Lakers): Williams suited up for seven seasons with the Celtics, averaging 9.2 points. The closes competition for LA is veteran Brian Grant, who played one season in LA near the end of his career. Advantage: CELTICS.

No. 66: Scot Pollard (Celtics) vs. Andrew Bogut (Lakers): These are the only two players to ever wear No. 66 for their clubs. This is clearly the ugliest matchup on this list. Bogut played just 24 games and averaged 1.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 9.0 minutes. That’s good enough to beat Pollard’s 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.9 minutes over 22 games. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 70: Gigi Datome (Celtics) vs. Frank Selvy (Lakers): Selvy averaged 10.3 points over six seasons with the Minneapolis/LA Lakers. Datome played 55 games with the Celtics in the 2014-15 season and averaged 3.4 points. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 88: Antoine Walker (Celtics) vs. Markieff Morris (Lakers): Walker, the only player to wear No. 88 for the Celtics, played just 24 games in his second stint with the Celtics in 2005, but he averaged 16.3 points in that stretch. Morris put up 6.4 points in his 75 games with the Lakers. By our own rules, we have to give the edge to Morris because Walker used his jersey eligibility by wearing No. 8 more often. Advantage: LAKERS.

No. 99: Jae Crowder (Celtics) vs. George Mikan (Lakers): Mikan is the hands-down winner here after his Hall of Fame career. Advantage: LAKERS.

By our count, the Lakers win the battle of the jerseys by a 28-23 margin. Although the Celtics had loads of talented players wearing jersey numbers in the 30s, the Lakers were a notch better there, and that’s where they took control. For now, it’s the temporary tiebreaker between the two teams with 17 titles, but the Celtics could have something to say about that come June when it really counts.