For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Winning a Title in Boston ‘Made My Career’

Those Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers meetings in the 1980s were just as heated as we thought. There appeared to be some genuine dislike — possible hatred — for each other. The battles on the court were intense. For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it sticks with him.

Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time NBA leader in points scored. He’s a six-time champion and a six-time MVP. None of that seemed to compare to winning the 1985 NBA Finals and celebrating right on the court of the Boston Garden.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the LA Lakers needed to bounce back from a tough loss to the Celtics in the ’84 Finals

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Caldwell Jones of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1982 NBA basketball Finals at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The Lakers won the Championship 4-2. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Lakers flat-out dominated in the 1980s. They won five NBA championships and were in the Finals every year except 1981 and 1986 when the Houston Rockets represented the Western Conference. The Lakers probably should’ve had six championships in the decade but let one get away in 1984.

For the most part, the Lakers dominated the ’84 Finals against the Celtics, but Boston eventually pulled out the series in seven games. The Lakers stole the first game in Boston and were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead before Gerald Henderson’s famous steal of a James Worthy pass in the waning seconds sent the game into overtime. The Celtics pulled out the victory.

After getting blown out in Game 3 on Los Angeles, the Celtics trailed 76-70 in Game 4. After the Game 3 loss, Larry Bird called out his teammates for their soft play. Kevin McHale responded with a hard clothesline foul of Kurt Rambis in Game 4 that swung momentum in Boston’s favor. The Celtics evened the series with another overtime victory.

The teams held serve on their home court for the next three games. The Celtics clinched the series with a 111-102 victory. That didn’t sit well with the Lakers.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers earned sweet revenge in ’85

The Lakers and Celtics met again in the 1985 NBA Finals, with the Lakers clearly seeking revenge. Things didn’t go so well for LA in Game 1 in Boston. The Celtics cruised to a 148-114 victory in what has been known as the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers, however, won four of the next five games. They clinched the series with a 111-100 Game 6 victory at the Boston Garden.

Many years later, that win still puts a smile on Abdul-Jabbar’s face.

“That was our year,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a 2020 video put out by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “We finally beat the Celtics. The Laker/Celtics thing was dead now because we went up there and whooped them in Boston Garden. We were the only team to win a championship in Boston Garden other than the Boston Celtics.

“They got to live with that forever. That’s awesome. That made my career. It was that good to me. I enjoyed 1985, and I’m still enjoying it.

“Six games. And they were lucky they got out of The Forum with a win. what’s his name’s song, “I love LA,” come on. Everything just fit together so nice that year. We started using that as our theme song, and we went on and kicked that ass in Boston.”

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t the only Lakers player gloating after the ’85 title

Seeing Abdul-Jabbar still smiling after that 1985 championship proves just how much those Celtics vs. Lakers series were. The Celtics/Lakers rivalry, however, wasn’t dead after that series, as he alluded to. If it was, maybe it was because the Lakers failed to get back to the championship the following year. In 1986, the Celtics returned and knocked off the Houston Rockets for their third title of the decade.

The Celtics and Lakers were both back fighting for a title in 1987, with the Lakers coming out on top. The rivalry did not end in ’85.

Abdul-Jabbar was not the lone Laker to gloat after that ’85 season when they were able to celebrate in front of some unhappy Celtics fans. The Lakers used the collapse of ’84 as motivation. Magic Johnson admitted that years later.

“You can’t look at 1985 without looking at 1984,” Magic Johnson said to Sports Illustrated in 2015. “We all thought we should’ve won. It was the ultimate motivator.”

Rambis said there was no better feeling than celebrating a championship in Boston.

“A part of you wants to win a championship in front of your home fans,” said Rambis. “But for a competitive athlete, it doesn’t get any better than jamming it to a team on their home court, particularly the Celtics.”

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