Larry Bird Wasn’t Wrong When He Hinted the Lakers Had an Unfair Advantage in Their Heated Rivalry With His Boston Celtics
When Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came into the NBA in 1979, the whole landscape of the league changed. Television revenue grew. The game became a global one. All eyes were on the two rivals who just came off what still remains the highest-rated NCAA men’s championship game.
On the court, Bird and Magic rekindled the Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers rivalry that hit a peak in the 1960s. Basketball was back. Either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals each year in the 1980s, and they faced off against each other in 1984, 1985, and 1987. The Lakers won the series 2-1, but Bird hinted that the Lakers always had an unfair advantage when the teams met for a championship.
Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics rallied for an epic win in the 1984 NBA Finals
The Boston Celtics had no business winning the 1984 NBA Finals. After dropping the first game of the series at home, the Celtics nearly found themselves down 2-0, but Gerald Henderson’s improbable steal in the final seconds forced overtime, and the Celtics pulled out the victory.
Boston was blown out in Game 3, the first in Los Angeles. The Lakers cruised to a 137-104 victory, prompting Larry Bird to call out his teammates for being soft. If not for Henderson’s steal, the Celtics would have been staring at a 3-0 deficit heading into Game 4 in LA.
In Game 4, the Celtics trailed 76-70 in the third quarter before Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, who was heading in for a layup. The hard foul never drew a technical, but it prompted both benches to clear and changed the game’s momentum. The Celtics went on to post another overtime win, tying the series at two games apiece.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed in the first four games, the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with a convincing 121-103 win at home in Game 5 before LA got even with a Game 6 win.
Before the winner-take-all Game 7, Boston’s Cedric Maxwell told his teammates to get on his back, and he delivered. Maxwell led the Celtics in scoring with 24 points. He also added eight rebounds and eight assists in a 111-102 victory.
Bird said the Celtics always had a tougher road than the Lakers to get to the NBA Finals
The Lakers responded to the loss in 1984 by knocking off the Celtics in a rematch in 1985. LA became the first team other than the Celtics to clinch a championship on Boston’s home court. The Lakers also got past the Celtics in 1987 when the teams met for the third time in the decade for the championship.
In the decade, the Lakers won five championships. Boston won three.
In Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours, Bird said the Lakers had it a little easier than the Celtics when it came to reaching the championship round. They didn’t have to face physical teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, or the Milwaukee Bucks en route to the Finals.
“I always said the problem with our rivalry was the Lakers could be out there playing at 80 percent and still get to the Finals, but we had to bang and scratch and beat our way to get there,” Bird said.
“It was just a fact the East was stronger and more physical. We were taking a huge beating on our way to the Finals, and the Lakers were just sitting back, waiting for us to arrive.”
Bird wasn’t wrong.