I’ve been a Celtics fan since I gave a shit about anything. I was born before JFK was elected president. The first game I remember attending was a Celtics home game in the OLD Boston Garden. The year was 1966 and the opponent was the St. Louis Hawks. At that point in time, the Celtics were automatic NBA champions during the Bill Russell/Red Auerbach dynasty. Although the season of my first game (’66-’67) was not a championship year, things pretty much played out the same way nearly every season. Boston over the Lakers in the NBA Finals. It even started before the Lakers moved to LA. The 1959 Finals featured Elgin Baylor of the Minneapolis Lakers against Russell and Co. Four-Zip Boston. Two years later the Lakers moved closer to the ocean. From that season through the 1968-69 season, the Celtics and Lakers played each other in the Finals seven times with Boston winning all seven. So I basically grew up with Laker hatred in my bones. Never mind that the Lakers had classy competitors like Jerry West and Elgin. Then a funny thing happened … I grew up.
The next era of Celtics/Lakers was considered by LA fans to be the golden age. Everyone knows about Magic vs Bird and McHale’s clothesline of Kurt Rambis. And who can forget Magic’s “junior junior” sky hook in 1987? The teams met in the Finals in 1984, 1985, and 1987 with LA winning twice. Along with Greg Gumbel, I covered games 3 and 4 in 1984 as the field producer for ESPN’s SportsCenter. That included the McHale clothesline on Kurt. Boston was in the Finals two other times in the ’80’s and the Lakers made the Finals 8 out of 10 years in the decade. So every NBA Finals between 1980-89 featured one or both teams. As a Celtics fan, I watched with amazement as the Lakers dazzled the basketball world with a style of play that was a mix of athleticism and performance art. The maestro was Magic but his cast included all time greats like Kareem and James Worthy along with role players like Rambis and high wire acts like Byron Scott and Michael Cooper. At the end of the decade, the Lakers won five titles to Boston’s three. Deep down, many Celtics fans knew that the Lakers were ascending while our C’s were headed for a decline. And it was true.
Fast forward to 1993 when I was in my second stint at ESPN. That was the year I became the NBA studio coordinating producer in Bristol. Magic’s reign was over and Kobe and Shaq had yet to join LA. But now I was in a position where I began dealing with teams from around the league. During my ESPN years, I was in charge of the studio analysts. I made their schedules, managed their appearances, did shows with them, provided coaching and feedback , and grew close to most of them. Several were former Lakers players and coaches. The five that stand out are Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, Coach Mike Brown, Jon Barry, and Magic. All of them shared the same quality that mattered the most to me. Every one was a great teammate. They cared about their co-workers, they treated everyone around them with respect, and they were reliable and professional. And all of them were very smart. People don’t really change as they get into their 40’s and beyond. So the guys I worked with on TV didn’t just become great people …. They always were.
I have plenty of stories about my time with these former Lakers. And I will share some of those stories in future Pure Hoops Media content. But suffice it to say, while I will always root for the Celtics, I will also remain a Lakers admirer. In a future piece, I will share the story of how I ended up in one of the most iconic Celtics photos ever. And, you guessed it, the opponent that day was none other than the Los Angeles Lakers.