What makes for a great championship round rivalry? Great teams, matchups between great players, traditional powers, contrasting styles, multiple meetings, hostility between enemies, classic games or series, lots of drama/close contests, rabid fan bases, intriguing personalities, even controversy of some sort are most of the main criteria.
Boston vs. Los Angeles meets all those criteria and more, over their 12 great NBA Finals showdowns.
Duke vs. North Carolina has an added proximity factor since the schools are so close together, but that is not a necessity for a great title rivalry. And to date, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have mever even met in an NCAA tournament game, let alone a championship finals.
Had NC beaten Kansas in the 1991 national semis, eventual champion Duke and North Carolina would have met in the title game, but that is as close as the bitter enemies have come.
Boston vs. LA history in other pro sports:
Just a few months ago in October of 2018, the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 in the first-ever World Series meeting between the two clubs.
Hard to believe Boston and LA had never met in the fall classic until last season, although they nearly did in 2013 and probably would have in 1978 had the Sox not collapsed and lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees, who went on to beat the Dodgers 4-2 in the World Series.
To be accurate, the franchises did meet once before when the Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Robins and their young outfielder Casey Stengel in the 1916 World Series, also 4-1. This was before Brooklyn changed its nickname to (Trolley) Dodgers, and decades before the Dodgers moved west to Los Angeles in 1958.
Future Hall of Fame manager Stengel batted 4-11 in that 1916 Series, and a left-handed Boston hurler named Babe Ruth went 1-1 with a 1.64 earned run average over 14 innings pitched for Boston, by the way.
Fast forward to the recent NFL conference title games, where another Boston vs. LA championship matchup was created by a pair of dramatic overtime wins. It is unlikely the Celtics and Lakers will meet in the 2019 NBA Finals for a record 13th time to keep the Boston vs. LA title string alive, but a 2020 renewal of the championship series rivalry might not be that far-fetched.
The Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers have never met in the Finals, due mostly to Clipper ineptitude up until the past few years.
The franchises did play twice in the playoffs when the Clippers were a 1970 expansion franchise based in Buffalo and nicknamed the Braves. Each time Boston beat Buffalo 4-2 in a pair of hard-fought eastern semifinal series en route to winning the 1974 and 1976 NBA titles.
The NHL Boston Bruins, an Original Six franchise in their 95th season, and the Los Angeles Kings, a 1967 expansion club, have never met in hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals. The clubs have faced off twice in post-season play, though.
The Bruins beat the Kings 4-3 in a strange 1976 quarterfinal round playoff series where Boston whipped LA by a combined total score of 17-1 in the four Bruin wins. In 1977 Boston again defeated LA in the quarterfinals, 4-2.
The Patriots were born in 1960 as a charter member of the old American Football League, a year after the Celtics and Lakers met for the first time in the NBA Finals, a series won 4-0 by Boston over the then-Minneapolis Lakers.
The Patriots wore red jerseys and played at Nickerson Field from 1960-62, then called venerable Fenway Park home from 1963-68. The Pats won their first game ever over the Buffalo Bills by a 13-10 count in the 1960 opener, but Boston went just 5-9 in that inaugural AFL season.
Over 11 AFL seasons, the Boston Patriots compiled a 64-69-9 record with no titles. The Patriots did make it to the 1963 AFL championship game, but were soundly beaten by the San Diego Chargers, 51-10.
The Boston Patriots joined the NFL after the 1970 merger as a member of the newly formed American Football Conference’s East Division. The Patriots finished last in the five-team AFC East with a 2-12 record during their initial NFL season.
In 1971 the club moved out of Boston to Foxboro and a new stadium, and tried to rename the franchise the Bay State Patriots. That name was rejected by the NFL, and they were then re-christened as the New England Patriots.
Just over three decades later the Pats moved into Gillette Stadium and embarked on the most successful North American pro sports team dynasty of the 21st century.
The Rams started out in Cleveland, where they played from 1936-45. They moved west to LA in 1946, where they stayed for nearly half a century through 1994.
The Rams then moved to St. Louis and called the Show Me state home from 1995-2015. The “Greatest Show on Turf” squad led by improbable MVP Kurt Warner won Super Bowl 34 in 1999 over Tennessee, 23-16. That pass-happy Ram team set the tone and blueprint for the way the game has evolved in the 21st century.
Two years later, the 14-point favorite Rams were upset by the Patriots 20-17 on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal in Super Bowl 36, the first of five such wins for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Rams have won three NFL titles and four NFC crowns since the AFL merger.
Eighteen years later, the storied franchises renew acquaintances in Super Bowl 53. Laid-back Los Angeles is the glitz and glamour capital of the world, synonymous with Hollywood, sunny beaches, nouveau riche and high style.
So with the recent dramatic NFL playoff overtime wins by the Los Angeles Rams and New England (formerly Boston) Patriots setting the stage for Super Bowl 53, it seems a good time to re-count the pro sports rivalry between the two major cities on the opposite ends of the country and spectrum - and compare them to the best title round rivalries in team sports.
Boston and LA - Opposites?:
Boston is seen as more of a blue-collar, substantial intellectual hub, an old world city with harsh winters amid a hard-nosed, Irish flavor. Both cities are known for terrible traffic and great pro sports franchises, however.
Los Angeles is a much bigger metropolis on the opposite side of the country, a city that boomed in population after World War II and is defined by Hollywood and the entertainemnt industry, as well as warm weather, beaches, surfing, a laid-back lifestyle and flash that influences the world through its TV and movies.
Superficiality and materialism is everywhere in America but seems to be made by and for LA, where the warm weather/outdoor culture lends itself to physical fitness (and plastic surgery) as well as an obsessive emphasis on appearance and cool being all-important.
Playing to their fan base, the LA Lakers have always seemed to emphasize pretty-to-watch players who are smooth, graceful, “athletic” and or flashy - going back to Hot Rod Hundley, Baylor, Goodrich and West on up through Johnson, Worthy, Jabbar, Wilkes, Kobe and others. Or when it comes to big men monstrously powerful post players like Mikan, Wilt and Shaq.
While Boston has had its share of flashy one-of-a-kind talents like Bob Cousy and the all-around wizardry of a Larry Bird, the Celtics tend to be associated more with the intensity, intelligence, toughness, clutch gene and skills of players like Russell, Cowens, Havlicek, Jones, Bird, Pierce, etc.
Of course, most of those Laker legends also were highly-skilled and smart, yet their athleticism tended to overshadow their fudnamentals and be overplayed by the major media/TV and inturn, the fans.
LA also has more ethnic diversity, with a huge Latin population, among many other ethnicities. A fishing culture is big in Boston, which also boasts an Italian and Portuguese flavor, but the Irish influence permeates most things and is most identifiable with the city.
City/franchise stereotypes transfer to intangible explanations of why Boston has been so great in the NBA over the years. Notions like Celtic Pride and the Celtic mystique, a leprechaun beneath the parquet floor and the ghosts of old Boston Garden overlook and over-simplify the greatness of the players and coaches of the Celtics, who have featured supreme talents such as Cousy, Russell, Havlicek, Cowens, Bird, McHale, Auerbach and Pierce, just to mention a few.
Years after he had retired, stoic Hall of Fame Celtic center Robert Parish was asked by NBA TV talk show host John Andariese how the Celtic mystique and those other intangibles helped the franchise hang all those banners.
The taciturn Chief cut off Andariese, the respected long-time Knick and NBA announcer. Parish disdainfully dismissed those easy, flimsy explanations, emphatically arguing that the mystique was simply due to the great players who ran up and down the parquet floors. THEY (and the coaches) won the titles, not ghosts, leprechauns or the banners above the court.
And while the Laker franchise history often seems to center around how great their transcendent talents like Mikan, Baylor, West, Johnson, Jabbar, O’Neal and Bryant have been, the Lakers have their own pride and grit.
LA head coach Pat Riley had the slick hair and fancy suits, but underneath the flashy exterior he was a tough, smart Irish great athlete and competitor from a lower middle class background in working class Schenectady, New York.
After starring at Kentucky where he jumped center at just 6-4, Riley was picked in the first round by the Rockets and was also drafted by the NFL Dallas Cowboys before enjoying a 10-year NBA career.
With apologies to the long-dormant Yankees/Dodgers World Series rivalry, the Celtics and Lakers are the greatest North American pro sports championship round rivalry.
Like the Rams and Dodgers, the Lakers also moved west from more eastern, colder climes.
Not only are the Celtics aand Lakers by far the most dominant franchises in league history, they represent polar opposite styles - the form over function Celtics seen as the epitome of east coast WASPy establishment, with the Lakers perceived as the progressive underdogs on the rise challenging the champion with flash and studied ease.
The franchise uniforms represent their outlooks. The green and white Celtic outfit represents excellence and tradition, much like the classily understated Yankee pinstripes. The Laker Forum blue (really purple) and gold garb is more garish and splashy, yet still appealing.
Boston traditionally wears unappealing black shoes, the Lakers flashy purple and gold. But the Celtic fashion statement also has a substantial backdrop - looking to gain any psychological edge after winning constantly in the 1960s, the Celtics went to black shoes since they APPEAR to make one look slower, when in fact it does not.
After winning eight NBA title sin a row from 1959-66, the Celtics had to constantly com eup with new ways to self-motivate and fend off contenders hungry to take their crown, most notably thr Lakers. Los Angeles lost six conseucitve in the 1960s to Boston in the Finals, often in maddeningly close fashion.
In game seven in the 1962 Finals, a missed open shot just before the buzzer by normally-accurate Laker guard Frank Selvy cost LA the crown. Boston went on to win in overtime.
A year later in LA, Bosotn made it five in a row in Bob Cousy’s swansong. Cousy returned from an ankle injury to heroically help Boston hold off the Lakers 112-109 in his final game.
In 1966 in another seventh game thriller at the Garden, the Celtics had to hold off a late Laker charge led by Jerry West’s 36 points to win 95-93.
This time it was Red Auerbach’s swansong as he won a ninth NBA title before retiring as Celtic head coach. red almost lit his trademark victory cigar too soon as LA rallied with a 33-19 fourth quarter that came up just short.
In 1968 the Celtics beat the Lakers again in the Finals, 4-2. Fed up to losing to Boston due in alrge part to inequality at the center position, the Lakers swung a deal to acquire Wilt Chamberlain.
The blockbuster trade now gave LA the greatest Big Three of center (Wilt), forward (Elgin Baylor) and guard (West). Once again the two aged foes met in the 1969 Finals, but this time game seven was in the two-year old Fabulous Forum in suburban LA.
Yet once more, in the final game for retiring greats Bill Russell and Sam Jones, the Celtics defeated stunned LA 108-106. A hobbled West amazingly recorded a 42-13-12 triple-double to earn Finals MVP honors, the only time a player from the runner-up team has ever wn the honor.
But as usual, Boston got the banner and West got the anguish that nearly drove him into an early retirement.
Fifteen years later, the foes renewed their fabled rivalry in a trilogy of memorable Finals between 1984 and 1987. Boston won the first meeting in a classic seven-game series as Larry Bird vanquished his college rival Earvin Johnson in an epic series that ranks among the greatest ever.
In 1985 and 1987 the Lakers, built by general manager West, finally broke through and beat injury-plagued Celtic squads in six games each time.
Twenty-one years passed before a new assortment of Celtic and Laker heroes met again in the 2008 NBA Finals. Boston triumphed 4-2 to return the trophy to Boston for the 17th time - and first time since 1986.
Two years later, the rivals hooked up again in the Finals. This time LA rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win the last two games at home, including an 83-79 nailbiter in game seven, to improve to 3-9 in Finals series vs. Gang Green. The win gave the Lakers 16 NBA crowns, just one behind Boston.
Neither club has won a title in the nine years since, but the rivals appear close to getting back to the mountaintop as 1980s foes Danny Ainge and Earvin Johnson have re-tooled their clubs into title contenders as GMs.
Boston appears closer to the champion’s circle at this point, but if one of the rivals acquires coveted center Anthony Davis this year, that could tip the scales.
Incredibly, when the arch-rival Celtics and Lakers met on February 3, 2017 in Boston, the storied clubs were tied for the most all-time NBA regular season wins with 3,252 apiece.
The Celtics won that game 113-107 to break the tie, and then they swept the season series last season to lead the all-time series 202-160. Boston is ahead 158-129 in regular season play over the last 71 years.
Behind coach Brad Stevens, Boston has resuscitated its championship-level tradition with several strong recent seasons while LA has missed the playoffs a franchise-record five straight years. Thus Boston has increased its all-time wins lead to 36 over the Lakers, by a 3,357-3,321 count as of late January 2019.
Before we go deep into the North American team championship rivalries, it seems appropriate to give mention to the most heated and best individual sports rivalries.
Greatest individual sports rivalries...
1) John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg. The ultimate battle of extreme opposites electrified the tennis world yet alas, for too short a time from 1978-81. Lefty vs. righty, USA vs Europe, fire vs. ice, serve and volleyer vs. baseliner, redhead vs. blonde, their rivalry had all that and more.
The stoic Borg retired at age 26 after losing three straight Grand Slam Finals to the fiery Irish-American redhead in 1980 and 1981, with their final head to head score fittingly knotted at 7-7.
Borg’s stylish, kneeling two-handed backhand and massive topspin forehand combined with great speed, athleticism and conditioning to create a formidable champion.
The most poker-faced champ ever, he intimidated opponents with a mystique born of stoicism, seemingly indomitable will, and a seemingly effortless metronomic baseline style where he rarely misfired. With his lean physique, flowing blonde hair, graceful yet speedy movement and success, he was also one of the first tennis hearththrobs. A great athlete, Borg could have excelled in many sports.
The bushy-haired McEnroe was probably the best and most creative volleyer ever, yet he also was an intelligent competitor with underrated speed and quickness. McEnroe charging the net and Borg trying to pass the master was one of the great tests of skill, will and style in tennis history.
Fittingly the duo split their career tour rivalry evenly, and their relative lack of matches made each meeting even more special. Their 1980 epic, won by Borg in five spinetingling sets for his fifth straight Wimbledon crown, was probably the greatest Grand Slam final of the 20th century.
McEnroe’s “War of 18-16” battle of attrition win in the fourth set is the most famous tiebreaker in tennis history, with John staving off several match points with great shots to even the match at two sets apiece.
Borg cemented his reputation of having an icy, iron will by overcoming that devastating tiebreak loss to come back and win it in the fifth set. That match made their every subsequent meeting the pinnacle of the sport, a must-see event that transcended tennis. In his tennis-heroic defeat, McEnroe earned a measure of respect he had not gained before from the Wimbledon faithful, who loved the well-mannered heartthrob Borg.
McEnroe earned a measure of revenge by winning their 1980 U.S. Open final rematch in five tense sets. He then ended Borg’s 41-match Wimbledon win streak in the 1981 finals, becoming the first man to beat him on the grass there since 1975.
On the rise, McEnroe beat the enigmatic Borg again in the 1981 U.S. Open title match to send Bjorn into a deep funk. He could not read McEnroe’s deft volleys nor return his wide lefty ad serve, standing well beyond the baseline.
If he could not beat McEnroe at that time, the legendarily stubborn and burned-out Borg would remove himself from the sport to avoid defeat and also perhaps to spite the American by retiring.
But his shocking retirement proved detrimental to Mac, who needed a worthy foil for motivation. The pro game and his life also spiraled downard as Borg struggled through failed marriages, failed business ventures, bankruptcy and a rumored suicide attempt. The man who inspired a generation of Swedish tennis stars floundered without the game that defined him.
A decade later in 1991 Borg would attempt an ill-fated comeback, still trying to use his outdated wooden racket - and did not win a single match before retiring for good. The one-time recluse has made a comeback to the sport as a fan and coach, and seems to have his life under control once more.
His outspoken rival has rarely been at a loss for words since becoming a ubiquitous tennis TV analyst the past two decades, something the taciturn Borg would never do.
2) Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal. Their rivalry lacks the fire of Borg/McEnroe or Borg/Connors because Roger and Rafa are such relatively nice guys and good friends. Nadal’s 2008 Wimbledon final classic win over Fed probably surpassed the Borg/McEnroe final 28 years earlier as the greatest ever. Nadal holds the head to head edg, but primarily because he is the most accomplished clay court player ever. Federer has captured more Grand Slam singles crowns, 20-17, with 11 of Rafa’s coming at the French open. However, both have won the career Slam.
Nadal leads 23-15 head-to-head, including 14-10 in tournament finals. Nadal leads 5-0 on clay at the French and 3-1 in the Aussie Open, while Federer leads 5-1 at Wimbledon. Nadal leads 13-2 on clay, with Fed holding a 13-10 edge on other surfaces.
3) Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi. Another rivalry of opposite styles and personalities made this 1990s battle epic. A much ballyhooed and marketed rivalry, it sputtered for a while due to Andre’s inconsistency until Agassi ascended to number one in 1994-95, overtaking Pete.
The athletic 6-3 Sampras was an unassuming hard-serving volleyer, while the young 5-9 Agassi was a flashy, “image is everything” phenom known for tanking, fake frosted hair and the game’s greatest return of serve. He took the ball on the rise early better than anyone ever.
Sampras was laconic but intense under the surface, a Laker fan. Agassi, perhaps surprisingly, was a Larry Bird friend and even joked that Pete was more of a “Larry Bird” guy personality-wise in a commercial fetauring the duo.
Sampras possessed arguably thebest serve ever, especially his heavy second serve. Many tennis experts rate Agassi, whose hand-eye coordination resembled Bird’s, as the best returner of serve ever.
Pistol Pete led the head to head tour rivalry 20-14, including 11-9 on hard courts. In Grand Slam matches, Sampras leads 6-3. In GS finals, Pete held a 4-1 advantage. In 16 tourney finals matchups, Sampras held a 9-7 edge.
4) Federer vs. Novak Djokovic. This rivalry is not nearly as friendly as Rafa vs. Roger, but has grown much less frosty than it was in its early stages.
The Serbian gumby, the game’s greatest defender, holds a slight edge in their series, partly because he is six years younger. But Djokovic is catching up to both Rafa and Roger on the GS singles title list with 15.
Djokovic leads Fed head-to-head 25-22, and is ahead 12-6 in tournament final meetings.
Roger led 13-6 early on, but Novak has won 19 of their last 28 meetings. Federer’s graceful movement and classy exterior belies his underrated speed and killer instinct shotmaking.
5) Borg vs. Jimmy Connors. Unlike Borg and McEnroe, who were actually friendly off the court, polar opposites Bjorn and Jimbo were not friends at all. Their rivalry lasted several years more than Bjorn vs. Mac as well, defining the mid to late 1970s on the men’s side.
Another Irish-American southpaw vs. stoic European rivalry that preceded Borg/McEnroe, this fierce rivalry was also billed as good vs. evil.
Unlike Borg/McEnroe, these battlers were both baseliners, although Connors volleyed better and Borg developed a much better serve.
Connors featured a flat, hard-hitting style with occasional volleying while Borg played a higher percentage, low-risk style of major topspin rallying from the backcourt. Both hit two-handed backhands, and Jimmy’s backhand was steadier than his forehand.
Eventually Connors would start hitting the top of the net as his missiles rifled just over the net during their long rallies, leading to more errors, usually off the forehand side. The fiery Connors would often become frustrated, lose his composure and make even more errors against the stoic Swede, infuriating Jimbo that much more.
But the irrepressible Connors never gave up trying. In the throes of a losing stretch vs. the Swede, the indomitable Jimmy once famously said he would follow Borg “to the ends of the Earth” to beat him.
The older Connors held a 6-1 edge early on before Borg got Jimmy’s number and whipped him in the 1976 and 1978 Wimbledon finals.
Yet Connors got his revenge later on in both years at New York in the U.S. Open, sweeping a blister-plagued Borg at the 1978 U.S. Open finals and beating him in four in the 1976 championships on green clay, depriving Bjorn of his best chances to win the American Slam crown. Those were the only two times Connors beat Borg in their last 16 tour meetings.
Connors is the only man to win the U.S. Open on three surfaces: grass in 1974, clay in 1976 and hard court in 1978, ‘82 and ‘83. Borg never won the U.S. Open despite making it to four finals.
Borg won the tour head-to-head series 15-8, including an 8-5 edge in finals, and they split four Grand Slam finals. But Connors held a 7-3 edge in unofficial tournaments and is up 8-1 in exhibition meetings, giving him an overall 23-19 edge.
6) Nadal vs. Djokovic. This superb rivalry of great athletes, ultimate competitors and defensive stalwarts is led by Djokovic 28-25 after Novak rolled Rafa in straight sets at the just-completed Australian Open.
Their head to head series is the most prolific, most-played men’s rivalry of the Open era. Novak can equal Rafael’s defense yet turns from defense to offense quicker and better than anyone, perhaps ever.
Rafa led the rivalry early on, building a 16-7 edge. But Novak has won 21 of the last 30 meetings, including 13 of the past 16.
Eleven times in a row from 2011-13, the duo met in championship finals, the longest such streak ever. They played in four straight Grand Slam finals, also a record. Nadal holds an 8-6 edge in GS meetings, mainly because he has won six of their seven clay court meetings at the French.
Djokovic has won a record seven Asutralian Opens, going 7-0 in finals down under.
7) Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall. These two Australian aces played 164 times from 1963-77, more than any other rivals, and each excelled well into their 30s. Laver held the upper hand 89-75 in tournament and one-night exhibiitons. In finals, Laver won 36 of their 56 matches.
Lefty serve and volley savant Laver won the Grand Slam twice, in 1962 as an amateur and again as a pro in 1969. The speedster had the greatest racket velocity through his swing to contact of anyone except for Federer, yet Laver generated power with relatively primitive wooden rackets.
Had Rocket Rod not been forced to miss 24 GS tournaments after turning pro in 1963, his total of 11 Slam titles would at least be doubled - especially when one considers that three of the four Slams back then were played on grass, Laver’s best surface.
The ageless, physically-fit Rosewall made it to both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals in 1974 at age 39, losing convincingly to a firebreathing, 21-year old Connors each time. Both were great competitors, but unlike Jimbo, Rosewall was a gentleman on the court.
8) Connors vs. McEnroe. The ultimate battle of guts and fire on a tennis court, these two incendiary Irish-American southpaws squared off and went toe to toe over 15 seasons, providing great theater, fireworks and tennis. Whenever these two fierce competitors met, it was must-see tennis.
McEnroe was a privileged son of a suburban New York City lawyer, while Connors was a middle class scrapper from the Illinois/Missouri border who was taught and coached tennis by his mother and grandmother, and over-compensated for that unusual tennis upbringing by acting overly masculine.
The biggest irony of the two is that even though McEnroe was from NYC, it was the gritty Connors who became the favorite son at the U.S. Open. Jimbo won the Big Apple’s Grand Slam tournament five times while McEnroe won it four times. And perhaps Jimmy’s most well-known U.S. Open run was his march to the semifinals in 1991 at age 39 that started with a late-night comeback against Patrick McEnroe and was stopped by Jim Courier.
In basketball and behavior terms, Connors was Charles Barkley to McEnroe’s Dennis Rodman. When Jimbo burst on the scene with his obscene antics, he shocked the reserved tennis establishment as the first real bad boy of tennis, along with Romanian runningmate Ilie Nastase.
But then a few years later “Superbrat” McEnroe came along and made Connors look almost genteel by comparison with his constant outbursts, tantrums, referee abuse and racket throwing.
The profane Connors evolved into an elder statesman of the game, once pointing his finger in Mac’s face and telling him to “shut up out here” at Wimbledon’s fabled Centre Court during a semifinal battle.
The psychological battles they waged and emotional outbursts these two emoted were almost as interesting as their great tennis.
At 30, Jimmy was thought to be over the hill after McEnroe had dethroned Borg. Yet Connors regained the number one ranking by upsetting defending Wimbledon champion Mac in a blood and guts, five-set Fourth of July 1982 All-American final at the hallowed All-England club.
Jimmy followed that up with a win over Ivan Lendl in the U.S. Open final a few months later to clinch the top spot.
But in 1984, McEnroe fashioned a season for the ages, going 82-3 and threatening to win the Grand Slam. He avenged the 1982 Wimbledon loss to Connors by steamrolling Jimmy 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 as he recorded perhaps the greatest Grand Slam final thrashing ever of a great player.
A few months later, Mac outlasted Connors in an epic U.S. Open night match semifinal five-setter en route to beating Lendl in the final. It turned out to be their last Grand Slam singles battle.
Incidentally, a left-hander won 11 consecutive U.S. Open men’s singles titles from 1974-84. But in the last 33 years, Rafael nadal is the only southpaw to win the men’s American crown.
Ironically the much older Connors outlasted his greatest rivals, Borg and McEnroe, as he became the Pete Rose of tennis. He played at a high level into his 40s with Pete’s same who cares aggressive attitude and longish, straight haircut. Rose became the all-time major league hit king (4,256) while Connors still holds the record for most North American pro tour tournament titles won with 109.
The two rivals did not even speak to one another when they teamed up to play the 1984 Davis Cup finals against Sweden, which the feuding Americans lost 4-1 on a slow red clay court. Poor Arthur Ashe, who had to coach that dysfunctional American team.
Jimmy later pioneered the Senior tour, which McEnroe still plays well in today despite being almost 60 and 15-20 years older than most of his foes.
Connors once said that if he had to have one man play a match for his life, he would choose McEnroe.
The outspoken John, no fan of Connors and his perceived selfishness off the court, returned the compliment by sayng he wished he had had the love of the game and dedication Jimmy possessed.
Seven years younger, McEnroe won their bitterly contested all-time series spanning 1977-91 by a 20-14 count, including 8-7 in finals. In Grand Slam matches Mac led 6-3, with their rivalry tied 1-1 in GS finals, both at Wimbledon.
1) Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert. After being dominated early in their rivalry, Czech-born Navratilova turned the tables and dominated America’s sweetheart over the final decade to gain a 43-37 all-time edge.
The two were different: Martina was European and emotional, a southpaw serve and volleyer. Evert was an American ice queen, the ultimate baseliner and clay court female expert. All business between the lines, Chrissie was portrayed as America’s sweetheart, but she was a noted party girl off the court and has married four times.
Martina was a lesbian cruelly treated by the major media and fans in America after she started beating Chris regularly in the 1980s. She courageously defected to America but got fat feasting on American fast food. But in the 1980s with the aid of coach/basketball star nancy Lieberman, she raised the level of athleticism in the women’s game with an emphasis on fitness and attacking.
For her dominance, she was accused of using steroids, a laughable assertion when one looks at he rbody compared to say, Serena Williams.
Martina is a thoughtful, smart woman who has written books and become an accomplsihed announcer.
Navratilova led 36-25 in tournament finals, including 14-8 in Grand Slam matches and 10-4 in GS finals. The mentally-toguh Evert led 15-14 in three-set matches, while Martina led 29-22 in two-set sweeps.
Evert led 11-3 on clay, with Martina ahead 9-7 on outdoor hard courts and 10-5 on grass.
2) Steffi Graf vs. Monica Seles. If not for the tragic on-court attack of Yugoslavian Seles (at the peak of her game) by a crazed German fan obsessed with Graf, Seles might have led this rivalry and dominated the 1990s.
But the quick lefty gained too much weight in recovery and never regained her previous level or speed, while the faster, more athletic Fraulein Forehand went on to hoist 22 GS titles.
Without her prior quickness, hunger or conditioning level, Seles could not get to ball fst enough to prepare for her devastating, grunting two-handed baseline lasers.
Graf led the head to head series, 10-5. She won six of 10 in Grand Slam matches, but thwey were tied 3-3 in GS finals. Steffi won four of the five bouts after Seles comback.
3) Billie Jean King vs. Evert. The ultimate tennis pioneer, Billie Jean was a great singles, doubles and mixed doubles player, much like Navratilova. One of the smartest players ever, King was a great serve and volleyer and a tough competitor. Evert was on the rise as the 11-years older older BJK was starting to decline and thus held the upper hand, 10-3.
The veteran King won their first three meetings , all in Slams from 1971-73. Evert won their last 10 matches and held a 5-3 edge in GS matches.
In another famous rivalry, Evert held a 9-5 edge over Australian Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. But the rivals were 4-4 in Grand Slams, with Evert ahead 3-2 in Slam finals.
1) Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. The most faous and best of their three classic bouts, the Thrilla in Manila, was actaully a non-title match. Smokin’ Joe whipped Ali in the first match, but Ali got the belt back by winning round two.
2) Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran. The “No mas” rematch stoppage branded Duran a quitter after he beat the taunting Leonard in their first matchup, but one can’t help but think that Mr. “Hands of Stone was actually right about Leonard’s slick ways. Sugar Ray was the boxing equivalent of Earvin Johnson - slick, smiling and popular across the board, but a bit of a con artist.
3) Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling. The German won the first match but Louis took the rematch over Hitler’s favorite amid the looming, dark cloud backdrop of WWII.
1) Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus. Although Jack far out-distanced Arnie in Grand Slam tournament wins (18-7), the older Palmer was more popular. His sense of style and working class persona endeared him to the masses in the traditional country club sport, where his passionate fans were known as “Arnie’s Army.”
Each seemed to want what the other had - the less-likable Nicklaus craved the fan love that Arnie possessed, while Palmer desired Jack’s trophy haul. Even avid golfer Michael Jordan professed to love the sartorially resplendent, common man Arnie.
Nicklaus was overweight and came from a well to do background where his father built him a putting green in the basement of their suburban Columbus home. Arnie’s dad worked on a golf course in Latrobe, Pa.
Nicklaus was ascending in the early 1960s when Arnie was still at his peak, making for a decade of fierce golf competition. Young upstart Jack’s perceived ruthless overtaking of the beloved Palmer was seen by many fans as heartless since Nicklaus was younger and so impassive, focused and unapologetic.
Their enmity could be petty early on in their rivalry, with Palmer reportedly saying things like he had to “take a Nicklaus” when he rose from a table with friends to go to the bathroom. For his part, Nicklaus seemed to rise above the fray, realizing it rose from jealousy emanating from his 11-year’s senior rival.
The rivalry truly heated up in 1962 at the U.S. Open played in Oakmont, Pa., not far from Palmer’s hometown. Just a professional rookie straight out of Ohio State University at age 22, Nicklaus was heckled and jeered mercilessly by some of Arnie’s Army, some of who called him “Fat Jack” and worse. Nicklaus ended up edging Palmer for the coveted title, signaling his arrival emphatically.
The rivals combined to win six of golf’s 12 majors from 1962-64 aa the duo dominated the 1960s. Nicklaus won 30 tournaments while Palmer took first 29 times in that turbulent decade. The rivals finished 1-2 in five majors five, with Jack ahead 3-2.
In one memorable collapse, Palmer blew a seven-shot lead to Jack in the 1966 U.S. Open. Arnie seemed to lose his edge and his once-unshakeable confidence when facing down Nicklaus at that stage. He won his last tournament at age 43 in 1973. Jack won his last major in 1986 at age 46 with a memorable Father’s Day charge, his son caddying by his side.
Nicklaus finished second in 19 majors over his unsurpassed career.
Sharing the same agent and travel itinerary, the rivals became closer as friends as time wore on, as did their wives, but thye never lost their zeal to beat the other.
Even after they were done dueling on the main tour, the rivals continued to compete in arenas such as golf course design, endorsements, and even beverages - Arnie’s famous personal blend of ice tea and lemonade vs. Jack’s line of branded lemonades trotted out at the 2012 Master’s.
”Neither one of us likes to lose,” Jack explained of their rivalry. Especially to the other guy, which is the basis of pretty much all great rivalries, be it Bird vs. Johnson, Wilt vs Russell, Borg vs. McEnroe or Connors, or Ali vs. Frazier.
Basketball individual rivalries within team game:
1) Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. Even though they only met twic ein the NBA Finals, with Bosotn beating theSan Francisco Warriros and Wilt in 1964 and then the Laker sin 1969, this head ot head confrontation defined an era of pro basketball.
2) Larry Bird vs. Earvin Johnson. Even though they guarded one another only on switches, this epic 1980s rivalry revived a flagging league and for many represented NBA basketball at its absolute zenith.
3) LeBron James vs Steph Curry. The Warriors dominated this rivalry played a record four years in a row (2015-18), taking three of the meetings and winning 15 of the 22 Finals games. Somehow Curry has been overlooked as Finals MVP in all three Warrior triumphs. The only Cavalier win came by a 4-3 count in 2016 as they rallied from a 3-1 deficit after underrated Golden State center Andrew Bogut injured his knee and Draymond Green was suspended for game six.\
4) Michael Jordan vs. John Stockton. Even though the Bulls won consecutive Finals over Utah in 1997-98, each time in six grueling gmes, each series could have gone Utah’s way with a few changes. In 1997 Karl Malone missed two free throws in the final seconds of game one with the game tied, leading to a Jordan winning jumper at the horn. The series was tied 586 points apiece and 86-86 in the final seconds of game six before Steve Kerr hit his winning 17-footer, followed by a Scottie Pippen steal and Toni Kukoc breakaway dunk at the buzzer.
In 1998 the Jazz appeared poised to tie the Finalos 3-3 with game seven looming ta home with Pippen slowed by a back injury. But Utah blew a bi lead, Malone let Jordan steal the ball in the final seconds with a lead - and only needing to force a foul and make free thows to win it. Jordan then executed his infamous push-off on Bryon Russell before drilling the title-winning jumper from the circle.
5) Paul Pierce vs. Kobe Bryant. In 2008 Boston beat the Lakers 4-2 to win their firts title in 22 years as Pierce won Finals MVP. In 2010, the Lakers tied the Finals 3-3 with a blowou twin in game six at home as Celtic center Kendrick Perkins injured his knee. Yet Boston appeared headed for another game 7 upset at LA when they built a 13-point lead in the third period.
But the short-handed Celtics ran out of gas and settled for too many missed three-point tries. Pau Gasol (18 rebounds) led a rebound onslaught as LA crushed Boston on the offensive glass and Bryant, despite a putrid 6-24 shooting night from the field, canned 11 of 15 free throws to lead a tense, pulsating 83-79 comeback win.
Unfortunately, the NBA changed its regular season schedule the very season Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson entered and revived the flagging league in 1979. In order to reduce travel and player fatigue, the NBA reduced the number of times Eastern Conference teams faced those from the West from four games to two.
Thus the legendary Celtic vs. Laker battles became even more rare and special, with just one visit from each inter-conference foe. Often the battles were legendary, with the 100-98 Laker win in Bird’s rookie season at Boston in 1980 one of the greatest and most anticipated regular season meetings ever between the rivals.
Even in the leanest years of the rivalry, the games have often been classics because tradition and ancient enmity inspired bad teams to great heights.
Witness the February 22, 2015 classic between a rebuilding 20-32 Celtic team and a sinking, Kobe-less 13-41 Laker club. The two sub-.500 teams battled into overtime after a last-second Avery Bradley three-pointer capped an improbable Boston rally that saw him score eight points in the final 27 seconds to force OT in the Celtic debut of Isaiah Thomas.
After their 118-111 overtime win snapped a seven-game LA losing skid, then-Laker head coach and former shooting guard Byron Scott succinctly summed up the rivalry’s smoldering intensity.
”I still look at them as a team that we would love to beat - probably more than any other team in the league - just because of the rivalry that we had in the 1980s,” said Scott, who won two of his four championship rings with Los Angeles at Boston’s expense.
”It was probably the best rivalry in all of sports at that particular time...you’re talking about two of the best franchises in all of sports.”
1) Celtics vs. Lakers
Boston vs. the Lakers conjures up all sorts of classic memories and emotions in fans who identify, live and die with the two iconic franchises.
The classic rivalry captured the imagination of fans the world over while basketball replaced the national pastime as the cool sport of the in crowd and young for its fast pace and individual artistic capabilities. Both teams represented a way of life for their devoted fans, albeit very different in how they operated.
In the 1960s the clubs respected each other, but that started to turn to dislike by the time the frustrated Lakers had lost five times in 11 years to Boston after consecutive Finals defeats in 1968-69.
When Boston clinched the 1963 NBA title in the popular Bob Cousy’s career swansong at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the Laker fans actually cheered Cooz.
By the 1980s a new hate engulfed the rivalry, as Celtic fans chanted “Beat LA” to the 76ers after arch-rival Philadelphia eliminated Boston in game seven at the Garden in the 1982 eastern finals.
Out west the ill feelings ran much deeper, as Green-is envy fueled classless Laker fan behavior at the Forum. A bitter seven-game loss to Boston in the contentious 1984 Finals only threw gas on the rivalry’s raging fire from the Laker side.
In 1985, multiple fights marred their rematch, won by LA in six for their first series triumph over Boston in nine Finals tries. When Kevin McHale hobbled off the floor after re-injuring his broken foot early in the rancorous 1987 Finals, the LA fans cheered and jeered the valiant McHale, who was in obvious pain. There was no polite applause by then for the Celtics in LA-LA land.
One franchise seemed to rest on incredible tradition, the genius deal-making of Red Auerbach, character, intelligence and skill, determination, unselfish superstars, and the sacrificing of great individual talent to make the sum of the parts even greater.
The other symbolized tremendous one-on-one artistry, superstar scorers, flash, glamour, western domination and entertainment in addition to all the great players and coaches.
It was Celtic Pride vs. Laker venom. Boston vs. Los Angeles, east coast vs. west coast. The Hub vs. Hollywood. Green and white vs. purple and gold. Glitz vs. substance. The rat-infested, tradition-rich Boston Garden, the LA Sports Arena and the Fabulous Forum.
The parquet floor vs. Forum blue and gold. TD Garden and the Staples Center. Tradition. Perhaps the two deadliest clutch outside shooters in NBA history in Larry Bird and Jerry West. Red and the victory cigar, Pat Riley’s wardrobe, slick hair and super-fan Jack Nicholson in the first row wearing shades.
The players who embodied the rivalry are many of the greatest in league annals. Even though they met only once in the Finals with the Celtics and Lakers (1969), Wilt vs. Russell was the most ballyhooed matchup in league history. It was the greatest offensive force vs the greatest defender ever, in Russell’s final season no less.
Then there was the hang time drives and improvisation of Elgin Baylor vs. the versatile skills and athleticism of poker-faced runner John “Hondo” Havlicek. Mr. Clutch Jerry West vs. sharpshooter Bill Sharman and the Jones boys. Tom Heinsohn, Satch Sanders and Bailey Howell vs. Elgin, Rudy LaRusso and Gail Goodrich.
Then came the new, updated 1980s version of the Green vs. Gold enmity. Their epic trio of Finals showdowns were headlined by two charismatic NBA saviors and richly underpinned with several juicy undercards. Larry Legend vs. Magic was, of course, the heavyweight bout everyone wanted to see, a rivalry that was the greatest of a golden era in pro sports.
You also had the stoic Chief and Big Bill vs. the ageless Kareem and his sky hook in the middle. The unstoppable inside moves of McHale vs. Worthy. Cornbread vs. Silk Wilkes. The great defender Dennis Johnson vs. Earvin Johnson. The Laker stopper Michael Cooper vs. Bird, who called the Laker sixth man his toughest matchup. Riley vs. KC. Red vs. Jerry upstairs.
After a 21-year hiatus, the rivalry was renewed in 2008 with a new cast of stars. KG vs. Pau Gasol. Kobe vs. Ray Allen. Crazy Metta World Peace vs. the Truth. Phil vs Doc on the sidelines.
Underwriting it all were the numerous banners wafting in the wind of the Garden rafters, and all the retired numbers to intimidate opponents at the end of close games. The leprechaun under center court. The Hollywood mystique and the leisurely LA beach/outdoor mentality vs. the winter cold and hard-nosed history of Beantown, and the bewitching history of New England.
Any way you slice it, Celtics vs. Lakers has become the greatest championship series rivalry in North American pro sports history, surpassing Yankees vs. Dodgers. Even though the series is somewhat one-sided for Boston, the matchups have generally been much closer than the final won-loss ledger indicates.
And with more great players, coaches, moments and dramatic series than any title round rivalry, it has to rank number one. The number 33 also conjures up two great uniform jersey numbers in the rivalry for Boston and LA in Bird and Jabbar, as well as the number of banners the teams have combined to hang.
The franchises have won 33 of the 70 NBA titles so far, with Boston holding a narrow 17-16 edge (five of the Laker titles came in the 1950s behind the league’s first great center in George Mikan when the team was located in Minneapolis). Eleven of the Laker crowns have been won while located in Los Angeles, with 10 coming during a rich era from 1980-2010.
Sixteen of the 17 Celtic titles came during an unprecedented 30-year run of success from 1957-86. Boston won a record eight in a row from 1959-66, as well as 11 of 13 titles from 1957-69, with six coming at the expense of the long-suffering Lakers.
If not for injuries, death and stiff Eastern competition in the 1980s, Boston could easily have doubled its total of three banners in that star-studded decade.
The only other North American championship pro team rivalries that come close are Yankees vs. Dodgers in baseball, and Montreal vs. Toronto in hockey. Ironically, the Yanks and Dodgers have also combined to win 33 titles, but it is a lopsided ledger with 27 going to New York and six to the Dodgers.
Yet the Laker/Celtic and Yankee/Dodger rivalries have many similarities. Both were completely dominated by the east coast establishment franchise early, while the other rival started in one city (Minneapolis and Brooklyn) before moving to Los Angeles two years apart (1960/1958).
Dodgers/Yankees and Celtics/Lakers defined what kind of person or fan you were in many ways. Boston had come to symbolize talented team play, pride and metronomic winning, while the Lakers were the flashy team of stylish one-on-one stars in the entertainment capital of the world who often came oh so close, but never got th ebrass ring (or cigar).
The Yankees were the establishment, like the Celtics, with an incredible, no-nonsense tradition of winning championships.
The Lakers and Dodgers had the pretty new west coast stadiums and colorful uniforms/players, while the Celts and Yanks preferred classic understated uniforms of green and white or navy pinstripes and white, and rotting old stadia that oozed tradition, rowdy crowds and intimidation.
2) Yankees vs. Dodgers.
Like the Lakers, the Dodgers gained the sympathy vote of casual fans and Celtic/Yankee haters because they seemed to always lose in agonizing fashion to their championship tormentors.
Green-is envy, stylish play and uber-popular stars like Jerry West, Kobe Bryant and Earvin Johnson helped make the Lakers America’s Team in many ways. Rooting for the Celtics and Yankees by the time the counter-culture 1960s rolled around had became sort of like rooting for IBM, because they won so consistently and were seen as the system.
Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese embodied the lovable Brooklyn “Boys of Summer,” made even more popular by their frequent second-place finishes to the damn Yankees.
The Yankees beat the Dodgers in each of their first five meetings from 1941-53, including three seven-game thrillers. Dodger catcher Mickey Owen’s infamous missed third strike on the last out helped cost the Dodgers the 1941 Series as Joe DiMaggio led a ninth inning, two-out Yankee rally.
In 1947, New York hurler Bill Bevens lost what would have been the first-ever World Series no-hitter AND game four 3-2 on a two-out double in the ninth by Brooklyn pinch-hitter Cookie Lavagetto.
Never mind the fact that Bevens had walked an amazing 10 Dodgers over the first 8 2/3 innings of his near no-no (and the winning two-run double came on the very last pitch he would throw in the majors), the dramtic finish would have felled teams of lesser character than the Yankees.
In game six Dodger left fielder Al Gionfriddo made his famous running catch to rob Joe D of a three-run homer and help tie the series 3-3, but the resilient Yankees still came back to win game seven at home before 71,548 fans, 5-2.
By 1952 a young Mickey Mantle had taken DiMaggio’s place in center field, yet Casey Stengel’s Yankees kept on winning over the Duke, Pee Wee and the ground-breaking Jackie.
Future managerial great Billy Martin’s clutch running catch of a pop-up with the bases loaded preserved a game seven Yankee victory. The next year, the Yankees won their record fifth World Series in a row over the Dodgers, 4-2.
The Dodger refrain became “wait til next year” after “Dem Bums”, as they were called by their long-suffering fans for losing so many close battles to their crosstown rivals, were growing weary of being on the losing end of their numerous Subway Series battles.
Finally in 1955, next year arrived. The Dodgers beat the Yankees 4-3, with Johnny Podres pitching a shutout in the taut game seven 2-0 clincher. Was it truly real, had they finally beaten the hated Yanks? Yes Virginia, it was real. The Dodger “Sym-phony” of fans could finally rejoice.
Unfortunately, their joy would not last long, and three years later, their hearts were broken.
The next year, the Dodgers were on the verge of a repeat when those damn Yankees rallied after Don Larsen’s perfect game to win the World Series, 4-3.
In both the 1955 and 1956 World Series, the home team won the first six games of the World Series, but lost Game 7.
The Dodgers shocked America by moving cross country to LA two years later, and a new chapter began in the rivalry. In 1960, the Lakers would move from Minneapolis to LA as the great “NBA logo” Jerry West arrived out west to form the most prolific one-two punch in NBA history with the stylish Baylor.
In 1963, the new Los Angeles Dodgers swept the aging Yankee dynasty 4-0 in the Series as southpaw Sandy Koufax dominated the Bronx Bombers with a then-record 15-strikeout outing.
Fourteen years later, the two rivals would renew acquaintances with a new set of stars. In 1977 and 1978 it was the pinstripe navy blue Yanks of Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson, Catfish and Sparky, Billy Martin and Graig Nettles, vs. Steve (Popeye forearms) Garvey and Ron “the Penguin” Cey, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker, the other Reggie (Smith) and bombastic Tommy LaSorda’s Dodger blue.
The two rivals engaged in a pair of memorable six-game Series, with the Yankees prevailing each time. The 1977 edition was highlighted by a 12-inning game one thriller amid a controversial call at home plate that went against LA.
Had Garvey been called safe at home when he tried to score from first on a hit and run single by Glenn Burke, the Dodgers would have won the game and perhaps the Series. Replays showed Garvey was safe and beat the toss home from normally weak-throwing Yankee center fielder Mickey Rivers. Instead, the Yankees got th ehome field call, won the game 4-3 and the Series in six.
In game six back at Yankee Stadium, Jackson finished off LA and the 1977 Series with a historic bang, hitting home runs on three successive pitches off three different pitchers in the clincher.
The 1978 rematch was a little less dramatic, as the Yankees closed it out in six at LA. After losing the first two games in Dodger Stadium, New York roared back to take th enext four and the title. Gold glover Nettles made several great plays at third base to help struggling southpaw Ron Guidry (25-3 that season) win game three and keep the Yankees from falling down 0-3.
Three years later, the rival smet again, for the last time as of 2016. LA fell behind 2-0 in the Series and looked to be the Yankee victim again. But this time the comeback Dodgers would not go down.
Rookie pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela gutted his way through a complete-game, 153-pitch outing in game three at home. Constantly pitching out of trouble, the screwballing southpawkept LA alive with a must-win 5-4 effort as he scattered nine hits and seven walks.
An inspired LA club roared from a 4-0 deficit to win game four, 8-7. After another tense one-run win at home in game five, the Dodgers sweetly clinched the Series crown in hallowed Yankee Stadium with a 9-2 blowout win.
The Yankees lead in World Series game wins vs. the Dodgers, 37-28. Since the Bums moved to LA, they lead in Series games won, 12-10, while splitting four World Series meetings.
However, 36 years later the once constantly-meeting rivals have yet to face off again with the title on the line. In the interim, Boston and the Lakers have met in five ,ore dramatic NBA Finals to unseat their rivalry as the greatest.
Yankees/Dodgers World Series history (Yankees 8, Dodgers 3)
1941 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–1
1947 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–3
1949 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–1
1952 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–3
1953 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–1
1955 World Series: Dodgers defeat Yankees, 4–3
1956 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–3
1963 World Series: Dodgers defeat Yankees, 4–0
1977 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–2
1978 World Series: Yankees defeat Dodgers, 4–2
1981 World Series: Dodgers defeat Yankees, 4–2
1) Boston and the Lakers.
The two long-time foes have met in the Finals 12 times, with the Celtics winning nine of 12, although LA has won three of the last four meetings. Similarly, the Yankees lead the Dodgers 8-3, with the Dodgers having won three of the last six Series.
In total NBA Finals games the Celtics lead the Lakers, 43-31. Even both team’s parallel greatness extends off the court to the microphone, with Johnny Most and Laker legend Chick Hearn the two most famous, long-standing and accomplished play-by-play announcers in NBA annals.
The Yankees and Dodgers also boast great announcers, with the venerable Vin Scully having called Dodgers games from 1950-2016, while Mel Allen was the voice of the Yankees and later “This Week in Baseball” for decades.
Only twice has there been a sweep in either rivalry. Boston swept the Minneapolis Lakers, led by rookie Elgin Baylor, in 1959. The newly-christened LA Dodgers swept the Yanks 4-0 in 1963.
Five of the 12 Celtic/Laker Finals have gone seven games, while four Dodger/Yankees series went the distance. Boston won in seven in 1962, 1965, 1969 and 1984, with each game being a classic. In 2010, LA won a defensive battle in the Staples Center.
In 1962, Boston won in overtime after Frank Selvy missed a potential title-winning mid-range jumper just before th ebuzzer in regulation.
Three years later, Jerry West led a great late Laker rally that came up just short, 95-93. In 1969, Wilt and Russell faced off in the Finals although West and John Havlicek were the superstars of the series.
For the first time in the series rivalry, LA had the homecourt advantage and took a 2-0 lead. Boston stayed alive by winning game four 89-88 on a Sam Jones 17-footer atthe buzzer that tied the series, 2-2.
The teams held serve and then met in the Forum for one of the most dramatic games in BNBA history. An aging Russell and Jones were playing their final games and looking for title number 11 in 13 years.
Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke suspended a victory celebration of balloons at the Forum ceiling to commemorate the first Laker title in LA. But someone forgot to tell the proud Celtics, who raced to a 91-76 lead after three periods of play before a stunned crowd.
West, playing with an injured hamstring, led a heroic Laker rally with Wilt sidelined by a knee injury. Scoring 42 points with 13 rebounds and 12 assists, West got the Lakers within a point of Boston late.
Wilt asked back in the game but was refused by Laker head coach Butch van Brredka Kolff. Both he and Russell were palying with five fouls, and Chamberlain had never fouled out of a game in his pro career.
But then Don Nelson canned a 15-footer that bounced off the back of the rim high into the air and through the hoop. Russell blocked a Mel Counts reverse layup, and Havlicek made a great steal. Larry Siegfried hit some clutch foul shots and Boston held on for a 108-106 victory.
West was named Finals MVP, and is still the only player from a losing team to win the honor. However, the car he won as MVP was green and he gave it away, saying that it was the only time the Lakers were better than Boston.
Fifteen years later, Boston and LA renewed their rivalry with a new and great cast of characters. Larry Bird vs. Eavin Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Robert Parish. James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes against Kevin McHale and Cedric Maxwell. Dennis Johnson vs. Earvin Johnson. KC Jones vs. Pat Riley.
In the front office, it was Red Auerbach vs. West. Hall of Famers and All-Stars at every position. Scott Wedman vs. Michael Cooper off the bench.
The 1984 Finas featured sevral dramatic moments, twist and turns. LA shocked Boston and stole home court with a game one upset in the Garden. The Lakers appeared poised tograba 2-0 lead late in game two when Gerald Henderson’s steal and layup at the end of regulation forced overtime. Wedman’s baseline jumper in the final seconds gave Boston a must win and 1-1 tie.
Out in LA, the Lakers ran Boston into submission in a game three blowout. An angry Celtic team rallied to put game four into another lassic overtime after McHale’s infamous clothesline of Kurt Rambis on a fast nreak layup. Two ckutch Bird foul shots forced OT, and Larry’s famous fadeaway over his nemesis Johnson knotted it 2-2.
Back in Boston for the 97-degree “Sauna Game,” Bird authored perhaps the greatest game of his 31-game Finals career. Amid the stifling heat, Larry Legend canned 15 of 20 shots, including two three’s, and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead Boston to a series and momentum-changing game five blowout victory.
Out in LA for game six, Boston appeared ready to drive the final stake into the heart of the demoralized Lakers. James Worthy returned the favor for the Rambis takedown with a hard push into the back of his former boyhood idol Cedric Maxwell on a fast break that sent Cornbread flying into the basket stanchion.
But LA rallied from a big second half deficit to force the fourth seventh game in Celtic/Laker history. Back in Beantown, Boston built a double-digit fourth period lead before the explosive Lakers began to rally late one last time.
They pulled within 105-102 in the final minute before egregious consecutive turnovers by Earvin Johnson led to six title-clinching free throws from DJ (two) and Bird (four) in the final seconds.
A hungry Bird clinched his first Finals MVP by cleanly sinking the final four clutch foul shots. Only after sinking the penultimate foul shot for a 110-102 lead did the under-control, understated Larry allow himself a small sign of emotion and celebration, a self-clap and fist pump that showed hthat he knew they finally had won the seven-game basketball war.
His all-around excellence (27 points, 14 rebounds per game in the Finals) and determination had finally put the Lakers to sleep and avenged his NCAA title loss of 1979 to Johnson and Michigan State.
When asked by CBS legend Brent Musburger in the victorious locker room celebration if the victory “got him even” with Johnson for the devastating NCAA title game defeat, Bird replied tellingly.
”No, we’re professionals now...but I won this one for Terre Haute,” giving away his real feelings. For five years he had practiced countless hours alone in season and in the summer, dreaming of his chance to get even with Johnson.
Over their first four seasons, one or the other won the title three times, but somehow the rivals had managed to avoid one another in the Finals until 1984. When he finally got his opportunity for revenge in season five, Bird was not going to be denied.
Deep into that night and hours later into the championship celebration, Larry confided to close friend and teammate Quinn Buckner “I finally got him.”
Certainly the 1980s revivial of the Celtic/Laker rivalry had massive racial overtones. Skilled and cerebral Boston was seen as a white team that white fans rooted for. The flashy Lakers appealed more to the casual fans with no rooting interest because they were the oppressed and had always lost to Boston, were superficially entertaining and had a crossover star that America could like in Earvin Johnson.
Yet underneath the stereotypes the Celtics were immensely talented, with more Hall of Famers, and the Lakers were tougher, more physical and girittier than portrayed. The 1984 Celtics started four blacks and Bird, although McHale was basically a sixth starter.
And uninformed fans who saw Boston, a city with historical racial divisions, as an old school establishment franchise with some sort of latent white supremacist leanings, do not realize that team architect Red Auerbach was simply a classic contrarian bent on winning.
In the mid-1960s, Red was the first NBA coach to regularly start an all-black five, even though sixth man extraordinaire John Havlicek was the team’s best all-around player and second most valuable asset behind Bill Russell.
In 1966 when Red stepped down as coach, he made Russell the first black head coach of a modern North American major pro sports franchise, roughly 20 years ahead of the NFL and almost a decade ahead of major league baseball.
The Celtics employed five black head coaches (Russell, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, M.L. Carr and Doc Rivers) before the supposedly progressive Lakers ever hired one full-time black head coach in Mike Brown, who barely lasted a season a few years ago.
Of course by 1986 the Celtics were two-thirds white, with its best players being Bird and McHale. The racial factor simply added another layer of intensity to the fascinating rivalry. But injuries and questionable officiating cost Boston in 1987, and to a lesser extent, in 1985, both six-game defeats to the hated Lakers.
Debilitating injuries and age suffered by Bird, DJ, Parish and McHale - plus the tragic deaths of two players who were to be the bridge to the 1990s era of Boston basketball in Len Bias and Reggie Lewis - caused the fall of the Celtic dynasty, and brought a two-decade halt to the storied Boston/LA title rivalry.
But in 2008, the teams renewed their championship series rivalry after a 21-year hiatus. The latest renewal featured Paul Pierce vs. Kobe, KG vs. Pau Gasol, and Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers as the headliners. Boston won 4-2, with a record game six drubbing, as long-time Celtic Pierce fittingly won the Finals MVP.
Two years later, the Lakers gained revenge by winning a tense seventh game in the Staples Center. LA rallied from 13 points dwon in the third quarter to win a thrilling defensive battle, 83-79.
Bryant shot just six for 24 from the field but Gasol dominated inside/on the boards (18 rebounds) and made several big plays late as LA enjoyed a huge free throw and rebound advantage at home. A severe game six knee injury to Celtic center Kendrick Perkins also contributed to the Laker win as Boston was short-handed once again in the Finals vs. the Lakers.
Of course, LA fans would view the Celtic injuries of 1985, 1987 and 2010 as karma for all their tortuously close, bad bounce losses to Boston, especially in 1962, 1966 and 1984.
It was the first time in the history of the rivalry that LA clinched a title over Boston in a seventh game at home. Their other series wins over the Celtics came in six at Boston in 1985, and again in six at LA in 1987 over depleted Boston squads.
Boston vs. Lakers championship series history (Celtics 9, Lakers 3)
1959 NBA Finals: Celtics won (over Minneaplois Lakers), 4–0
1962 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–3
1963 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–2
1965 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–1
1966 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–3
1968 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–2
1969 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–3
1984 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–3
1985 NBA Finals: Lakers won, 4–2
1987 NBA Finals: Lakers won, 4–2
2008 NBA Finals: Celtics won, 4–2
2010 NBA Finals: Lakers won, 4–3
3) The Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs.
The two Canadian Original Six NHL franchises have met five times in the Stanley Cup Finals, with Toronto holding a slim 3-2 edge. However, the long-term rivals have not met in the Cup Finals since 1967, when the Leafs upset the Habs 4-2.
After the league expanded in 1968, the teams have been in the same conference and could not meet in the Cup title round. Still, they have met 13 times total in the playoffs, with Montreal holding a 7-6 edge.
Adding to the layers of that rivalry are the fact that Montreal and Toronto are the two largest cities in Canada. Language and religious divides add to the ferocity of play, just as race, style of play and culture often have with the Celtics and Lakers.
From the time of the French loss of Quebec City in 1759, the chief tension in what eventually became Canada has been between English- and French-speaking Canadians. The English Canadians were mostly Protestant and of British ethnic ancestry, and were associated with the British Crown.
In contrast the French-Canadians from Quebec and other provinces were not only of French descent, but were also heavily Roman Catholic. Thus as a group they did not possess strong allegiances with what was seen as the imperialist British Crown.
When the NHL was created in 1917, these differences continued to play themselves out in the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, two of the Original Six franchises still operating today in the 30-team NHL.
The Maple Leaf fan base consisted mainly of English-speaking Canadians of British ancestry. In addition, the team’s leaf logo from 1927 onward was a stylized version of the Canadian Army’s Cap Badge Insignia worn during World War I.
The tradition-rich Canadiens captured the imagination of French-speaking fans, mainly concentrated in the province of Quebec. The Habs and their winning ways also attracted, to a slightly lesser degree, English-speaking Catholic and Jewish fans in Montreal, as well as English-speaking Catholic fans in eastern Ontario.
The regional fan base is not dissimilar to the Celtic popularity in New England, and both franchises developed national fan bases for their championships, tradition, great players and mystique.
In contrast to the anthem practice in Toronto at the time, the Canadiens pioneered the use of the current Canadian national anthem, “O Canada,” at the Montreal Forum with bilingual lyrics.
Canadien legend and Montreal native Maurice “the Rocket” Richard embodied the fierce rivalry in the 1940s/50s as a French-speaking scoring machine.
In a way the intense, Catholic Richard was a minor NHL version of baseball’s Jackie Robinson, and was one of the great goal scorers in league hstory. He became the first player to net 50 goals in a season in 1944-45, and was the NHL all-time goal leader when he retired in 1960.
Richard helped lead Montreal to five consecutive Cup crowns in his final five seasons from 1956-60. The eldest of eight children, Richard emerged from a poverty-stricken family during the Great Depression and became a physical goal scorer who was a 14-time All-Star.
Richard was involved in a vicious on-ice incident late in the 1954–55 season during which he struck a linesman. NHL President Clarence Campbell suspended him for the remainder of the season and playoffs, which precipitated the “Richard Riot” in Montreal.
The infamous riot is often viewed as a precursor to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. In English Canada, Campbell was praised for doing what he could to control the volatile Richard. Unknown to most at the time, Campbell reportedly had long wanted to impose a lengthy suspension on Richard due to his previous outbursts.
In French Quebec the suspension was viewed as an unfair punishment given to a Francophone hero by the Anglophone establishment. Richard’s supporters reacted angrily to Campbell, who received several death threats. Upon taking his customary seat at the next Canadiens game vs. the Red Wings, unruly fans pelted him with vegetables, eggs and other debris.
One fan threw a tear gas bomb at Campbell, which resulted in evacuation of the Forum and the game’s forfeit to Detroit. Fans fleeing the arena were met by a large group of demonstrators who had massed outside prior to the game’s start.
Soon, a mob of over 20,000 people developed into a riot. Windows and doors were smashed at the Montreal Forum and surrounding businesses. By the next morning, between 65 and 70 people had been arrested. Over 50 stores were looted and 37 people injured. Damages were estimated at $100,000 (almost $900,000 in today’s currency).
The jet black-haired, bug-eyed Maurice Richard was a cultural icon among Quebec’s francophone population, and when he died in 2000 the hockey hero became the first non-politician honored by the province of Quebec with a state funeral.
Richard played in four of the five Leafs/Habs Finals showdowns. In 1947 and 1951, Toronto triumphed in five and six games, respectively. In the Rocket’s last two seasons, the Canadiens turned the tables and won over Toronto in five and then in a sweep to cap off five straight Cups. Racked by injuries and age, Richard then retired in the fall of 1960.
The rivalry heated up further in the 1960s, where the two opposing franchises won every Stanley Cup of the decade except for 1961, when Chicago claimed the coveted trophy. The ferocious feud reached its peak in 1967, when the foes met in the Cup Finals amid the backdrop of Canada’s Confederation celebration and Montreal hosting Expo ‘67.
The Canadiens were heavy favorites, but the Leafs upset Montreal 4-2. Underdog Toronto won despite having the oldest average age (31) of any team to ever win the Cup. Two of their key players were in their early 40s.
Fifty years have passed and the rivals still have not met again in the Finals, nor in the post-season in 38 years. Meanwhile Montreal has avenged that bitter 1967 defeat by going on to win 10 more Cups (including eight of 12 from 1968-79) and establish themselves as the league’s most iconic franchise.
From 1981-98, the rivals were in opposite conferences and could have met in the Finals. But only in 1993 have they come close to another Stanley Cup championship showdown. Montreal won the 1993 title - its 24th and most recent, as well as the last one won by a Canadian franchise - over the LA Kings, who had knocked off Toronto 4-3 in the Western Conference finals.
Is it a coincidence that the Canadiens have won no titles since they moved out of the old Forum in 1996, and that the Celtics have won just one crown since closing down the aged Boston Garden in 1995?
The Forum was built in 1924, with the Garden (originally named Boston Madison Square Garden) erected in 1928 after being designed by legendary boxing promoter Tex Rickard.
The Boston Garden was demolished in 1998, and with it went some of the Celtic mystique as the dreadful Rick Pitino era began in the new Garden. The Montreal Forum was completely gutted and converted into a downtown entertainment center consisting of a multiplex theatre, shops and restaurants.
Interestingly, the Canadiens have the second-most titles of any North American major pro sports franchise with 24. The Yankees are first with 27, while the Celtics sit third with 17 and Lakers are fourth at 16. Fifth-place Toronto has won 13 Stanley Cups, but none in the last 50 years.
At the time of their last title, the Maple Leafs were third behind only the Yankees (20 titles) and were a mere one crown in arrears of rival Canadiens (14). But motivated Montreal has won 10 Stanley Cup crowns since their 1967 upset loss to the Leafs, albeit none since 1993.
Beginning in 1998, Montreal and Toronto have been in the same division, which precludes any new potential Stanley Cup final showdowns, yet the two foes have not met in the playoffs since 1979, reducing the once-fierce playoff rivalry to a regular season skirmish.
Of course since the Leafs and Canadiens cannot meet in the Cup finals and have not since 1967, the dormant championship rivalry takes a back seat to Celtics/Lakers and Yankees/Dodgers.
The Canadiens have actually met another epic rival, the Boston Bruins, a whopping 34 times in the playoffs, and have won 25 of those heated series.
The rivals have met seven times in the Cup Finals (1930-43-46-53-57-77-78), with Montreal winning all seven. The Habs hold a lopsided 26-7 edge in Cup final games vs. the Bruins, and Boston has never won more than two games in any title round series vs. Montreal.
Because of their one-sided Cup finals history and the cultural layers of the more competitive Toronto vs. Montreal enmity, the Bruin/Hab feud ranks behind the Leafs/Canadiens title rivalry. They reside in the same conference and cannot meet in the Cup finals anymore either.
Perhaps the greatest Canadien victory in the Boston series (and most devastating Bruin loss) came in 1971, when the Habs upset the defending champion Bruins.
Boston romped through the regular season with a superb 57-14-7 record (24 points ahead of third-place Montreal) and placed a record four players on the NHL first team, led by league MVP Bobby Orr and scoring champion Phil Esposito. In fact the top four scorers in the league that year, amazingly, were Bruins.
However Montreal, led by rookie goaltender Ken Dryden, pulled off a major upset in seven games over the Bruins. Down 1-0, game two featured one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history. With the Bruins leading 5–2 at the Garden heading into the third period, the Canadiens roared back to score five goals in the final period and win 7–5 to turn the series momentum in shocking fashion.
The 1971 Bruin loss is reminiscent of the agonizing 4-3 Celtic defeat in the 1973 Eastern finals to the rival Knicks after John Havlicek injured his shooting shoulder in game three. The Celtics actually posted the best record in franchise annals at 68-14 in 1972-73 behind Hondo and league MVP Dave Cowens, but were upset by their fierce east coast rival.
In 1971, the third-place Habs went on to rally past Chicago to also upset the Western champion Blackhawks in the Cup finals, 4-3. Their comeback win was much like the aging, fourth-place Celtics run to the 1969 title in the final NBA games for Russell and Sam Jones.
Montreal captain and long-time superstar Jean Beliveau also retired after the Canadiens’ improbable Cup 1971 triumph. Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups with Montreal in 18 full seasons from 1953-71, one less ring than Russell.
Furthermore, the home team won the first six games of both the 1969 NBA Finals and 1971 Stanley Cup finals. But in each case, the underdog then won a tense game seven on the road.
Montreal came back from a 2-0 deficit in the final 23 minutes to eke out a 3-2 win in Chicago Stadium in game seven of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals, which proved to be the last game for Blackhawk superstar Bobby Hull in a Chicago uniform as he jumped to the upstart WHA the next season.
Meanwhile, the 1969 Celtics held on for a 108-106 seventh game win in the LA Forum to clinch banner number 11.
All-time Leafs/Canadiens series: 396–314–88–8, in favor of Montreal
Regular season series: 354–285–88–8, in favor of Montreal
Post-season results: 42–29, in favor of Montreal
Montreal vs. Toronto Stanley Cup Finals meetings (Toronto 3, Montreal 2)
1947 Stanley Cup Finals: Maple Leafs, 4-2
1951 Stanley Cup Finals: Maple Leafs, 4-1
1959 Stanley Cup Finals: Canadiens, 4-1
1960 Stanley Cup Finals: Canadiens, 4-0
1967 Stanley Cup Finals: Toronto 4, Montreal 2
4) In the NFL Super Bowl era, the greatest championship rivalry has been between two football-crazy regions and fan bases, Dallas vs. Pittsburgh. However, they only have met three times for the title in 53 years of Super Bowl competition.
The Steelers won the first two title round meetings, a pair of classic 1970s battles, by scores of 21-17 and 35-31.
In Super Bowl X, wide receiver Lynn Swan made two spectacular catches to spur the Steelers to victory and earn MVP honors. Still, the Steelers had to intercept a last-second Roger Staubach Hail Mary heave into the end zone.
Four years later in the rematch, Dallas was the defending champion looking to repeat and capture their third title of the decade. But it was Pittsburgh who held off a 14-point fourth quarter Dallas rally led by Staubach to win their third Super Bowl of the decade.
The epic, star-studded showdown featured 20 future NFL Hall of Fame players, coaches and front office executives. It is still considered one of the best Super Bowls ever. It would be 17 more years before the two iconic franchises would maeet again in football’s biggest showcase.
In Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys gained a measure of revenge in 1996 with a workmanlike 27-17 victory to notch their third Super Bowl win in four seasons. Dallas leads their all-time series, 17-15, but Pittsburgh holds the all-important championship meetings edge, 2-1.
In the pre-Super Bowl era, the Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears was the greatest and most enduring rivalry. As of 2018, the all-time series is led narrowlyby Green Bay 97-95 with six ties.
However, since the teams have been in the same division and conference for much of their existence, they could not meet in the NFL title game often. In 1941, The Bears won their first playoff meeting 33-14 to advance to the title game, which they won over the Giants.
Twice the Bears, who dominated the rivalry early on, led by as many as 24 games in the head-to-head series.
In 2010, the ancient rivals met in the NFC title game, with Green Bay coming out on top 21-14.
The Packers have won a record 13 NFL titles, including four Super Bowls. The Bears have nine NFL crowns, including one Super Bowl. All-time, Green Bay has a record of 743-571-38, while Chicago is almost identical at 761-583-42.
In their 198 all-time meetings, Green Bay has scored 3,434 points while Chicago has tallied 3,411.
Because of their 12 dramatic Finals meetings, the 51 Hall of Famers on their rosters (28 for Boston, 23 for the Lakers), the iconic cosches (Red, Riley, Phil) and front office executives, not to mention all the great games, moments and the longevity of their title round rivalry (1959-2010, Celtics vs. Lakers has overtaken the dormant Yankees vs. Dodgers World Series history as the greatest championship rivalry in North American pro sports annals.
It will be interesting to watch for when Boston and Los Angeles will meet again in the NBA Finals. Since their first championship meeting in 1959, there have been stretches of 15 years (1969-84) and 21 years (1987-2008) between Finals showdowns.
Right now the fierce foes are nine years removed from their last Finals battle back in 2010. But with the upward trend of both teams recently, 2020 could mark a renewal of the greatest team sports championship rivalry in North American pro sports.
To contact the autor directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.