The Kansas City Chiefs just earned their sixth-consecutive trip to the AFC Championship game and haven't missed out on the NFL’s version of the semifinals for as long as Jayson Tatum has been taking the parquet for the Celtics. It’s kind of wild.
The two franchises have been on nearly identical paths since the fall of 2017. Both have had great sustained success, had some great rivals, and have some of the biggest homegrown stars in their respective leagues suiting up for them in each game.
Of course, there is one major difference between the two (well two, considering they’re playing completely different sports). Kansas City has captured two Super Bowls, while the Tatum-led Celtics are still looking for their first Larry O’Brien Trophy.
2017 was a massive year for these two franchises. The Chiefs selected quarterback Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in the NFL Draft, adding the centerpiece of success to their roster. A few months later, Boston did the same. They picked Tatum third overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, after trading back two spots from No. 1.
Now, the two have had somewhat different careers up to this point. It started with JT joining a Celtics team fresh off of a summer of major fireworks. They had just signed Gordon Hayward before swinging a blockbuster trade for Irving a month later.
Tatum really didn’t receive a ton of recognition until the 2018 playoffs, where he rose to the occasion with both stars sidelined with injuries. No. 0 helped the Cs take the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games, ultimately falling on the parquet with a Finals trip on the line.
As for Mahomes, Kanas City was coming off of a season where they made the playoffs but were an early exit. They still had a starting quarterback in Alex Smith, which meant that the then-rookie would be doing a lot of watching. Mahomes started in just one game that season as Kansas City rode Smith to a loss in the Wild Card round of the postseason. That was the final campaign where Mahomes would be watching from the sidelines, as he was named the starter before the 2017-18 season. He turned heads right off the bat, with his debut season ending with an MVP award. He and the Chiefs won the AFC West but came up short in the postseason (we’ll get to that later on).
Things went differently for the pair of stars in the following year. Tatum’s Celtics crashed and burned in the second round of the playoffs after a surplus of stars caused an entire season of turmoil. On the gridiron, Mahomes led Kansas City to a Super Bowl win and he was named Super Bowl MVP.
Fast forward to the current day and both Tatum and Mahomes are two of the biggest names in sports. There’s a large crowd that would anoint the Celtics forward as the best American-born basketball player in the world and just as large of a crowd that believes that the Chiefs star is on pace to become the greatest to play the game. Both guys are starring in commercials and have their own lines of clothing (Mahomes with Adidas and Tatum with Jordan).
As the two franchises have fought for supremacy in their respective leagues, they’ve each run into a few familiar faces along the way.
During the earlier stages of their current runs, both the Chiefs and Celtics struggled to get past some of the legends of their sports.
Boston fans will have no problem remembering the times that Tom Brady prevented Kansas City from taking it all the way and winning a Super Bowl. Brady and the New England Patriots went into Arrowhead Stadium back in the 2018 AFC Championship game and came out on top in an overtime thriller.
Two years later, Brady left town and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That Bucs team wound up being on a collision course with the reigning champion Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
On the hardwood, the “Tom Brady” for Boston was actually two guys, LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Again, Tatum and the Cs pushed James’ Cavs to the brink in the 2018 playoffs, before ultimately coming up short. For the next few years, the Celtics tried to claw their way to the NBA Finals but never quite got there.
In 2022, they finally did. Waiting for them was Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors dynasty. The Cs weren’t able to get over the hump and fell to the Warriors in six games, despite looking ready to take a commanding 3-1 lead late in Game 4.
Boston and Kansas City are not only similar when it comes to the legendary roadblocks that have kept them from more success, but also when it comes to the punching bags that always seem to come up short against them.
The Chiefs’ victory in Buffalo is still fresh, so we’ll start there. Josh Allen and the Bills have matched up against Kansas City three times in the playoffs and have seen their season go up in smoke all three times.
In 2020, Buffalo made their way to the AFC Championship where they just weren’t ready for the then-reigning champs. They fell 38-24 and the Chiefs went to their second straight Super Bowl.
A year later, things went differently — kind of. The Bills still lost, but this time it was an absolute shootout. Some would even call it a choke job. With 13 seconds to play Buffalo had their ticket punched to the next round and only needed to prevent Mahomes from getting his team within field goal range.
They failed and Kansas City forced overtime, where they’d make quick work of the Bills.
Last Sunday, the Bills failed to execute once again. Down three points, they put together a drive where they’d gotten themselves into field goal range with a chance to tie the game. Kicker Tyler Bass saw his kick fly wide right and miss the uprights, sealing his team’s same fate for the third time.
Who might be Boston’s version of the Buffalo Bills?
Oh yes, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia has had a near-identical relationship with the Celtics as the above-mentioned BIlls/Chiefs “rivalry.”
It started in the 2018 rookie Tatum playoff run. Philly had just beaten the Kelly Olynyk-led Miami Heat in round one, popped champagne, and were feeling good about playing the shorthanded Cs.
Welp. They fell in just five games, despite the series being full of tight games. Game 3 was so close that it went into overtime and the Sixers actually dropped confetti after Marco Bellinelli sank a shot at the buzzer, which looked like a three-pointer at the time. His foot was on the line and Philly went on to fall in OT.
Then, in 2020, Boston continued their dominant reign over the 76ers in the Orlando bubble. The two sides met in round one of the playoffs where the Cs made quick work of them, sweeping the series four games to zero.
Last season may have served as the Sixers’ best chance to finally take out the Celtics. They had captured two of Boston’s first three home games to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In Game 6, Tatum shot perhaps the worst he had ever shot in a playoff game, yet Philly couldn’t close the door on Boston at home. Marcus Smart kept the Cs in it just long enough for JT to wake up and rip out the hearts of the Philadelphia faithful at Wells Fargo Center.
Tatum was able to carry that momentum over to Game 7 in Boston, where he hung 51 points on the 76ers to close out the series.
Fans of both teams have had plenty to be excited about over the past several years. They’ve each been mentioned as title favorites prior to the kick-off of several preseasons and then went on to compete for championships deep into their respective postseasons.
Again, Kansas City just earned their sixth straight trip to the AFC title game by outlasting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. During that stretch, they’ve won 75.8% of their regular season games.
Boston will look to earn their sixth Eastern Conference Finals berth in eight seasons (and hopefully more) later this spring when the NBA Playoffs tip-off. Though the Cs aren’t quite as dominant in the regular season as the Chiefs, they’ve still taken victories in 63.9% of their matchups over that same span.
Championships are the glaring difference, but Kansas City has also been able to get themselves over the hump more than Boston. They’ve found their way into three Super Bowls, while the Cs have only earned one NBA Finals berth in the same window.