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Tinseltown Boys

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  June 3, 2008 05:29 PM

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Beware of False Prophets.

Beware of clever people who know what they know, but don't know what they don't know, which is far more important.

There is a younger writer of great renown who loves the Boston Celtics, which is fine. He commands an enormous national audience, who have come to regard him as The Authority on all things Celtic. And he has an exhaustive knowledge of the current team. No problem there.

But he has over-stepped his bounds. He is trying to sum up the whole Celtics-Lakers thing in his dot.com forum, and he starts off by saying that it wasn't really a rivalry because the Celtics won the first eight times the two played in the Finals. He completely dismissed the six series of the 60s because the Celtics won all six, as if this somehow means by definition the two teams did not have a viable rivalry.

I'd tend to forgive him on the basis of him not being there, but that would mean that history requires that you had to be there. I wasn't present for the Gettysburg Address or the Bobby Thomson home run, but that doesn't mean I can't have a good idea of what it must have been like to be there. That's what being an historian entails. You do your homework.

And if this pundit had done his due diligence on the Celtics and Lakers of the '60s he would known that it was very much a rivalry. The Celtics might have won all six meetings, but it didn't always feel like it, not with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West around.

Here's how good Elgin Baylor was: he got 61 points and 22 rebounds in Game 5 of the 1962 Finals, and it gets passed off as Elgin Baylor just having another good night. I'm as guilty as anyone, because Elgin Baylor is one of my great sports idols and I just expected big things from him. But consider this: he gets 61 and 22 in Boston on a Game 5. Sixty-one and 22! The Lakers win, 126-121, sending the teams back to LA with the Lakers holding a 3-2 lead.

So in order to become the 1962 NBA champions Boston had to win Game 6 in LA (119-105) and then return home for a Game 7 in the Garden. And that game was one of the greatest NBA seventh games ever, with the Lakers actually having the last shot with the score tied in regulation. But Frank Selvy, a good jump shooter whose 41 points a game senior year at Furman had included a 100-point game, missed a 10- or 12-foot left baseline jumper at the buzzer. Bill Russell took over in the OT, leading the Celtics to a 110-107 victory. By the way, Russ finished with 30 points and 40 rebounds.

That was the first of three seven-game series the Celtics and Lakers would play in the '60s. They were all close, too. Boston won, 95-93 in 1966 (Red's last game) and 108-106 in 1969, the so-called "Balloon Game," which was the last Hurrah for both Russell (21 rebounds) and Sam Jones (24 points).

Through it all, Russell, West and Baylor played spectacularly and nobly. West averaged 40 ppg in the 1965 five-game Boston triumph. For the benefit of those who don't know, Jerry West is one of the truly great guards of all-time. Other than Kobe, there's no backcourt player today any thinking basketball person would take over Jerry West.

He was known as "Gentleman Jerry," and he was the most respected opponent the Celtics have ever had, including, yes Michael Jordan. He played hard and he played well. By 1969, after five tries in the Finals against the Celtics, he was so beloved in Boston that people probably wouldn't have felt too badly if he actually won a title against the Celtics.

Jerry West had 53 points in Game 1 and 41 points in Game 2, each a Laker victory. He finished the series with 43 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game 7, and it came as no surprise when he became the first player to become the NBA Finals MVP from a losing team. He averaged 38 points a game.

He was, yes, a rival. And Bill Russell was his rival. Each was a mystic figure in the eyes of the other fans. And the Lakers were Boston's rival. And the East-West, Old Line Boston vs. New School LA was played up each time they met. That is why it was such a big deal when Magic and Larry brought their teams to the 1984 Finals. People regarded the Celtics and Lakers as great rivals who had not met for the title in 15 years. You can't play a team with legendary players such as Elgin Baylor and Jerry West six times in eight years for the title and not have a true rivalry.

This 11th meeting in the Finals between the Lakers and Celtics (nine as LA, the first, in 1959, representing Minneapolis) does not have meaning simply because of the 1984-85-87 Magic/Bird confrontations. It has meaning because this rivalry actually goes back 49 years.

The Celtics and Lakers had a great rivalry in the '60s. the Celtics just happened to have Bill Russell; that's all. He and his teammates won three seventh games over the Lakers by a total of seven points. By any measure, that's a rivalry.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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