Lakers overcame decades of frustration in beating Celtics for title
Amid the celebratory confusion of the Los Angeles locker room, forward Kurt Rambis was asked about the mental obstacle the Boston Celtics had presented to the new champions of the National Basketball Association. How about all those losses to Boston in the '60s, a reporter wondered, hadn't they weighed heavily in thought?
``Hey,'' the stringy-haired forward said, his eyes twinkling through black-rimmed glasses, ``I'm too young to know about any of that stuff.''
``But Kurt,'' the scribe countered good naturedly, ``you know some American history don't you?''
The point, of course, is that a person doesn't have to be an eyewitness to events to be familiar with them and understand their significance. And until now, Boston's playoff dominance over the Lakers was unquestionably one of the most clearly defined themes in the league's 39-year existence.
Whenever things boiled down to the Celtics versus the Lakers, you were basically assured that, like the Royal Canadian Mounties of basketball, the Celtics would always get their championship rings. Eight of Boston's 15 league crowns were achieved at the Lakers' expense, dating from 1959 when they were the Minneapolis Lakers to last spring.
Memories of the most recent defeat were especially disturbing, since the powerful Lakers were guilty of letting the Celtics back into the series with some mental lapses.
``The agony we felt,'' said Coach Pat Riley in remembering the scene after the seventh-game Waterloo, ``came in realizing we'd have to wait a whole year for another chance.''
Los Angeles, which played with a greater sense of mission this time, again appeared to hold the upper hand. But with characteristic grit, the Celtics managed to take one of series' three middle games in LA's Fabulous Forum, forcing a sixth and possible seventh game back in their banner-bedecked lair.
Celtic mystique was bound to be especially thick in the Boston Garden, where the team enjoys what might be called the ``parquet margin'' playing on its familiar crazy-quilt wooden floor. A musician by the name of Ricky Nelson (though not the Ricky Nelson) was even on hand for the playing of the national anthem before Game 6, a signal perhaps that a remake of the record ``Garden Party'' was anticipated.
The Lakers, however, were in no mood to extend the duel to seven games, and determinedly answered every Boston catch-up attempt for the title-clinching 111-100 victory. The defeat kept the Celtics from their avowed goal of becoming the league's first back-to-back champions since the club turned the trick with Bill Russell in 1968 and '69.
``We didn't want to come back here,'' said Riley, his already slick hairstyle sopped by a post-game dousing, ``but maybe it's sweeter this way, beating the dynasty, the team that had a stranglehold on us, on their home court.
``After last year, it's sort of like writing a book, an autobiography, in which you purge everything in a cathartic experience.''
That's a rather intellectual description for what Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put in simpler terms. ``I feel like Johnny Podres in 1955,'' said the unanimous playoff MVP, who grew up in New York.
Unlike Rambis, the NBA's 38-year-old elder statesman has no qualms about dating himself, as was clear by his reference to Podres' pitching effort, which locked up Brooklyn's '55 World Series win over the Yankees.
``I was a Dodger fan then, and like the Dodgers, we finally broke through'' he explained, citing the feeling an old Brooklyn rooter experienced in seeing the Yankees fall.
``This is my most satisfying [NBA] championship because of the history of it,'' he said, fondling the winners' trophy for the fourth time in his career, adding to ones he helped secure for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 and the Lakers in 1980 and 1982. ``Boston had never lost to the Lakers in a championship series and had never lost to a team with Abdul-Jabbar.''
That, however, doesn't mean Boston hasn't acquired a large amount of respect for the Goggled One during his NBA tenure. Long before his spectacular scoring feats of recent days, the image of his practically indefensible skyhook was etched in Celtic memories.
In 1974, his next-to-last year with the Bucks, he used this vaunted weapon to end a classic sixth game in that season's Boston-Milwaukee championship series. But while Kareem's buzzer beater forced a seventh game in Milwaukee, the Celtics emerged victorious.
He is not the scorer he once was, partly because the Lakers have so many other offensive talents -- Magic Johnson, James Worthy, et. al. -- that he's just as happy to draw defenders to him and dish the ball off.
But his offensive effectiveness is as undeniable as ever, and his repertoire of shots and moves actually larger, a clear indication he has refused to rest on his laurels. In the last two years he has become the league's all-time regular season and playoff scoring leader.
The potency of this arsenal was perhaps the pivotal ingredient in the Lakers' triumph. In Games 5 and 6 in particular, his ability to hit a succession of clutch baskets from various spots and distances had to unsettle the Celtics' in their efforts to close the gap.
The Laker captain, it seemed, had his emotional batteries recharged after LA was handed a humiliating 148-114 loss in Game 1, an embarrassment that infused the whole team with fierce resolve.
``The 36 points, followed by 29 he had in the last two games defy belief,'' Riley said. ``You're never going to see another like him.''
Kareem had originally planned to call it quits after this season, but had a change of heart earlier this year and announced he would play until the end of the 1985-86 campaign.
If the Lakers' No. 33 was enjoying one of his finest hours, the same number on the Celtics was struggling. Forward Larry Bird had been absolutely sensational throughout much of the regular season, winning his second straight MVP award and establishing a team record with one 60-point outing.
But during the playoffs, Bird got untracked only sporadically, and then only with considerable effort. Things didn't flow, and many observers felt injuries were nagging the blond bomber more than he wanted people to know. The outside shooting that keeps defenders honest wasn't there, which allowed cat-quick Lakers like Cooper and Worthy to keep Bird from exercising his usual powers. And guards Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson were not consistently hitting from long range either, which meant LA could focus on stopping the Celtics' strong inside game.
The emergence of Kurt Rambis and Mitch Kupchak as valuable ``longshoremen'' gave the Lakers just the right degree of muscle to offset Boston's bangers, who got little relief and appeared weary by the time the series ended.