1980s vs. Today: Lakers-Celtics   

Updated: June 5, 2008, 12:43 PM ET

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No, you haven't gone for a ride in a time machine back to the 1980s. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are poised to do battle once again in the NBA Finals, right here in 2008.

But does the new-school Lakers-Celtics rivalry trump the Magic versus Bird edition? And, taking a larger look, was the sports world a better place back in the '80s, or are we better off today?

The 1980s vs. Today
Was the sports world better back in the 1980s? Or are we better off today? Page 2 has the answers, specifically looking at …

Weinreb: Comparing/contrasting cheating in the '80s versus today

The ballpark experience
The sports media
The SI swimsuit issue
Sports video games
Superstar athletes
Dynasties
Fantasy games
Uniforms
Endorsements
Activism
Lakers vs. Celtics

The Page 2 staff answers those questions below.

LAKERS VS. CELTICS

1980s
The Lakers-Celtics battles defined not just a decade of sports but rather an entire era. A love/hate between the teams oozed through television sets and the voices of Johnny Most and Chick Hearn. Both franchises built teams specifically to go against and defeat the other. DJ was brought in to stifle Magic; Coop was picked up to lasso Bird. Both teams spent money on players who weren't worth the cost of green copper to stop someone on the other's squad. It was high-stakes athletic chess season after season. A precedent was set. Established early by Russell and Wilt, West and Havlicek, and solidified by McHale and Worthy, Bird and Magic.

Pros: Everything about this rivalry was a contrast: geographic regions, styles of play, lifestyles, races, fan bases, weather, arenas, approaches, attitudes, team colors, neighborhoods, ownership, coaches. Everything was the exact and extreme opposite of what the other was about. It was something no other rivalry in sports could replicate.

Cons: The Celtics always seemed to have a nemesis in the East that challenged them, whereas the Lakers always seemed to breeze through the West. The "green interruptus" came from the 76ers or the Pistons throughout the decade. The Lakers seemed to wax their Western comp year after year after year.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Talk about an epic battle.

Today
The leprechauns were real. The Lakers Girls were realer. Even L.A.'s most faux people seemed authentic when Bird's flock visited the Lake Show in the '80s. But now, thangs done changed. No one but ABC cares whether Cameron Diaz or Denzel Washington is at the game, because the Celts-Lakers remix is about nothing else save for what happens on the court. The fact that both teams had fallen off the radar recently makes their return to prominence special. The fact that, just last summer, Kobe and Paul Pierce were in Pauley Pavilion joking about which one of them was going to be traded first indicates just how far both these teams have come in a short period of time. And it's the outcome of this series that will determine how this new-school rivalry will go. If the Celtics lose, they will begin to retool their roster with the sole purpose of beating the Lakers next June; if the Lakers lose, they will begin to revamp their roster with the sole mission of beating the Celtics next June. The loser will be back in the Finals next year, guaranteed. Waiting. Hungrier than it's ever been.

Pros: The trenches that both franchises had fallen into were real. The fact that both the Lakers and Celtics have been "slumming" the past few years gives them a non-elitist quality that neither has ever had in the history of their NBA membership. Yes, the franchises are storied -- but now they're also sullied, teams that have been through the grind, the struggle. If nothing else, America loves a comeback story. And rarely do they have two to cheer simultaneously.

Cons: No hatred. There are no players on either team that breed the type of hate Danny Ainge generated (at least not yet). Yes, Ronny Turiaf has become the modern-day equivalent of M.L. Carr, but he's still not despised.

VERDICT: The '80s takes it. Because of the one factor that existed then but doesn't now: race. The black versus white element of the rivalry in the '80s was just as important as anything geographical or basketball-related. That's what made a sports event transcend athletics and enter into America's social structure. Race -- built on the Bird/Magic non-basketball dynamic -- was the core reason we all were galvanized and fascinated. And though many would consider this a hindrance to what the rivalry was about, in truth it essentially made the rivalry beautiful. It made each race respect the other, forty-eight minutes at a time.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2.


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2008 NBA FINALS


And then there were two -- the Lakers and Celtics. Who will win the NBA Finals? Let the games begin.

Finals schedule | Playoff bracket | Playoff home

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• Adande: KG dominates Gasol again
• Hollinger: Rivers makes all the right moves
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• Adande: Kobe turns away from the pass late
• Stein: Pierce's knee key to rest of series
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Simmons

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ESPN The Magazine

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Fantasy

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Audio Audio

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