They will own half of the 62 titles in the history of the NBA between them once this series has been decided. As a child of the 1960s, if you didn't have an NBA team in your city, it was easy to become a fan of either franchise, and it happened again two decades later in an expanded version of the league as well.
2008 NBA Finals
Tuesday's Game 6
- Celtics crush Lakers, win NBA title
- Hill: Bad karma for Zen Master
- Kahn: Celtics win it with defense
- Kriegel: Celtics bring pride back
- Rosen: Boston at its best in finale
- Goodman: Kobe comes up short
- Hill: Rivalry's 10 greatest moments
- Behrendt: Bird, Magic reminisce
- Hill: Ranking the Celtics-Lakers Finals
- Boeck: West revisits the rivalry
- Kahn: Gamesmanship marks rivalry
- Whatifsports.com: All-time teams series
- Finals pics: Game 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1
- NBA Finals Video Central
- Marques Johnson Game 6 analysis
- Game 6 postgame: Celtics | Lakers
- NBA Finals central: Lakers-Celtics
- Title talk: Discuss Celts championship
- Complete NBA playoff coverage
Consequently, they are both loved and loathed in equal parts.
Indeed, when the NBA Finals unfold Thursday between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, there will be a stronger sense of history than we've seen for many years, if only because the two teams haven't met in the Finals since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 1987.
It is a dream matchup in a lot of ways because 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant is dripping with superstardom and a young team. In some ways, it even overshadows coach Phil Jackson vying for his record 10th NBA title as a coach, which would break the tie he's presently in with the late Celtics coach Red Auerbach. It would be the 15th title in Lakers franchise history, dating back to the five they won while still in Minneapolis beginning in 1949.
On the flip side, there is this amazing transformation designed by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, altering the quicksand course of youth around All-Star Paul Pierce last summer by trading for one of the great shooters of all-time in guard Ray Allen. He followed that up with the acquisition of Kevin Garnett, one of the most complete frontcourt players to ever grace the game. He filled in the blanks around them with veterans, all in hope of registering a 17th title in Celtics lore.
What we're left with is deciding which team will win ... and because they have deviated in approach so dramatically, it's a tough call.
The inclination is to go with the Celtics because they were the most dominant team all season, winning 66 games, 31 of those on the road, and were the only team to go into Texas and sweep the Spurs, Mavericks and Rockets. But if it were only that, the choice would be easy.
It isn't that easy. The Celtics looked surprisingly vulnerable through the first 16 games of the playoffs, taken to seven games by the 37-45 Atlanta Hawks and then the 45-37 Cleveland Cavaliers. They tied a record by losing their first six playoff road games and went into Detroit for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals tied at 1-1, having lost their first home game of the postseason.
That's where the worm turned for the C's. Garnett was generally consistent throughout. The change came with Allen gradually coming out of his shooting funk, Pierce starting to have good games on the road, and young point guard Rajon Rondo starting to match his productivity at home on the road.
They impressively took out the Pistons in six, putting them away in the Palace of Auburn Hills with their league-best defense tying the Pistons in knots when it mattered most. The questions left for coach Doc Rivers are how he uses his aging bench because the young Lakers are loaded.
Despite having the most playoff wins of any coach in history as well as the best winning percentage in the regular season and postseason, Jackson has only one coach of the year trophy 1996 when the Chicago Bulls set a record with 72 wins. But this very well may have been his best year, contradicting his sixth-place finish in the balloting for the appropriately named Red Auerbach Trophy.
Bryant spent the offseason moaning and groaning about the desire to be traded because this team was in rebuilding mode. They brought back veteran point guard Derek Fisher after a three-year absence and that helped Bryant calm down by training camp. But there were his complaints about young center Andrew Bynum not being ready, Lamar Odom underachieving, and the rest of the players being too young to matter.
Bynum, the 20-year-old center, quickly blossomed into a double-double performer, Odom made his presence felt more consistently, and the bench of Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf transitioned into a productive unit. No longer did they just hold the fort when Bryant and Co. would need a break. Jackson developed them into a group that could actually build a lead on the other team's second group.
It grew to the point that Jackson would comfortably replace any of the starters whether in foul trouble or just struggling with any of the above, seamlessly. They were good, and solidly battling for the homecourt, until Bynum went down with a knee injury that would end his season and ultimately require surgery.
Then came the trade.
Without cutting into the core and throwing in first-round draft picks, general manager Mitch Kupchak acquired All-Star forward/center Pau Gasol. He fit into the middle of the triangle offense like a glove. His versatile scoring repertoire, good rebounding instincts and great passing skills made everybody better particularly Odom. They took off, winning the Pacific Division and the Western Conference, carrying a glittering 34-10 record since the deal into the Finals.
So where do we go with this?
It's easy to focus on the Celtics, with their fabulous trio and homecourt advantage.
But the caveat is the MVP. With three rings already in his pocket from 2000-02 with Fisher, Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal on the Lakers, Bryant is on a mission to carve out his own dynasty as a leader. The Lakers are 12-3 in the playoffs, with Bryant averaging 31.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals. The presence of Fisher, the addition of Gasol and the growth of Odom have helped him grow from not taking any shots or taking all the shots, to feeling his way through games while incorporating everyone else.
At 29, he's in his prime and with Bynum's surgery a success, this will the first of what is likely to be several more titles as he has finally established himself as one of the NBA's all-time greats.
A few more rings will be just a matter of course, beginning with this one.