A Celtics-Lakers game is always supposed to be a thing. The league’s two most successful franchises facing off. Historical rivals in a constant battle for bragging rights.
Russell and Wilt.
Larry and Magic.
Pierce and Kobe.
Yeah, there were some, shall we say, less star-studded affairs along the way, but it didn’t matter. When the Lakers and Celtics face off, the people filling the jerseys almost don’t exist in some ways.
Brad Stevens played along with the narrative before the game, saying “It doesn't matter who plays, right? ... I have a great deal of respect for who they have on their team that are playing, how they've been playing regardless of who is available, how they're coached, and certainly the tradition of the rivalry. Everybody understands what's in play in that.”
Yeah, that all sounds good, but this time around I just couldn’t buy it.
NBC Sports Boston tried like crazy to play it up, playing multiple Lakers-Celtics montages of great moments, but none of what rolled across the screen matched up with what we were seeing.
Part of why it didn’t feel like Celtics-Lakers is that it didn’t look like Celtics-Lakers. Part of the fun of this ancient basketball rivalry is that the aesthetic of it all hasn’t really changed much. Look...
[caption id="attachment_615175" align="aligncenter" width="351"] (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_615176" align="aligncenter" width="353"] (Rick Stewart /Allsport)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_615177" align="aligncenter" width="353"] (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)[/caption]
Now here's tonight's game.
[caption id="attachment_615178" align="aligncenter" width="454"] (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)[/caption]
Look, I get it. It's 2021 and everything is about finding new ways to make money. If Nike and the NBA want to flood the market with dozens of different alternate jerseys, so be it. I'm not going to be the old man yelling at clouds about that kind of stuff.
But at the same time, if we’re going to be sold on the tradition of it all, let’s lean into it. Celtics-Lakers is special because of how far it goes back, and how iconic the moments and the imagery have been.
Wesley Matthews, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Dennis Schroder were never really going to team up to deliver anything magical. We all knew that going in. Couldn't we at least have dressed everyone in a way that at least the visual cues could makes us wistful?
(Okay, so maybe I'm yelling at a cloud or two).