’30 for 30 Celtics | Lakers – Best of Enemies’: Recapping the Rivalry


The 30 for 30 Celtics | Lakers – Best of Enemies documentary was excellent at times, and difficult to watch at others.  It didn’t live up to previous shows in the series, however, and lost focus at times.

Much like the Celtics and Lakers rivalry, a review of this 30 for 30 should be accompanied by a general tension increase.  The rivalry’s crescendo was the 1984 NBA Finals, and that’s the overall focus of the show of the first night of the two night series.  Let’s start with the low, however, and build up to the high.

Air Balls

Choosing Donnie Wahlberg and Ice Cube as narrators was a horrible decision.  Both grate on the nerves in their own special way.  Wahlberg over-accentuates the Bahston accent, and Ice Cube can’t conjugate verbs.

Ice Cube butchers the English language.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MAY 06: Rapper Ice Cube attends Daylight Beach Club at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on May 6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Daylight Beach Club)

  • Cube, when talking about the ‘60s Lakers, “I would have did the same.”
  • According to Ice Cube, the 1969 Lakers were better than the Celtics: “You damn right we was better.”
  • The racial problems of Watts were nothing for L.A. stars, because Cube says, “If you was a star? You was exempt.”
  • Cube failed when he said, “Remember when Jack McKinney fell of his bike and West had became head coach?”
  • Regarding James Worthy, he “ran the flo’ like no big ever did befo’.”

Wahlberg tries too hahd

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 03: Actor Donnie Wahlberg gives a radio interview before the game between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 3, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Wahlberg, referring to Elgin Baylor, “Can you believe they didn’t give the ball to West or Baylah?”
  • Wahlberg said, “We were just getting stahted” when talking about Boston’s five titles.
  • In the early ‘70s, Boston was just a “hawkee town,” according to Wahlberg.
  • Wahlberg said, “Larry gave’em the late daggah,” when game seven of the 1980’s Eastern Conference Finals is the topic.
  • As the show goes on, Wahlberg tries to outdo himself. “Eastahn Cahnference Finals…playing game seven at the Gahden.”

Listening to them for nearly three hours is difficult to stomach.  Consequently, some of the enjoyment of this 30 for 30 is lost.

Loss of focus

First, the length of the show was completely unnecessary.   In other words, three hours could have been edited down quite a bit.  30 for 30 was originally an hour long show.  For example, there’s a quick five minutes or so where the TV contract and league were floundering.  It’s never expanded upon, and for this reason should have been left on the editing floor.

Second, there is far too much about racial division, social issues, and cultural issues of the day.  The first two hours of the show concentrated just as much on race as it did basketball.  There is no doubt race was part of the story.  Although this may be true, it could have been simplified with notes about Red Auerbach’s trendsetting ways, Bill Russell’s hiring as the first black head coach, the innuendos of playground basketball, and a note about the Ted Landsmark photo.

Photo Credit: US News Image Acquired from Wikimedia via Google Creative Commons

Instead, this 30 for 30 got distracted from the primary basketball theme.  All things considered, there is no real reason to focus so heavily on Bill Russell’s activism, Medgar Evers, or the bussing issues in Lansing, Michigan.

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Lay ups

Night #2

All told, the important parts of the series were on the first night.  The second night was greed, and should have been nothing more than an brief epilogue.  Maybe even post script.  The Celtics and Lakers took turns winning the title nearly the rest of the ’80s, but the real story was their first NBA Championship meeting in 1984.

Announcing legends

Focus on the respective announcers was a great addition.  One of the most enjoyable, supplementary aspects of the great Celtics and Lakers rivalry was the announcing.  Chick Hearn and Johnny Most are legendary, and synonymous with their respective teams.  Their approach is as different as the teams.  Of course, Hearn was the polished professional, but Most was the hilarious homer.

To put it differently, listen to the disparity in these two calls.

A brief history lesson

The overall time and focus placed on the early days of the Celtics and Lakers rivalry was appropriate.  From the Boston perspective, it’s all about the grainy videos of Cousey dribbling around with only his right hand, and their storied past.  For the Lakers, however, there is the trump card of George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers.  Additionally, just the right about of attention was given to the greatness of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.  The back and forth battle for importance was entertaining.  Of course, the Celtics won every matchup the two teams had in the finals.  Consequently, the title won against the Knicks didn’t mean as much to Jerry West.

Laker excuses

The bitterness Lakers’ fans feel for the rivalry is thick enough to cut with a steak knife.  The excuses flow from them like Kobe Bryant jump shots.

  • They would have won in 1969 if Coach Van Breda Kolff had put a previously injured Wilt Chamberlain back in the game.
  • Don Nelson’s shot to win the game was the “luckiest shot ever.”
  • Red Auerbach shut of the air conditioning. (They wanted to take Red’s cigar and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.)

Celtic fans, particularly fans of M. L. Carr, loved every second of it.  Speaking of Carr…

The genesis of trash talking?

Some mention that Auerbach’s victory cigar was the first form of trash talking.  Others talk about how the Celtics taunted like nobody ever before.  Like the cigar, some of it reeks of bitterness, but they do have a slight point.  Those who watched the games can remember the intensity.  The actual hatred.  The international symbol for choking happened more than high fives.

The start of Showtime!

OAKLAND, CA – MARCH 16: The Golden State Warriors dance team in action during their game against the Los Angeles Lakers at ORACLE Arena on March 16, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Among all the interviews and footage, a great little nugget was included for the casual fan.  Many are familiar with the Lakers’ synonymity with the Showtime moniker, but most probably don’t know it’s source.  The writers covered how Dr. Jerry Buss was the visionary lothario who forever transformed how the LA Lakers would be perceived, and how their basketball audience would receive them.  He brought in the celebrities, the Laker Girls, the atmosphere, and the crowds followed.

Jump Shots

Magic vs. Bird: Hometown fit

Every basketball fan knows the links between Magic and Bird.  They were hyped out of high school, met in the NCAA Championship game, and were star-crossed rivals their entire careers.  One could not be measured without the others.  This 30 for 30 did a good job of providing insight into their respective character and their personality differences.  In particular, demonstrating how their personalities meshed with their hometown team was instrumental to the budding story.

Magic was the ready made star.  The interviewer’s dream.  He had size, skill, agility, and an extroverted presence that made people love him.  Magic was energetic, charismatic, and destined to end up in a city like LA.

Bird, on the other hand, was the “Hick from French Lick,” a no-nonsense player who wanted no part of fame.  The lunch-pail, blue collar mentality fit Boston perfectly.  He was so beloved in Boston that a dove was released from a paper bag during his first game as a rookie.

Construction of the teams

Each team’s construction was a great addition.  The Lakers signed Magic to the then ridiculous $25M for 25 years.  Paul Westhead got fired because he modified showtime and upset Magic.  Pat Riley got hired as a replacement.  Drafting James Worthy was a huge move.  He really filled out the lineup.

The Celtics, on the other hand, used a loophole in the 1978 draft to select Larry Bird, who was a junior.  Later, they unloaded Bob McAdoo, traded the #1 pick which everyone presumed would be Joe Barry Carroll, and ended up with Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale.  Coupled with Bird, they made up the best front court in NBA history.  Adding Dennis Johnson later was just icing on the cake.

Slam Dunks

Lead up to the meet up

Photo Credit: 30 for 30/ESPN Image Acquired from Wikimedia via Google Creative Commons

Bird wins Rookie of the Year in ’80 after leading the Celtics to 61 wins.  In that same year, Magic saves the Lakers, wins the title, and is awarded MVP after Kareem Abdul Jabbar goes down.  Celtics win it all the following year on a Bird bank shot.  Next, the Lakers win it all once more in ’83 season.  Bird wins the MVP in ’84, and the finals match-up seems inevitable.

1984 series

The 1984 NBA Championship was the key to the show, and appropriately received the lion’s share of the first night.  In fact, the entire second segment covered the epic.  Rightfully so.

  • Game 1: The Lakers stole a game in Boston and set the tone.
  • Game 2: McHale missed free throws, and LA looked to win.  Gerald Henderson gets a miraculous steal and layup.  Series tied.
  • Game 3: LA kills the Celtics, and makes Bird question his team’s heart.
  • Game 4: This may have been the dirtiest game of all time.  McHale clothes-lined Kurt Rambis.  Kareem threw an elbow and nicked Bird.  ML Carr challenged Magic to a fight.  Ainge and Worthy got into a scuffle.  Bird butts Michael Cooper out of bounds.  Cedric Maxwell walked across the paint after Magic missed a critical free throw, and gave Magic the choking sign.  Finally, Magic missed the second of two free throws, and starts getting called “Tragic Johnson.”
  • Game 5: This was the legendary game without air conditioning.  It was anywhere from 97-115F degrees.  In fact, one of the refs had to get medical attention.  The Lakers suspected the Celtics did it on purpose.  As a result, it only amplified the hatred.
  • Game 6: Worthy set the tone when he shoved someone out of bounds.  The Lakers were too physical, too fast, and easily controlled the game.
  • Game 7: Danny Ainge used a stethoscope to check his team’s heart rate before the game.  The Celtics won all previous seven championship series versus the Lakers.

Next: A hero greater than Bird or Magic

The 30 for 30 series is almost always awesome.  Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed the game, made it popular again, healed the league, and gave the country a small sense of unity.  While this edition may be good, it falls of track from the original impact, and is somewhat divided from its predecessors.