Memories of The Great War: Celtics-Lakers in the Eighties

Ah, the Great NBA Civil War of 1984-1987. What memories I have of that fight.

Growing up in Santa Monica, California I found myself caught behind enemy lines during the big war, alone in a sea of yellow and purple. Fourteen at the time that hostilities finally erupted, I was a Celtic loyalist and had been since I tossed my marbles behind everything “Boston” in 1975-76. That meant by 1983-84, I was fully invested in the Celtics and ready to head up the Northern Santa Monica resistance effort. There would be no hiding in the attic for me. Nope, I spent that war as a saboteur, first at Lincoln Junior High and then at Santa Monica High School.

I can’t tell you how consuming the great Celtic-Lakers war was during my teenage years. It’s all my friends and I would ever talk about. Hours and hours and hours of talk, dedicated to such minutia and nonsense that it still amazes me to this day. Which team was better? Bird or Magic? KAJ or Parish? McHale or Worthy? Could DJ stop Magic? Who could the Celts bring in to counter Cooper and could Coop slow down Bird? Who would win in a fight, Rambis or McHale? Was Pat Riley just a pretty boy? Did the Lakers have any heart? Did Boston have to resort to snibbly tactics to win game five? Was Boston Garden haunted? Was Worthy a choke artist for throwing away game two? What to make out of the Memorial Day massacre of 1985? Was Wedman a difference maker?  Was Brent Musberger just a Laker tool? Would the Lakers be able to come back from DJ’s game four winner in 1985? Could the Lakers close out 1985 on the road? Did the Lakers want any part of the 1986 Celts, possibly the best team in history? What would have happened in 87 if the McHale and Walton were healthy? And on and on and on and over and over and over.  

It simply never stopped. At the beach. On “the Wall” overlooking the quad at high school. In cars. Over pizza. On buses. At banquets. In class. Year-round. Sure, sometimes I would needle my guys on other LA teams, particularly the Dodgers and UCLA, but when it came right down to it, the only thing that mattered was Celts-Lakers.  

And just to give you a sense of how crazy it got, I think it’s worth noting that Celtic-Laker talk probably trumped chick talk, which is pretty staggering for sixteen year old boys. Sure, there was still room left to discuss who was looking “fine” and what “sleeper” probably deserved an upgrade, but such talk always got bumped so we could first discuss whether Cornbread Maxwell was a dirty player and what Laker was going to take him out. Like I said ….. nonsense.

While we spent hours discussing this rivalry, what stands out for me about the period was just how much I hated the Lakers. It’s easy to sit here today and say the Yankees top my “hated” list but I am not sure even they match the 1984-1987 Lakers. It was sheer loathing. I mean you could combine Arod, Justin Chamberlin and Nick Swisher and you wouldn’t have 80 percent of how much I hated Magic Johnson. Throw in Riley, The Captain and Michael Cooper and the Lakers have a royal flush to top the Yankee’s full house. And to see them win that final game in 1985, while I was peering through a pool office window at Newport Harbor High School, still gives me bad memories.  

So there it is ….. my recollection of The War. Some in LA still refer to it as the “War for Laker Independence,” while others in Boston speak of the “War of Showtime Aggression.” But no matter what name is used, I remember it fondly as a time when I found my contrarian voice and used it to stuff that nonsense that came from the mouths of Crapstains and Kettler.  Ah, the good old days.

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