The Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s revived America’s dual pastimes of sports and bitter
hatred. It made every child in every driveway say, “When I grow up, I want to be an NBA
player’s agent.” But in truth, it was much more than a basketball game—it was a seven-game
series of basketball games.
Sports enthusiasts watched in bars across the country, wide-eyed orphans watched on TVs in
shop windows, and store owners closed early just so they could shoo away the orphans. The
1984 Finals consumed the country in a way not seen since the 1984 Semifinals. The winner
wouldn’t just be champion for a year; they’d be champion for an entire leap year. It was as close
as sports can come to a heavyweight boxing match.
Boston’s offensive strategy centered on scoring. Their go-to was Larry Bird, #33 on the court
and #1 on unlicensed Celtics jerseys. Bird sliced through the Lakers’ defense like a chef who
was great at basketball. For Bird, a championship represented a chance to thank the fans for
clapping so much. But more than that, it was a golden opportunity to be in a parade.
The Lakers, for their part, were the other basketball team involved. While the Celtics’ style was
run-and-gun and pick-and-pop, the Lakers were more stick-and-move with a little father-
daughter-dance thrown in. They dunked so often their hand sweat rusted the rim, leading to the ’84 L.A. tetanus outbreak.
In the end, the Lakers were overcome by lockjaw and Boston’s strategy of airing movies on the
Jumbotron. The streets of Boston were flooded with celebrating fans and aimless orphans.
Celtics players attempted to dump Gatorade over their coach’s shoulders. He resisted, as a
similar celebration had burned him at a chili cook-off.