Judge Ryan Keefer plays the game in short shorts, so that the opposition is simultaneously distracted and repulsed.
Return to glory!
For most of the 80s, the fight for professional basketball superiority was fought predominantly in two towns. The teams in those towns possessed great historical precedence, and both featured franchise players that defined their destiny. In the Boston Celtics, the traditions of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Red Auerbach lived on in Larry Bird. Surrounded by a more than capable supporting cast of forward Kevin McHale, quiet but authoritative center Robert Parish, along with a young guard (Danny Ainge) supported by a veteran (Dennis Johnson), the Celtic teams of the era were frequently at or near the Finals, and Bird's talents as a forward and playmaker routinely helped secure 50 and 60 win seasons (on an 82 game schedule). More often than not, their foes were the Los Angeles Lakers. Previous Laker icons like George Mikan, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor found more lineage in guard Magic Johnson, whose ball handling abilities and boyish enthusiasm on the court helped lead the Lakers to the same success. And Magic wasn't the only show in town. Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 38 when the two teams played for the title in 1985, but he had a firm stronghold on many of the NBA's records. To complement the young and old stars was forward James Worthy, who quietly put together excellent individual statistics and was talented defensively, and Kurt Rambis, a scrappy player who was known more for his long hair and nerdy glasses than for a somewhat reputable professional career.
And in the 80s, the place to watch the NBA Finals was on CBS. Long before this reviewer was known to the ways of quality play by play men like Marv Albert, my troglodytic days were spent watching Brent Musberger host the NBA games on the Tiffany network, followed by play by play from Dick Stockton (no slouch himself), analysis from Celtics great Tommy Heinsohn and locker room interviews from a pre-coked out Pat O'Brien. And in this particular Finals series, the Lakers and Celtics reunited after playing an excellent seven game series the previous year (which the Celtics won).
The big shift for the league was the way the series games were laid out. Previous Best of Seven Game Finals series were played with two games at one team's home court, two games at the other teams' home court, and the remaining three (if necessary), alternated. This series brought in the widely known 2-3-2 series, where the first two were played at one team's court, the next three at the others, with the final two (if necessary) back at the first team's court. And in Game One, the Celtics were clearly playing for keeps. They set records for points scored (148) and winning margin (34) in a Finals game, throttling the Lakers 148-114. The so-called "Memorial Day Massacre" was insulting for the Lakers, not only did reserve player Scott Wedman hit all 11 of his shots and scored 26 points, more than any Lakers starter, but Abdul-Jabbar apologized to his teammates and promises his performance will not be repeated, and by scoring 30 points with 17 rebounds in a 109-102 Laker win in Game Two, helping fans remember why he's among the most dominant players in league history. Game Three went back to Los Angeles, and the Lakers gave the Celtics their own throttling by a 136-111 score, as Abdul-Jabber scored 26 with 14 rebounds and 7 assists, and Magic scored 17 with 16 assists. Game Four saw the Celtics even things back up at two games apiece, as Bird, Johnson and McHale scored 81 points between them and edged the Lakers 107-105, despite Magic's triple-double (double figures in three statistical categories). Game Five saw another outstanding performance by Magic (26 points and 17 assists) to go with Worthy's 33 points, and the Lakers beat Boston 120-111. And even though they had to go back to Boston, the Lakers sealed the deal in Game Six, taking advantage of sub par Celtic shooting (and another Magic triple double) to win the game 111-100 and taking the trophy back to the City of Angels.
Without going into too much individual season achievements, let's take a look at both squads, shall we? Of the 50 greatest players the NBA named back in 1996-97, six were on both clubs, three were on the Boston side (Bird, Parish and McHale), with a strong case for a fourth (Johnson), while the Lakers had Magic, Kareem and Worthy. The three Celtics are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and their coach (K.C. Jones) was inducted as a player, while the three from the Lakers are also all Hall of Famers, along with reserve player Bob McAdoo. Magic, Bird, Ainge, Rambis, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper have all coached a team at one point or another (counting Cooper's experience with the WNBA), and Bird, McHale, Lakers substitute Mitch Kupchak and Ainge are or have been club executives (with the Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Lakers and Celtics, respectively). Oh, and Magic had a partial ownership of the Lakers at one point. Any way you slice it, that's a chunk of history and reputation among a group of two dozen players that no one else can top.
A word to the wise who might be ready to buy this set (as they should). The discs in the set, while arranged and packaged nicely, are basically the digital incarnations of the original broadcasts, so the video quality does tend to waver a bit from time to time, like someone playing around with the V-Hold control, on Game Two and part of Game Three. Also, the series is not entirely complete, but it's forgivable if you're a Lakers fan. The first half of Game One (save for the last two minutes of the second quarter) is missing, but by that point, the Celtics were so far ahead that who wants to punish themselves for that? Otherwise, everything is here, the halftime interviews, Musberger's pre-game analysis, even the CBS introductory graphics, which while very cheesy now, I still enjoy. There's even an hour-long recap of the playoff series which Stockton narrates.
This set is an excellent look at the platinum era of professional basketball. Those who enjoy the sport should check this out at least, with an eye towards picking it up. Lakers fans should include this with the equally outstanding Complete History DVD set out now, and you've got yourself a keeper set of Lakers moments on disc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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