Wednesday, June 4, 2008

SportingNews Ranks Stars for Finals Series

Please, let me explain. Geez, you don't have to get so mad about it. Give me a break, will ya? Look, I'm only trying to do my job. Why can't we all just get along?

Sorry. Just warming up.

Since the Lakers franchise relocated to Los Angeles in 1960, the Lakers have met the Celtics in the NBA's championship series 10 times, including this year's yet-to-brew brouhaha. The formerly svelte and dashing Andy Garcia only looks like he's been an eyewitness to all 10 Finals.

Anyway, there has been a two-ton truckload of amazing players to take part in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry --- such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones and James Worthy, just to name four.

Four who -- I am preparing to duck -- don't make The List's top 10 stars in Lakers-Celtics Finals history because either their appearances came in the twilight of their careers or they just weren't quite, um, great enough to make the cut.

So beat me down if you must. But for now, on with The List:

1. Magic Johnson, Lakers. He didn't have as many wins in this series as the Celtics greats of the 1960s, but his remains the biggest combination of skill (pure matchup hell), leadership (from the moment he was drafted) and enthusiasm (the No. 1 reason the league surged in popularity) in the history of the game. And for all the Magic-vs.-Bird debate, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind --- that's mind, not heart --- who was the better player.

2. Bill Russell, Celtics. There can't be a more unselfish superstar in the annals of pro sports. Russell's defense alone would put him on this list. Everything else -- the rebounding, the outlet passing, the running of the floor -- puts him almost at the top.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers. The Big Goggle was the MVP of the 1985 Finals -- L.A.'s first title-series defeat of Boston. Even though he was far into his career during the rivalry's 1980s heyday, Kareem still was unguardable in the post.

4. Jerry West, Lakers. West -- not Bird, not Bryant, not Baylor -- is the most gifted scorer in the history of this rivalry. Because of his size and shooting range, he was open any time he had the ball. Had Baylor not been slightly compromised by injuries and Chamberlain showed up bigger when he had the chance, West would have been the great champion he deserved to be.

5. Larry Bird, Celtics. Forever underappreciated for his rebounding and passing, Bird is deservedly remembered as one of the most clutch and fearless shooters -- and one of the most confident and driven players -- ever. He was a player who could do it all on a team of selfless winners who were extraordinarily versatile. But he only beat L.A. once, in 1984.

6. Kobe Bryant, Lakers. Whoa! Well, where do you want me to put Kobe on this list? He simply has to be on there because he's the best player in the league. How many others on this list ever were -- without debate -- the best player in the league?

7. John Havlicek, Celtics. Show of hands: How many of you knew Hondo is the leading scorer in Celtics history? His energy off the bench turned the tide of so many Finals games as the C's broke the Lakers' backs throughout the 1960s.

8. Elgin Baylor, Lakers. He was ahead of his time as an acrobatic scorer but in a beautifully old-school way, with hanging jump shots, feathery finishes with both hands and bank shots galore. Baylor also was an awesome rebounder for his size.

9. Kevin McHale, Celtics. Has there ever been a surer set of hands or a better portfolio of post moves? McHale also was a tough guy -- he was skinny, but he was an enforcer in his own way and it always fired up his teammates.

10. Kevin Garnett, Celtics. What a difficult pick for the last spot on the list. KG lovers will say he's getting the short end again, but who should drop so Garnett can rise? Nevertheless, Garnett -- the ultimate self-starter -- would have fit like a glove on the Celtics teams of any era.

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