Facebook has a new quiz/survey you can take: “The Five Favorite Teams You Love to Hate.” I’m 31, and I’d like to think I’ve outgrown hating teams (except the Yankees). As much as I tried, I couldn’t muster up any lingering hatred for the Lakers during the NBA Finals last season. I despised them when I was eight, but even then, some of that hatred was rooted in fear–fear that the Lakers would actually beat the Celtics and ruin my life. I feared them last year, too, especially Kobe, and this year I enjoy watching them. Pau Gasol passing or shooting from the high post is about as pretty as basketball gets.
That said, the Lakers would clearly top a list of “Top Five Teams a Celtics Fan Should Hate.” What would the full list look like? Here are my top six candidates.
The Celtics have played the Lakers in the NBA Finals 11 times (Boston is 9-2 and won the first eight), and those series have produced some of the most famous moments in NBA history–Magic’s hook shot in 1987, DJ’s buzzer-beater in 1985, Gerald Henderson’s steal, the McHale-Rambis clothesline, Bob Cousy coming back fro a severely sprained ankle in the ’63 Finals and a bunch of others. Heck, the ’62 series alone featured a 61-point game from Elgin Baylor, a buzzer-beater from Jerry West, the Lakers’ Frank Selvy missing a wide open look that would have won Game 7 in regulation, a 40-rebound game from Bill Russell in that Game 7 and a Olie-in-Hoosiers-like performance from Celtic reserve Gene Gaurilia in OT of that same Game 7. (That game is definitely in the Top 10 all-time games I wish I could have attended).
But hatred? If hatred comes from familiarity, then perhaps. But I haven’t truly hated LA since the late 1980s, and I’m not sure I did even then. (Their fans on the other hand…I keed, I keed!).
A rivalry fans my age and younger probably can’t fully appreciate, and one I was reminded of when I visited Philly earlier this month. There wasn’t a more bitter rivalry in sports during the 1960s than the one between the Philadelphia Warriors, and, later, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Celtics. Wilt Chamberlain played for both Philly franchises, and the teams clashed in epic Eastern Division playoff series several times. And these were ugly series. Fans in both cities pelted the opposing benches with eggs and batteries, Red Auerbach called Philly fans “bush” hundreds of times, and Philly fans lit mock victory cigars and chanted “Boston is dead!’ when they finally broke through against the C’s in ’67. Chamberlain actually punched out a Celtics player (Clyde Lovellette) during the ’64 Finals, but the Warriors had moved from Philly to San Francisco before that season, so I suppose that doesn’t quite count.
Throw in an early 1980s revival, and Philly has to make the list. For my money, these are the only two “sure things” on the Facebook list. The other contenders are below.
A modern rival, and one that evokes more pure feelings of dislike for me than the Lakers. This one is rooted in the bloodbath that was the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, a 4-3 Celtics win that featured Laimbeer taking a cheap shot on Larry Bird in Game 4 (followed by Bird retaliating and getting tossed), Robert Parish sucker-punching Laimbeer in Game 5, and, of course, the legendary steal by Bird on Isiah Thomas’ sloppy inbounds pass. Detroit beat the Celtics in a chippy Eastern Conference Finals the next season and swept the C’s in ’89, signaling the demise of the Bird era Celtics as true contenders. Last year’s conference finals was also an underrated series.
Perhaps this would be a sure thing had I been alive in the early 1970s. Because since then, sadly, the Knicks and Celtics haven’t really been contenders at the same time. They came closest in the 1990 season, when a 52-30 C’s team blew a 2-0 series lead and lost to a 45-37 Knicks squad in the first round. (Side note: The C’s won Game 2 of that series 157-128. Wow). I remember being embarrassed to show my face in middle school after Game 5; my English teacher (a cool young guy–hi, Mr. Reich) and most of my friends were Knicks fans, this being southwestern Connecticut, and I had talked a lot of trash after the C’s won the first two games.
Still, though, you never had the sense that this series really mattered. A lot more was at stake in the early 1970s, when the Knicks beat a higher-seeded Celtics team two straight years in the Eastern Conference Finals; the 48-34 Knicks blitzed the 56-26 C’s (4-1) in ’72, and a 57-25 New York squad upset Boston (68-14!) in a seven-game series the next season. Had I been alive, this probably would have killed me.
After the jump, we get to the less obvious candidates. (I hate you Chuck Person!)
We move to the dark horse candidates, and, for me, that list starts with the Pacers. For two teams that have never met in the playoffs when either team had a realistic shot to win a title, they’ve played some nasty series. The C’s beat the Pacers in the first round in both ’91 and ’92 in series that featured some ugly trash talk between Larry Bird and Chuck Person, one of the only players who actually seemed to be able to get under the Legend’s skin. I hated Chuck Person. Who was this mediocrity who dared–dared!–treat Larry Bird with open disdain? Even worse, he backed it up with 30-point games and monster clutch shots. The C’s won both series (including a 3-0 sweep in ’92), but the games were hard fought, and the C’s needed the occasional vintage performance from Bird (how about 32 points on 19 shots in Game 5 in ’91?), some stud nights from Reggie Lewis (36 points in Game 1 in ’92) and random break out games from John Bagley.
In more recent years, the teams faced each other in the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2003-05, and two of those series were memorable. In ’03, as we’ve recounted here, Paul Pierce played two of his greatest games ever to lead the C’s to a 4-2 series win. In 2005, the Pacers defeated the Celtics in a seven-game series remembered mostly for the moment when Paul Pierce lost his mind late in Game 6, forearmed Jamaal Tinsley to the ground and got himself ejected with the game still in the balance.
Don’t laugh. (Well, at least not too hard). You’ve got the classic Bird-Wilkins Game 7 duel in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the true rivalry goes back to the late 1950s, when the Hawks played in St. Louis and were the only true threat to the budding Celtics dynasty. They had Bob Pettit and they were owned by Ben Kerner, who had hired Red Auerbach to coach the team (then called the Tri-Cities Blackhawks) in the ’49-50 season. The two hated each other and repeatedly clashed over personnel and control of the team. When Auerbach’s Celtics met Kerner’s Hawks in the ’57 Finals, the two men got into a shouting match during pre-game warm-ups in St. Louis when Auerbach essentially accused the Hawks of cheating by rigging their baskets so they weren’t exactly 10 feet from the ground. (He had the baskets measured).
Kerner screamed at Auerbach from the stands. How did Red respond? He turned around and punched Kerner in the face. With players and thousands of fans watching! Imagine what would happen today if Phil Jackson turned around and punched Mark Cuban in the face right before a game?
That alone is a good basis for a spot on a “most hated” list. As is the fact that the Hawks beat the C’s in the 1958 Finals–the only season in a 10-season stretch when any team other than Boston would win the title.
So there it is. Six teams for five spots. Am I missing anyone? Do Cleveland and Orlando have potential to join this list? Remember, Shaq bragged about closing the Boston Garden after top-seeded Orlando pulled out a surprisingly tough series over the eighth-seeded C’s, 3-1, in 1995. Throw in a feisty playoff series this season, and Orlando could be a Facebook Enemy candidate.