As I contemplated the reality that the Celtics had signed Shaquille O’Neal to a two-year deal, I started thinking about how Shaq immediately becomes the greatest player ever to have suited up for both of the league’s two historic powers.
That got me thinking that it would be a fun waste of time thought exercise to try and build an actual basketball team composed only of players who have played for both the Lakers and Celtics. It’s a smaller group than you think—around two dozen—but we can build a pretty damn good team from this group.
1) We are going to imagine each of these players in their prime. Gary Payton was obviously a shell of himself during his seasons in Boston and LA, but Gary Payton in his prime is indisputably the starting point guard of this all-time team. It’s just more fun—and a bit simpler—to do things this way.
2) No Minneapolis Lakers. Apologies to Clyde Lovellette, a Hall of Famer who won multiple titles with both the Minneapolis Lakers and the C’s.
Oh, and the coach would obviously be Bill Sharman, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player (Celtics) and a coach (mostly Lakers).
Without further ado, the starting line-up.
C: Shaquille O’Neal. I trust I don’t have to justify this, especially because of who’s getting the nod at power forward.
PF: Bob McAdoo. Mac’s a perfect power forward to play alongside Shaq. He was ahead of his time as a big man comfortable on the perimeter, with nice range on his jumper. The guy has three 30-10 seasons on his record, and though he wasn’t always popular with coaches, you can’t overlook his production.
Bonus: McAdoo played just 20 games for Boston in 1979, but he was crucial in the chain of events that led to Boston acquiring Robert Parish and Kevin McHale on the same day in 1980. When the Celtics signed M.L. Carr as a free agent, league rules at the time required them to send Carr’s old team, the Pistons (then run by Dick Vitale, among others), some compensation.
Vitale wanted McAdoo. Red Auerbach absolutely hated McAdoo, in part because the C’s owner at the time (John Y. Brown) had dealt three first-round picks to the Knicks for Mac without first running the trade by Auerbach. Auerbach was happy to send Mac to Detroit, but he hoodwinked Vitale into giving the C’s both of Detroit’s first-round picks in the 1980 draft in exchange for Mac.
One of those picks ended up being the #1 pick, and the C’s traded that pick to Golden State in exchange for Parish and the #3 pick in the ’80 draft, which the C’s used on McHale, the player they had wanted all along.
So Mac is a major figure in Celtics history, in a minor sort of way.
SF: Don Nelson. M. Haubs of The Painted Area was all over me for initially slotting Rick Fox into this spot using the justification that this line-up could use more shooting range than Don Nelson would provide. And that’s probably true, since Fox became a league-average (and better, in some seasons) three-point shooter in his prime.
But Nelson wasn’t a bad shooter, and he trumps Fox in other areas of the game. Nellie ran off 8 straight double-digit scoring seasons from ’68-’75, and he was a stalwart presence on both ends of the floor bridging the Russell and Cowens eras.
Bonus: Nellie made one of the greatest shots in C’s history, a wild jumper with less than a minute to go in Game 7 of the ’69 Finals—perhaps the most famous series in league history—to give Boston a three-point lead.
SG: Don Chaney. We’re going for toughness over scoring and flash here, given the firepower the C’s have up front and at the point guard position. Chaney was never a great scorer, but in his prime, you could depend on him for double-digits, tough defense, solid rebounding and unselfish play.
The C’s nickel-and-dimed Chaney after the ’75 season, when Chaney was a free agent, and they lost him to the ABA’s St. Louis Spirits as a result. After playing one season for St. Louis, perhaps the most dysfunctional team in pro basketball history, Chaney returned to the NBA as a Laker.
PG: Gary Payton. No contest.
• Rick Fox. A no-brainer. A heady, selfless player with range. Every team needs someone like this.
• Charlie Scott: Our designated bench scorer and a possible member of the crunch-time line-up. He led the ABA in scoring in ’72 and averaged at least 17.6 points per game every year during his first five seasons in the NBA, including two with Boston. Key member of the ’76 champs.
• Kermit Washington. Washington remains known mostly for nearly killing Rudy Tomjanovich during a brawl between the Lakers (Washington’s team) and Rockets in 1977. But Washington was a smart guy, an elite rebounder and a solid defender who could also score. An underrated player, who was, by all accounts I’ve ever read, well-liked around the league.
• Brian Shaw. A solid combo guard off the bench. If we trust him enough to run the point, we don’t have to use an active roster spot on (gulp) Chucky Atkins or Ernie DiGregorio.
• Mel Counts. I’ve disqualified myself from using Lovellette (d’oh!), so we need another big guy. Counts, a seven-footer who averaged about 12-8 during his prime, will do fine.
• Frank Brickowski. We’ve got our pick of Tall White Guys (and these guys were really white) of moderate to middling skill level. Brickowski is the best of a group that includes Travis Knight, Joe Kleine, Fred Roberts and Chris Mihm. (Seriously—the Lakers need to sign Scal to a one-day contract to round this group out). Brick put up about a 15-6 during a half-dozen prime years, though the fast space at which his Spurs teams played during the late 1980s might have inflated his scoring numbers a bit.
That’s 11 guys. I need a 12th man and I’m not thrilled with any of my options. The team could probably use another guy capable of handling the point, right?
Any suggestions? Anyone I’m leaving out that deserves a roster spot?