There is no rivalry more historic in the NBA than the one between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Having faced each other 12 times in the NBA Finals, a respectful - shall we say - dislike is natural for each franchise and their fanbase. Add to it that they are now tied for the most titles in NBA history with 17, and the next chapter in this rivalry becomes even more interesting.
It all started in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West going up against Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. In the mid-to-late 1960s, Wilt Chamberlain and rising star John Havlicek joined the mix. Jump to the 1980s, and the rivalry was renewed with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy going up against Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Fast forward 20 more years, and you have Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen taking on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The list of Hall of Famers that helped establish one of the greatest rivalries in sports is never-ending, and as we look to the next chapter, it remains in good hands.
As Boston and Los Angeles face off for the first time this season, two of the NBA's best duos will go head-to-head when LeBron James and Anthony Davis take on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While Davis and Brown are each enjoying All-Star-calibre seasons, the focus is on the positional matchup between James and Tatum, a battle that has become must-see TV dating back to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
By now, I'm sure you've seen the tweet. When Tatum was 14 years old, he tweeted at the 27-year-old league MVP with an old photo the two took together when James was playing on the Cleveland Cavaliers with Tatum's godfather, Larry Hughes.
"I was like in fourth grade when I took that photo," Tatum told MassLive back in 2018 . "And I was like nine or 10. I remember after the game, I took a picture with him. And then I guess five years ago I tweeted it trying to get a follow back."
@KingJames Follow back it's Larry Hughes nephew from st. Louis and Abe and Rj Lil cousin and Justin Son Follow Back pic.twitter.com/AnOnb7E8- Jayson Tatum (@jaytatum0) April 13, 2012
Who would've guessed that six years later, Tatum would be going toe-to-toe with one of his favourite players with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Certainly not the fourth grader in that picture, nor the teenager looking for a follow back.
The 2018 Conference Finals was the exclamation point on Tatum's stellar rookie season, nearly leading Boston past James in an attempt to end his seven-year run to the NBA Finals. His unforgettable dunk in Game 7 was the signature moment that made this matchup something to follow in the coming years - and that was before knowing it would headline the next Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
When Jayson Tatum dunked on LeBron! 💥🤧 #TeamDay | @celtics pic.twitter.com/Zj2SPPZ01W- NBA TV (@NBATV) August 28, 2019
The two have faced off four times since that Conference Finals but no meeting was more significant than the most recent time they shared the court.
After Boston blew Los Angeles out at the TD Garden earlier in the 2019-20 season, LeBron's Lakers were out for revenge when the Celtics came to the STAPLES Center a month later. Tatum was in the middle of the best stretch of his career, making the leap to superstardom, while James had Los Angeles shaping out to be the championship team it would eventually become.
In a back-and-forth affair, James closed things out with one of his signature dagger fadeaways to give the Lakers the win despite a career-high 41 points from Tatum.
"The kid is special, obviously, that's the reason (he was a) first-time All-Star," James said of Tatum postgame. "He's been special all year ... He was special all night."
LeBron Raymone James with the dagger in basketball's greatest rivalry 🔥🔥🔥- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 23, 2020
(📺: ABC ) pic.twitter.com/vOu1YfHCxf
James later took to Instagram to continue his praise for the Celtics superstar, calling Tatum "an absolute problem," similar to how Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal once deemed a young Paul Pierce "The Truth."
Months later, following the league's hiatus and return to play in the bubble, Tatum led Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals behind averages of 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. With those numbers, he joined James and Bird as the only players in NBA history to average 25 points, 10 boards, five assists, one steal and one block while leading a team to the Conference Finals or beyond.
On the other side of the bracket, James continued to defy Father Time, averaging a near-triple-double of 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists to help the Lakers reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
Boston would eventually fall two wins shy of reaching the championship round where James and Los Angeles awaited the possibility of a 13th installment of a Celtics-Lakers Finals. The Lakers went on to win their league-record-tying 17th title to even the score with their rivals, and they'll look to take the lead in that race this season.
The Lakers re-tooled their roster and once again look like the best team in the NBA. The Celtics have gotten out to a strong start and once again appear to be one of the best teams in the East. Could they make up for what we missed out on last season, giving us the 13th round of a Boston-LA bout?
The answer to that question falls on the shoulders of the fourth grader from that photo back in the mid-2000s and MVP next to him.
It's crazy to think that it's been nine years since that tweet and LeBron is still playing at an MVP level at the age of 36. Meanwhile, instead of worrying about a follow back, 22-year-old Tatum is pushing for a spot among the NBA's elite tier of players, well on his way to another All-Star bid.
When these two superstars are trading big buckets on the TD Garden floor on Saturday, just know that you're witnessing the next chapter in the historic Celtics-Lakers rivalry unfold in real time.
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