By Yiannis Bouranis and Alexandros Tsakos
Sports fans all over the world are getting hyped every time traditional rivalries are taking place on a basketball court, especially in the NBA.
More importantly, fans’ engagement in those type of events is broader, especially in the upper level, when the likes of clubs such as the Boston Celtics, the Warriors or the Los Angeles Lakers are involved.
Every so often, a rivalry is based on two or more athletes playing at the highest level possible, like LeBron James and Stephen Curry competing against each other in the NBA Finals.
With that in mind, here are the Top-3 rivalries from the best league in the world, the NBA:
Los Angeles Lakers – Boston Celtics
A combined 34 NBA championships. 17 each. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, rivalry in sports. The rivarly, which started in the 1960s, remains alive until now and whoever claims the 18th championship will make history.
These two teams have met a total of 12 times in the NBA Finals. It has been almost 12 years since the Lakers defeated the Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals to claim the title for a second straight year. Two years ago, in 2008, it was Boston that rallied past LA in six games to reach the top.
As we said, the rivalry initiated in the 1960s, when the two franchises faced each other six times in the Finals. Boston dominated all matchups and won nine titles in 10 years.
A decade later, in the 1980s, the battle between two icons, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, headlined the clash between the two franchises. Magic and Bird revolutionized the game of basketball in the United States and still are one of the main reasons that made the NBA the best league in the world.
The Lakers won the 1985 and 1987 titles over the Celtics, while Boston had preveailed over LA in 1984. Since the late 80s, the rivalry is not as intense as it used to be, with just two NBA Finals battles.
Over the years, some of the greatest NBA players of all time took part in that rivalry. Jerry West, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Pat Riley (Lakers head coach), the late Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, among others, played in several Celtics-Lakers games.
Even though both teams are among the favorites to reach the Finals this season, it is doubtful if they will go all the way, with competition being at its highest in both conferences. If they do, though, it will be a must-see event, as the winner will make history.
Golden State Warriors – Cleveland Cavaliers
Golden State Warriors became one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of the game, after competing in five consecutive NBA Finals. In four occasions, they faced LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The two teams built masterful squads full of superstar power, headlined by Steph Curry and LeBron James, who played alongside the likes of Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving.
While the Warriors won three of their four matchups, the 3-1 comeback of the Cavaliers in 2016 will forever be remembered as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
More specifically, this comeback offered us one of the most iconic moments in Finals’ history as LeBron James blocked Andre Iguodala, who was ready to make an easy layup and bring the Warriors very close to another championship.
Everything changed in 2017, when the already stacked 73-9 Warriors managed to land Kevin Durant in free agency. After this move, they went on to win back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.
The Warriors ended up losing another Finals’ series to the Toronto Raptors in 2019, before Durant elected to leave the team and join the Brooklyn Nets.
The same went for the Cavaliers, as Kyrie Irving left for the Boston Celtics in 2017. A year later (2018), LeBron James made the same decision and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Chicago Bulls – Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan were not always on the winning side. Before the Bulls’ dynasty hit the NBA in the early 90s, MJ and co. had to dethrone the Detroit Pistons.
It all started during the emergence of Jordan in the late 80s. Back then, the Bad Boy Pistons had already won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990.
During their prime, those Pistons teams outplayed the Bulls with their physicality. Chicago retaliated by sweeping them in 1991 as the franchise, led by Michael Jordan, was heading to its first NBA title.
During a blowout loss in the Eastern Conference Finals, Isiah Thomas and others refused to shake hands and exited the arena immediately. These events sparked great controversy that led to a beef between Jordan and Thomas.
The beef is still alive and well documented especially with last year’s Last Dance Documentary on Netflix. The Bulls went on to win six NBA titles as Michael Jordan entered the GOAT conversation.
As for the “Bad Boys”, they were installed in history as the greatest opponents Jordan faced during his career and the biggest threat to his legacy. More importantly, they became the stepping stone for the Pistons’ next championship run.
The same tough-nosed mentality was the key for Detroit in the third title of the franchise in the 2004 NBA Finals, as they downed Kobe Bryant and a star-studded Lakers roster to win the championship.