Molars of Soil
[Freedrafto is HERE]
From the high hills of South Dakota, to the shores of Montauck, we have heard all of the dripping nostalgia for the Lakers/Celtics final. So too have we heard elegant backlash, about how little the current Lakers/Celtics series has to do with the one of the golden age. I can't remember who made the joke, but I heard someone on ESPN note that if McHale's clothesline on Rambis happened today, he would be suspended for a week. That's not to mention the fact that the McHale/Rambis incident brings us back to a time when white guys were tough guy enforcers (see also Laimbeer) instead of softies and savvy shooters. And has anyone mentioned the shorts yet? The short-shorts of the 80s were emblematic of a time when guys were so comfortable with their masculinity, they would rock whatever was the status quo. The view toward short shorts today is one of discomfort and homophobia. The Lakers couldn't even wear them for more than a half when they gave em a try earlier this year.
And for all the differences that folks have brought up regarding the Lakers/Celtics of ought eight versus the Lakers/Celts of the 80s, I believe one remarkably important difference has failed to come to light. That is the fact that the teams of today have relatively little lineage, allegiance, or resemblance to the cities they play for. Key guys from Boston Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey, Sam Cassell, and PJ Brown have all arrived in the past year. Rondo, Powe Perkins, and Big Baby are far too young to have any deep connection to the city. And the only guy who is a true franchise face, Paul Pierce, is from LA!!! On Los Angeles, you have the recently arrived Pau Gasol (see: The Onion), Radmanovic and Odom, who the city has never really embraced, and of course Kobe, who is probably the best example of a "lifer" in the series, even though he threatened to leave the Lakers twice in the past four years! D-Fish is establishment too, but he's taken a whirlwind trip of the Western conference over the past few years.
Bottom line, screw history, because neither of the squads in their current incarnation HAVE any history with these teams. Magic/Kareem/Worthy/Scott/Rambis and Bird/Parish/Ainge/DJ/McHale were like the Han Dynasty for their respective cities. This year, you could imagine Ariza coming into guard Pierce, and Lakers fans saying, "Who???" I'm pretty sure that Celtics fans just learned who PJ Brown was last week.
THAT is why the Lakers/Celtics of the 80s were important, because they came to embody the cities that they played for (full disclosure, I started watching basketball seriously in 1989, but trust me, I know this). The narrative of course was the glitzy, flashy "showtime" team of Los Angeles versus the hard-working, blue-collar, Eurocentric team of Boston. These days, I don't see anything close to these teams manifesting the characteristics of their respective hometowns in any way (unless you consider that a bunch of beardy looking white dudes with bangs are attempting to gain the validation of the only cool black guy in the room pretty much resembles Steve Aoki/Cobrasnake's LA).
Ray Allen is basketball's Poitier. KG is a mixture of contrived countryness + traces of goofy Midwestern charm, and Pierce is throwing up LA gang signs for chrissakes. Does any of this look like the baseball capped Masshole stereotype of Boston we've come to know and hate? What about the hyperacademified intellectual character of Cambridge, or the suburban semitic-ness of Belmont and Brookline? These guys are doing their own thing. These Celtics are decidedly un-Boston. I almost had to cringe watching these guys do the staged "Beat LA" chant after they won the ECF.
And on the Lakers' side, well I don't even know what LA is anymore. I haven't been there since 2004, but I know that the glamorous allure of "Hollywood" has faded as the definition of "celebrity" has come to encompass everyone from Nicolas Sarkozy to (soon) that possibly fake dude who lost his shit in his office the other day. So even the Kobe = star = Hollywood analogy doesn't really work these days.
There's also the fact that LA in my mind is inextricably linked with its Asian and Mexican population, neither of which are likely to be represented in full by any NBA team. There is the sprawl of LA that will never really change, its embrace of the 1950s, and (hyuk hyuk) it's overcast of smog. But none of these things have to do with the current Lakers, who are more space age than anything else. Radmanovic has been called a "martian" by the ultimate space cowboy himself, Phil Jackson. Kobe is glowing in the dark right now, and the never-before-seen inspired play of guys like Vujacic, Gasol, and Odom, seems somewhat supernatural. Whatever is going on with that team is far too alien to really capture the Dyan-Cannon's-jowls-as-Americana that Los Angeles curates for all to see.
The moral of all of this is that it makes a true rivalry incredibly difficult to have. There are no legit reasons for LA residents or Boston-ites to hate each other any more nor for them to see the other as its polar opposite. The two cities are orthogonal in their character. Perhaps then this series has a more universal appeal than the NBA/ESPN is trying to pitch to us with their constant stream of "historical" clips. The Lakers/Celtics series of 2008 is about everyone in the entire world. And I think that's a good thing.