‘It will be insufferable’: Why Lakers greats can’t stand the Celtics this close to an 18th title

NBA

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It was the day of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks, and before Mychal Thompson said goodbye to his call-in guest on his ESPN LA 710 radio show in Los Angeles, the former Lakers forward had a request for a special delivery.

“If you see Cedric Maxwell,” Thompson said, “tell him I hate him.”

Maxwell, the former Celtic and 1981 Finals MVP whose nickname is “Cornbread,” was happy to lean into the beef following the Celtics’ 107-89 Game 1 win later that night.

“Well here’s a message I want you to deliver to Mychal,” Maxwell told ESPN, breaking into a wide smile as he took off his headphones after calling the game on the Celtics’ radio broadcast inside the arena.

“Tell him: ‘F— you.'”

“And tell it to James Worthy, too.”

While the Mavericks’ chances have dwindled — no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series — the rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics appears to be thriving during these Finals.

It has been more than a decade since the two teams last met on this stage, with Kobe Bryant’s Lakers outlasting Kevin Garnett’s Celtics in seven games in 2010 in the 12th Finals meeting between the franchises. But there’s something extra at stake as Boston battles with Dallas.

One more win not only will capture another Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Celtics, but it will be Boston’s 18th title, breaking a tie with the Lakers for most championships in league history.

It’s the reason why Lakers current superstar LeBron James, when previewing the Finals with ESPN’s JJ Redick on the “Mind the Game” podcast said, “I know Laker Nation is going for the Dallas Laker-Mavericks.”

And it’s the reason why Thompson and other former Lakers have been tuning into the Finals to root like hell for the Mavs.

“I don’t want to have to face Cedric Maxwell if Boston gets to 18 before us,” Thompson, who also calls Lakers games on the radio, told ESPN. “It will be insufferable for me to sit through that for three hours dealing with his ‘I told you so’s.’ I’m going to have to call in sick for the two Boston games next year if they hold on and win this series.

“So, come on Luka [Doncic], stop fouling out.”

Thompson, who played for L.A. from 1986-1991 and won two rings — including over Boston in 1987 — attended the “Showtime” Lakers’ reunion in Hawaii in September 2022 and said the group couldn’t help but talk about Boston while they reminisced.

“Those conversations always come back around, whenever we Lakers get together, about those battles and how historic they were, how much they meant to us to, to beat them, and how much it hurt to lose to the Celtics,” Thompson said. “More than losing to any other team, for sure.”

Lamar Odom was on the Lakers team that beat Boston in 2010, but he was also on the team that lost to the Celtics two years prior. And what happened after L.A. lost Game 6 by 39 points as the Celtics clinched the 2008 title still sticks with him.

“[Jayson] Tatum and [Jaylen] Brown, as a professional, as an ex-NBA player, to see them kind of go through the process and make it to the Finals and get better every year as players, I’m happy for them as individuals,” Odom told ESPN. “But I’m a Laker at heart and in Game 6 they beat us pretty bad.

“And that’s when their fans surrounded our bus and wouldn’t let us leave. Shook our bus. That’s when I kind of was on a ‘F— Boston’ vengeance.”

While Odom still attends a handful of Lakers games each year in L.A., he couldn’t help but notice Paul Pierce, the 2008 Finals MVP, sitting courtside in Boston for Game 2 of this year’s Finals.

“I know Paul Pierce is happy and it kind of makes me sick to see him gloat and be that happy because that team is about to win,” Odom said. “They were the best team that year [in 2008]. I tip my hat to ’em, even this year, but it kind of makes me sick.”

Metta Sandiford-Artest, who joined the Lakers as Ron Artest, later changed his name to Metta World Peace and currently wants to simply be referred to as “Coach Metta” — not so subtly referring to the Lakers’ coaching vacancy — said that he didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry when he was in it.

His 3-pointer with one minute remaining in Game 7 in 2010, off a pass from Bryant, gave L.A. a six-point lead and the breathing room it needed to hold on down the stretch.

“I didn’t even realize how big that series was. I was just more thinking about my first title,” Coach Metta told ESPN. “I didn’t even realize how big the rivalry was, honestly. Not until we won. And then everybody kept being like, ‘Oh wow! The big shot! The big shot!’ Even to this day — 14 years later, it’s like, this is getting annoying.”

Coach Metta, was joking of course. He’s glad to be reminded of his place in the rivalry.

“That’s why I think that I’m kind of etched in history here [in Los Angeles],” he said. “Because it was against the Celtics.”

Boston’s championship run this June happened to coincide with a particularly painful week for Laker alumni after Jerry West, one of the most influential people in team history, died at the age of 86 on Wednesday.

Longtime Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti, who worked for the team from 1984-2016, told ESPN “everything is so raw with me right now” considering how L.A. distanced itself from West and other former franchise figures in recent years.

“The decisions that they’ve made, it makes it really hard to root for the Lakers. Not impossible. But it’s hard. Because you’re torn. Because there’s people that you love that were hurt,” Vitti said.

“But it is impossible to root for the Celtics. … If you have any purple and gold in your blood running through your veins, it’d be literally impossible to ever root for the Celtics. And I’m sure they feel the same way about us.”

Vitti added: “I’m team Jerry West. And no matter how things ended up with Jerry and the Lakers, if he were still alive who would never want the Celtics to win another championship. And I feel the same way.”

While the Lakers’ season ended with a first-round exit against the Denver Nuggets in April despite Anthony Davis averaging 27.8 points and 15.6 rebounds and James averaging 27.8 points and 8.8 assists, hope springs eternal.

“I think they’re going to figure it out. AD’s in his prime. That’s a really good situation. … I could see the Lakers winning the title next year,” Coach Metta said. “LeBron is super hungry. I’m not betting against LeBron.”

Thompson hopes Coach Metta is right, or else he’ll have to be scheduling sick days around Celtic games for years to come.

“Boston’s built to repeat and to get more championships because Brown and Tatum are so young,” Thompson said. “So the Lakers got to get back on board and be in contention next year to try to catch Boston next season, because Boston got a good chance to stretch it to 19.”

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