Lakers vs. Celtics: Which team full of all time greats would prevail?

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Both the Lakers and Celtics have quite the history.

Not only do they account for almost half of the championships in NBA history (75) between the two of them (34), some of the greatest players the league has ever seen have suited up for the Lakers and Celtics at some point in their careers.

To name a few: LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, Magic Johnson … the list goes on.

Ahead of the second and final matchup between the Lakers and Celtics in the 2021-22 NBA season, two members of The Sporting News’ staff had a go at building an all-time team for each franchise. The rules: LeBron James served as team captain of the Lakers while Jayson Tatum served as captain of the Celtics. Both teams included a starting five, plus a sixth man.

Which team would win in a hypothetical matchup? Here are the results.

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Los Angeles Lakers

(Getty Images)

PG: Magic Johnson

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Elgin Baylor

PF: LeBron James

C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sixth man: Shaquille O’Neal

Head coach: Phil Jackson

I mean, you can’t really go wrong here. We’re talking about some of the most iconic players in NBA history.

For me, two picks were no-brainers: Magic and Kobe. Magic made everyone around him better with his incredible court vision, and he could legitimately play every position on the court. (This is your reminder that he once filled in for Kareem at center … in the NBA Finals … finishing with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists … as a rookie.) Kobe’s resume speaks for itself — he’s one of the greatest scorers ever, a guy who once scored 81 points in a game. Few players will ever touch his five championships and two Finals MVPs.

Who should start at small forward wasn’t easy. Baylor and James Worthy both have a strong case, but I gave Baylor the edge. 10 All-NBA selections is no joke.

Last but not least, the toughest call of them all: Kareem, Shaq or Wilt at center. Ultimately, Kareem was a Laker much longer than both Shaq and Wilt, and he racked up quite the accolades during his time in purple and gold, including a handful of championships, three MVP awards, and a whole lot of All-NBA and All-Defensive selections.

With how much ball-handling, playmaking and versatility that Magic, Kobe, Baylor and LeBron offer, I feel good about turning Shaq into the scariest sixth man in NBA history. Apologies to the logo himself, Jerry West, who would’ve made the cut otherwise.

The result? An all-time team no other franchise can match — not even the Celtics.

— Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

Boston Celtics

(AP Photo)

PG: Sam Jones

SG: John Havlicek

SF: Jayson Tatum

PF: Larry Bird

C: Bill Russell

Sixth man: Kevin Garnett

Head coach: Red Auerbach

I’m not going to lie, I snickered to myself quite a bit ahead of this draft. Scott decided to take the Lakers, and I know deep down inside he thought he’d have an easier time putting a team together than I would, but he has way tougher decisions to make than I did.

If you knew Scott as I do, you’d be laughing too.

Alright, onto my all-time Celtics team. With Tatum already on my team, I went with the obvious choice of Bird. You can’t really have an all-time Celtics team without Bird. 

At center, I went with the greatest Celtic of all time (I didn’t stutter) in Russell. Again, there was no real debate as to who I’d go with there. 

Guards were a little bit tricky, but I ended up with Jones and Havlicek. Both are probably more shooting guards than point guards but that’s OK — our coach, Red Auerbach, would figure out a way to keep the rock moving. 

Finally, I went with Garnett as my sixth man.

This was by far the hardest choice. I thought about Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce, Robert Parish and Bob Cousy but ultimately decided on Garnett. With all the Lakers great big men Scott could pull from, I’d rather shore up my defense in the event he decided to roll a lineup with Kareem and Wilt or Shaq and Kareem out there.

If you’re trying to imagine what things would look like if these two fictional rosters would match up in a seven-game series, let me help you — Boston would win. Listen, that is not me being biased. I’m just going based on history. 

The Lakers and Celtics have played each other a record 12 times in the NBA Finals. Boston has won nine of those series.

Celtics vs Lakers in the NBA Finals
Year Winner Results
1959 Boston 4–0
1962 Boston 4–3
1963 Boston 4–2
1965 Boston 4–1
1966 Boston 4–3
1968 Boston 4–2
1969 Boston 4–3
1984 Boston 4–3
1985 Los Angeles 4–2
1987 Los Angeles 4–2
2008 Boston 4–2
2010 Los Angeles 4–3

Who am I to debate against history?

— Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)

Which team would win?

You decide!



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