Bummer of ’69 was before their time
One game for the title, in Staples Center, with home teams 11-4 in Game 7s in the Finals, and 84-21 in all Game 7s...
What could go wrong now?
Oh yeah, there’s that.
To be sure, Thursday’s Game 7 isn’t about Game 7 in 1969, when the Lakers took their spectacular fall against the Celtics.
None of these players was born yet. If they all heard of it — it was only the greatest pratfall of all time — it was something that happened long ago, like the British burning Washington, D.C., in the War of 1812.
Whatever rivalry there is between these Lakers and Celtics started in the 2008 Finals.
Before that, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen weren’t Celtics and Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins weren’t starters, leaving only Paul Pierce, the Lakers fan from Inglewood.
Before 2008, with the Celtics in eclipse, the Lakers didn’t think about them at all when they weren’t playing there.
Where a dynasty stood, now there was a Celtics theme park that kept changing names — it almost became the Derek Jeter Center for a day in a promotion gone wrong — with so little connection to its past, an “MVP!” chant went up for Kobe Bryant in Boston in 2007.
Now, where a storied rivalry once stood, we have accidental tourists in Lakers and Celtics uniforms.
As Bryant said Wednesday, asked why he cares so little about it: “Ain’t got nothing to do with me.”
You mean, aside from leading one of the two teams in the last two renewals?
Actually, as the Celtics are about to see, if they have any doubt, which they don’t, Kobe is psyched to the gills.
It’s not because it’s the Celtics, but because it’s Game 7 of the Finals, but he doesn’t want his teammates to feel the pressure.
So, we get eight weeks of yup, nope and maybe.
That being the case, why don’t we just leave the players’ feeling out of this for the moment?
This is for everyone else who can remember the ‘80s or whose parents told them about it.
Judging from the T-shirts in Boston (“Beat L.A.... Beat L.A. Again... I Hate L.A.... I Hate Kobe... Even Jesus Hates L.A.”), that’s a lot of people.
For years afterward, Game 7 in 1969 crystallized the notion of the Celtics as Ultimate Winners and the Lakers as Ultimate Foils.
The Celtics had won all six previous Finals meetings with Bill Russell.
The Lakers had centers like Jim Krebs, Leroy Ellis and Ray Felix, who supposedly said after the Game 7 loss in 1962, “We’ll get them tomorrow.”
In 1962 and 1966 when the teams went seven, Game 7 was in Boston Garden.
In 1969, everything had changed.
The Lakers had gotten Wilt Chamberlain to go with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in what didn’t actually turn out to be the greatest team ever assembled, or one of the top 100.
The Lakers were still good enough to win home-court advantage. The venerable Celtics clung in, winning three games at home after trailing, 2-0 and 3-2.
Included was Game 4, which the Lakers led by one point, when Sam Jones hit a stumbling 20-footer with :03 left to win it, 89-88
Jones said he was just trying to get the ball on the board where Russell might rebound it — only to be told Russell hadn’t been in.
The Lakers still seemed in control before Game 7, when owner Jack Kent Cooke put up those !^&^%$#@! balloons, shocking even West, who always expected the worst to happen.
For the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of his grandiloquence, Cooke had schedules printed — the USC band plays here, the balloons drop there — and the Celtics found a copy.
Not that the Celtics could have been any more motivated, but if righteous anger helps, now they had that too.
Playing as if they had nothing to lose, the Celtics led by 17 in the third quarter.
Playing as if they were about to go down in history as circus clowns, the Lakers managed to cut it to 103-96 with 5:45 left when Chamberlain came out after twisting his knee.
With the Lakers down, 103-102, Wilt asked to go back in, but Coach Butch van Breda Kolff stuck with Mel Counts, who had just hit a jump shot.
Then Keith Erickson tipped the ball from John Havlicek, right to Don Nelson, who hit his famous 15-footer that hit the back rim, bounced higher than the backboard and dropped in and that was pretty much that.
Of course, the Lakers finally ended the Celtics’ curse, although it took another 16 years.
Just for the sake of perspective, life went on here between 1969 and 1985.
The sun kept shining. The population kept booming. Freeways kept being built (although, of course, traffic kept getting worse.)
We hosted an Olympics. The Lakers won three titles. The Dodgers won a World Series.
The Raiders moved here, not only giving us two NFL teams, but winning a Super Bowl!
I just bring it up in case the Lakers lose and their fans wonder if there’s a point in going on.
There is, even if it takes 16 years to find it.
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