As most of the content that is created through ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, their latest installment “Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies” was an extraordinary look at a time in sports history that needed to be revisited.


This documentary was based around the deep rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. It chronicled every angle and perspective that was taken from this rivalry from on the court and off the court, from start to finish.



The three part, two night, starts with the formation of each team respectively and the acquiring of legendary players like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain, among others, who served as the main proponents of the early stages of this rivalry.


On the court, the Celtics dominated the Lakers in every way through the 60’s, following the lead of 11- time championship player, and eventual player/coach Russell and legendary Head Coach and eventual General Manager Red Auerbach.


At one point in this storied series, the Celtics made it as lopsided as possible, winning the first six matchups through the 60’s and early 70’s and creating a deep hate between the two teams and cities because of this lopsidedness.


What stuck out during the first part of this doc was not the hate mentioned above between the two teams, but the hate that exuded from the perspective of fans who still felt a certain way about a player of color like Bill Russell being the unquestioned leader of their team.


With the undercurrent of race relations surging through the storyline of the documentary, the fact that Bill Russell mentions how his love lied strictly for the Boston Celtics and not for the city of Boston itself is very telling as to how bad it was for athletics of color, especially in those times.


During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a literally larger than life man of color was leading arguably the most historic run of championships sports has ever seen in a city that was never willing to fully accept him at the time strictly because of the color of his skin.


Most cities would praise and honor someone who helped bring 11 championships to their team and herald and immortalize them whole they have them. Instead, Celtics fans failed to even sell out the Boston Garden to watch one greater teams in the history of sports play on a daily basis. They instead decided to pack out the hockey games and support the Bruins, who at the time were the worst team in hockey.


What a juxtaposition this presented here. You have not only the best team in the league at the time, but one of the best in history and the worst team in another sport playing in the same arena, but instead of supporting the better team, they supported the team that was worse based on the fact that there was a black man on the other side.


It’s one of the biggest travesties in sports in my opinion when you have a revolutionary player and person like Russell on your team and in your city and instead of celebrating him in the moment, you try to boycott him and wait until much later to really display the love that he should’ve been shown in the act of his dominance.


What makes the documentary great is that there is another juxtaposition presented from this angle: as much as Bill Russell and the Celtics of the 1960’s were uncelebrated in hindsight in their present time, the 1980’s versions of the Celtics and Lakers were very much celebrated in the moment. This is what took the rivalry to another level.


(Roger Ebert)

Enter Magic Johnson and Larry Bird: Two completely different players and personalities who would not only change the fortunes of their respective teams, but also the course of the league and how fans looked at game as whole whether you were black or white.


As mentioned earlier, the 60’s were a decade of dominance for the Celtics, never losing to the Lakers during that period of time. In the 80’s, the tide changed and it truly became the rivalry that we recognize it today as.


Entering the league together in 1979, the Celtics and Lakers would battle for the title three times in the 80’s with the Lakers winning two of the matchups in ‘85 and ‘87 in epic matchups that triggered much of the plot and action in this documentary.


On the court, much like the 60’s, their battles were the stuff of legend, but once again, it was the off the court perspective that made it truly legendary and groundbreaking.


Naturally, the white vs black storyline was pushed more than ever, especially with the fact that Bird and Magic were not only the best players on those teams, but the best in the entire league.


This doc showed the fact that once again, people picked sides based on skin color rather than talent. If you were white, you rooted for Bird and the Celtics; if you were black, you rooted for Magic and the Lakers.


Even despite this early perspective, by the end of the 80’s and into the 90’s, the narrative changed. As Bird showed his greatness, most notably in these battles with the Lakers , people couldn’t help but to respect the game of this white man from Indiana who was doing things on the court that many people, white or black, couldn’t dream of doing.


From this, the narrative became on basketball more than race and fans started to accept for who they were as people, more than just how they looked. It was perfect, but there was progress and we can thank the Celtics/Lakers rivalry in the 80’s for that progression.


Overall, the documentary was intense and did a great job of highlighting all aspects of what this rivalry meant to the game of basketball and to culture as a whole.


It was something that truly transcended imagination and thinking. It was something that needed to be documented and ESPN did a great job with this one.


What did you think of this documentary? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.