When you think of the most prestigious players in the league’s history, naturally we think of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The two franchises are tied for the most NBA championships with 17. When you go through the list of superstar players, there is more Hall of Famers to fill a regular starting five.
If we narrowed it down to a starting five, we are still able to make an all-time starting lineup. If we gathered the players to make the two superteams, who would win a seven-game series? Let’s take a look at the ultimate showdown of NBA legends.
Magic Johnson vs. Bob Cousy
The combination of Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the “Showtime Lakers.” It’s known as one of the best offenses in league history. Imagine what Johnson can do with a Hall of Fame starting five. Johnson is bigger than Cousy and would probably play post-up isolation. Altogether, Johnson would have the better one-on-one matchup.
As for the Celtics, Cousy played 14 seasons for the Celtics and Royals. His career averages include 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists in 924 regular-season games. He won one MVP Award and was selected to play in 13 All-Star Games. Cousy’s resume speaks for itself and even though he would be smaller, he is a fast player that would provide some advantage there. However, with Johnson’s size, there would be a bigger advantage for the Lakhers here.
Kobe Bryant vs. John Havlicek
What else is there to say about Bryant? He is the all-time leader in points for the Lakers with over 33,000 career points. Bryant is one of the greatest isolation shooters we have ever seen. Bryant is the better player in comparison to Havlicek.
Despite all the great players that have worn a Celtics jersey, Havlicek owns the most points all-time. He is one of three players to accumulate over 20,000 career points, but the only player to score over 26,000. Having this pure scorer would certainly help the team’s offense. If you were to compare it to today’s modern era, this would be like Bryant playing against a great value version of Dwyane Wade. Bryant has the advantage here.
LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce
LeBron James is a top-3 player of all time and would have some clear advantages against Paul Pierce. For starters, James has defeated Pierce before when he was a member of the Miami Heat. That was with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This supporting cast is extremely better. With LeBron’s ability to score, rebound, pass, and defend, Pierce would have a difficult time keeping up.
Pierce leads the Celtics in three-point field goals and is the runner-up to Havlicek in scoring. Pierce owns over 24,000 career points in Boston. Had he never been traded to the Nets, he might have finished his career as the all-time leader. Pierce was also a standout defender and would have a daunting task in this category. While Pierce is an all-time great and solid defender, he’s not a top-3 player like LeBron.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Larry Bird
Kareem, the all-time leading scorer, got the best of Bird two times back in the day Could he do it again with this superteam? He already has one former teammate in Johnson on the roster, so he would get fed the ball plenty of times. In the post, Kareem would get the ball plenty of times and have an advantage there.
Bird would have a tough time guarding Kareem in the post, but Bird would still have the isolation advantage. Bird would have a big advantage if the two players play one on one. He can play isolation and destroy him with three-point shots or pick and roll plays.
Shaquille O’Neal vs. Bill Russell
Shaq was the strongest man on the court at all times. He bullied his way to three straight Finals MVPs during the team’s three-peat run from 2000 to 2002. He won a regular-season MVP and averaged one of the highest Finals scoring averages of all time. Given how great Shaq was in his era, would Shaq have duplicated that kind of success in the era when Russell played?
Russell was great against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, but the times have changed. Russell would have difficulty guarding Shaq, plain and simple. With that said, Shaq was once the most dominant player in the league he would be a problem for Russell. In the end, Russell found a way to win because there was no player close to his ability. This matchup would give us closure on how great each center was.
Team Lakers Advantages
The offensive firepower is notable. For starters, you have the best point guard in NBA history leading the charge. Then, you have the best scorer in NBA history as your power forward. Not to mention, you have Shaq, who was a 30-point scorer in his heyday along with a player that scored over 30,000 career points in his career. Oh yeah, then there’s LeBron James too.
Even without mentioning LeBron, this is an offensive juggernaut. How do you stop these players? With LeBron’s evolution, you have two true ball handlers, which only frees up more opportunities. The chemistry of Kobe and Shaq would be there and the same goes for Magic and Kareem. LeBron can fit in with anyone, so good luck stopping this team from hanging 150 points.
Team Celtics Advantages
One clear advantage is having the rebounding advantage in Russell. Even though Shaq is a physical specimen, Russell was in a league of his own during his heyday. The Cousy and Russell connection also brings solid chemistry and that is hard to teach. However, the overwhelming advantage is the team defense that the Celtics can play.
Imagine having Pierce, Bird, and Russell all on one team. That has to be considered one of the better trios on the defensive side ever. The Lakers have pure offensive firepower, but this is going to be a hard unit to score baskets on.
Who Would Win?
The game would start with the Celtics inserting themselves as a defensive dominant team. The physicality would force the Lakers to make too many adjustments. Pierce would hold LeBron to single-digit points and Cousy would find a way to keep Bryant under 20 points. As for the offense, Havlicek and Russell would team up for 50 points, while Russell would pull down 30 rebounds. In a low-scoring affair, Boston wins 89-82.
The offensive adjustments would come quickly. Bryant would find his shooting stroke and vintage LeBron and Kobe would take over. Both players scored in the 30s, while Shaq outrebounded Russell by 10 boards. Johnson finishes with 20 points and 20 assists and the Lakers cruised to a 112-92 victory. The Lakers would repeat this in Game 3, but only this time Kareem would get involved for the first time with 41 points and 19 rebounds to lead a 100-91 win.
In Game 4, we would see the Lakers team continue to dominate. Bryant would enter full “Mamba” mode and score 38 points and miss just two shots for the night. Bird would try to go toe to toe with him, but the score would remain tied at 100 points with 10 seconds left. With the Lakers taking the final shot, the Celtics would think Bryant would take the final shot, but he would make a masterful pass to Magic, who would set up LeBron with a royal flush to win the game on a last-second shot.
In the series clincher, the Lakers would prove their dominance. The offensive attack on paper would score 130 points and blow past the Celtics by 20 points. Each player would score at least 20 points as Bryant would score a game-high 35 points. One of the game’s best closers would once again close as the Lakers would reign supreme. The Lakers are better than the Celtics at every position on paper, but we would see it confirmed in real-time.
Series Result: All-Time Lakers vs. All-Time Celtics 4-1
Series MVP: Kobe Bryant