Last year, all the NBA honks kept telling us that the Celtics-Lakers series signalled the next step in a great rivalry. Not me. Sure, my introduction to the ways of the NBA was during those epic battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s but that has nothing to do what is going on in the minds of the youngsters who are being introduced to the league now.
Think about this: if you are 22 years old, last year was the first time you saw Boston win an NBA Championship. There is a whole generation of people who didn't see those battles of the '80s and don't remember Boston really ever being good.
What made that rivalry was the stars. Yes, the Lakers and Celtics were great teams but there were Hall of Famers all over the place. Magic. Bird. Kareem. Parrish. McHale. Worthy. Obviously, Magic and Bird were the top two players around during those years and they were the faces of those franchises. Since they tangled so long ago, it has been rare to see the game's two best players face off in the Finals.
My favorite battle may have been in 1994. The Rockets and Knicks may have taken advantage of a briefly retired Michael Jordan, but they also wielded Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajawon. They were the No. 1 picks in the 1985 and 1984 drafts, respectively. They were among the best centers in the game and both were the cornerstones of their franchises. They also had history since they met for the 1984 NCAA Tournament championship (Ewing's Georgetown won).
Here are some other star battles in the Finals since Magic/Bird.
1991-Bulls/Lakers: Michael Jordan was reaching his prime; Magic was at the end of his.
1993-Bulls/Suns: Jordan again; MVP Barkley on the other side.
1994-Rockets/Knicks: Hakeem vs Ewing ... just like they did a decade ago.
1995-Rockets/Magic: Hakeem vs Shaq. Hakeem was in his prime while Shaq was just getting started.
1997-1998-Bulls/Jazz: Jordan was going for G.O.A.T. Karl Malone was trying to get a title to Utah.
2001-Lakers/Sixers: Back then, Kobe wasn't regarded as a great. Shaq was, but his battle with MVP Allen Iverson wasn't one-on-one.
2007-Spurs/Cavaliers: Tim Duncan had done it all before. LeBron was just scratching the surface.
As you can see, there have been some great matchups. But the only one that can hold a candle to what a LeBron James vs Kobe Bryant Finals would be that Hakeem-Ewing. The other ones didn't feature players that actually guarded each other. In their two matchups this season, Kobe and LeBron faced off for much of the game.
Seeing those two in the Finals would be awesome. A great thing for the NBA and us, the fans.