Last night before crashing and burning exhausted I finished Showtime, Jeff Pearlman’s new book about the great Laker teams of the 1980s. Because my family roots are in Boston cheering for the Lakers would have been heresy. Thirty years later I don’t have to care. Call it the miracle of growing older.
The NBA Finals that always sticks out most in my mind was the 1984 contest between the Lakers and Celtics. By this time my family had been uprooted and marooned in South Florida for nearly a decade. Rationally or not, we saw the series as a connection to something deeper than just who would win the NBA trophy.
One must remember that this was still the period before the NBA had become the streamlined entertainment juggernaut it is today. Just a few earlier the NBA finals were not shown live on television; so inconsequential had the league become that the network televised the finals on tape delay after the late news. Read that sentence again.
Lakers vs Celtics had everything. It was East Coast vs West Coast, Bird vs Magic, the return of a historic rivalry, and yes there was a strong racial element added into the mix, though I personally never got caught up in that.
The Celtics took that series in seven games and won at home in the old dump that was Boston Garden. What I remember the most is that the following week my family and I returned to Boston for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My grandfather picked us up at the airport later on the same day that the team had its parade. For reasons I have never understood he was curiously determined to downplay the entire thing. Because it was the pre-internet days my brother and I walked down to the corner store and bought both the Globe and Herald over the few days we were back where our roots lay.
The Lakers and Celtics played in the finals the following year and again in 1987. For me though it was never the same. The 1980s have a strong before and after element. I graduated high school in 1985; after graduation I was another young person trying to figure out my place in the grand scheme of things.
Showtime began in 1979 ran its course until Magic Johnson’s announcements that he was HIV positive in November 1991. Reading Pearlman’s excellent narrative reminded me of how long that was and what I left behind.