That season, head coach Chris Ford’s Celtics turned in a 32-50 record, a full 10 games out of the final conference playoff spot. The Lakers didn’t fare much better under Randy Pfund, Bill Bertka and Magic Johnson — yes, that one. At 33-49, they fell nine games short of the final berth. (What, Magic didn’t install the Triangle Offense?)
Before the first jump ball, there was a hint of danger for both teams.
The Celtics won 48 games in the 1992-93 season en route to a postseason berth, only to have their fortunes change drastically in a matter of weeks. Veteran forward Kevin McHale called it quits shortly after the Charlotte Hornets eliminated his team in the first round of the playoffs. Two months later, top scorer Reggie Lewis dropped dead on a court at Brandeis University, the result of a structural heart defect. Not long afterward, center Robert Parish turned 40 years old.
The Lakers were in decline already. Despite a 39-43 record the previous season, they managed to secure the final playoff seed in a top-heavy conference. The Phoenix Suns put them out of their misery in round one.
In the off-season, general manager Jerry West continued to dismantle the Showtime set piece by piece. Forward A.C. Green and guard Byron Scott were released on the same day. When cheerleader Jack Haley followed them out the door a a few weeks later, you knew the Lakers were in deep trouble. Rookie guard Nick Van Exel was left to run the show, but the greater problem was at the other end, where the defense ranked near the bottom virtually across the board. Sound familiar?
As it turned out, the 1993-94 regular season was not a particularly memorable one. Neither was the postseason, which was dominated by . . . O.J. Simpson! See, that’s what happens when the Celtics and Lakers aren’t around.
Call me Old School, but I don’t root for teams in sports that I cover. I root for good stories.
For the sake of the Association, though, it wouldn’t bother me if the Celtics and the Lakers begin to turn it around before long. Because the playoffs look better in green and gold, love ‘em or hate ‘em.
Paul Ladewski is a long-time Chicago-area sportswriter and columnist.