With the Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, taking home the 2019-20 NBA championship, the storied purple-and-gold franchise won their 17th title as an organization, a mark that can only be matched by one other team… their chief rivals historically, the Boston Celtics.
The debate about which franchise is better has been going on for decades, all the way back through the 1960s when the likes of Jerry West, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek were battling it out for rings.
Then, the ’80s arrived and the rivalry became more intense than ever when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took the NBA to new heights with their almost-annual showdowns for championships.
Now, with both organizations deadlocked at 17 titles apiece, it has become just a bit harder to decide which team is the NBA’s GOAT, or best, franchise.
Below, we break down the top arguments each side can make in the heated debate. Let’s get into it.
One of the best arguments Lakers fans can make regarding this hot-button issue is that Los Angeles has a better win rate in the regular season and more wins in the playoffs outright than Boston does.
The numbers break down as follows:
The Lakers can also boast the impressive claim that they’re the only franchise in NBA history with a win rate of over 60 percent in the postseason.
Those are otherworldly numbers for both franchises, and the Celtics do have more regular-season wins overall, but advantage Lakers in this one.
Los Angeles also comes out on top in the number of playoff series won as a franchise with 112 compared to Boston’s 84.
Nevertheless, Celtics fans can counter by saying that head-to-head, Boston has gotten the better of Los Angeles more often than not.
In regular-season competition, the Celtics have a 161-131 record against the Lakers, an advantage of 30 wins for the Bostonian franchise.
Meanwhile, in postseason matchups, the Celtics are 43-31 against L.A., 9-3 specifically in Finals showdowns against their top rivals.
Sure, a lot of those wins were accumulated in the ’60s during the days of Russell and West, but the facts are the facts, and at the end of the day, Boston has come out on top against the Lakers more than vice versa.
Winning a championship is an impressive and difficult feat, no matter what the circumstances are.
That doesn’t mean every title is worth the same, however, as some years, simply by virtue of the level of competition, winning a ring isn’t as difficult as it would be other years.
Case in point, the Celtics won their championships with an average of 13.9 NBA teams in the league. The Lakers, on the other hand, won their titles with an average of 21 NBA teams in the league.
Another way we could look at it is this: 12 of Boston’s 17 championship runs came before the NBA/ABA merger of 1976 – the point that the vast majority of the best basketball players in the world started playing in a single league – while 11 of L.A.’s 17 titles came after the merger.
No way around it here: The exponential growth of the game from the 1950s through today has made it so Los Angeles won their titles facing much stiffer competition, and there’s really no way for Celtics fans to argue that.
It’s a well-known fact that the Lakers haven’t always played in Los Angeles, having spent the first 12 years of their history as a franchise in Minneapolis, where the iconic ‘Lakers’ name came from.
Nevertheless, what’s not as well-known is the fact that the Lakers won five of their championships while playing in Minneapolis. That means “merely” 12 of the franchise’s 17 championships came while they were located in Los Angeles.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have always played in Boston, meaning all 17 of their titles came while playing in their current city, meaning the Boston Celtics do indeed have more titles than the Los Angeles Lakers if we want to be really specific
It might not be your No. 1 argument if you want to make the case that the Celtics are the NBA’s GOAT franchise, but it’s still pretty noteworthy.
Los Angeles comes out on top here as well, with 33 Finals appearances in franchise history (one came in the NBL, one more came in the BAA and the other 31 came in the NBA) to Boston’s 22 appearances in the league’s championship series.
The caveat here is that the Lakers making that many more Finals appearances than Boston also means they have a lower success rate in winning titles once they do make it to the championship series.
Los Angeles has a 51.5 percent win rate in Finals series in comparison to the Celtics’ 77.3 percent win rate in Finals matchups.
If you look at the top players in the history books of each of these franchises, you’ll find a who’s who of all-time greats in the sport.
Decade to decade, both the Celtics and Lakers have boasted some of the best players the NBA has ever seen.
However, if we take a closer look at what the numbers say, Boston can actually make the claim they have had more all-time historic players play for them than the Lakers have.
In all, there are 36 players in the Naismith Hall of Fame for the Celtics to “just” 27 for the Lakers. Both franchises have had three coaches inducted into the Hall-of-Fame.
Insane numbers for both, but the advantage to Boston here as far as Hall-of-Fame pedigree.
However, if we take a more micro look at both franchise’s annual top-end talent, it’s actually Los Angeles who comes out on top of the Celtics here.
That’s because historically, the Lakers have had more players be voted into All-NBA teams at year’s end than the Celtics.
The final tally there reads 95 All-NBA selections for the Lakers to 81 for Boston. And if we look at just 1st Team All-NBA selections, the advantage still goes to Los Angeles with an outrageous 63 to 36 for the Celtics.
That’s a whole lot of basketball royalty competing in Lakers jerseys historically. Boston’s numbers here are impressive, too, but Los Angeles still blows them out of the water in All-NBA selections.
Our second tie between the two historic clubs comes when looking at All-Star players from each franchise.
That’s because in the history of the prestigious event, Celtics players have been given the honor to showcase their skills in the contest 146 times. That’s six more than the Lakers’ 140.
If we take a look at this stat by just the number of players to be named All-Stars in each team’s history, L.A. has had 32 while the Celtics have had 28.
Taking a look at the average point differentials for both franchises, we deemed this one to be a tie because while the Celtics have had a better point differential than the Lakers historically, that’s just in the regular season. In the playoffs, it’s Los Angeles who prevails.
Boston has outscored opponents by 2.7 points nightly in regular-season competition. In comparison, the Lakers have outscored opponents by 2.6 points in the regular season.
It’s a different story in the playoffs, with Los Angeles outscoring opponents by an average of 2.5 points compared to Boston’s 2.3.
The Lakers came out on top when it comes to All-NBA players but Boston has the advantage in Hall-of-Fame inductees while the two teams tied in All-Star accolades, as we already discussed.
But one other area where the Celtics also come out on top as far as player accolades go is in league MVP winners, an award they have won 10 times as a franchise versus eight Laker winners of the prestigious accolade.
The Boston players to have won MVP in league history are Bob Cousy, Russell (five-time winner), Dave Cowens and Larry Bird (three-time winner). The Lakers to have won the award, meanwhile, are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (he won it three times with L.A.), Magic Johnson (three-time winner), Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
If we break it down to pre- and post-merger, that leaves just three of the Celtics MVP seasons coming after the merger while all of Los Angeles’ came post-merger.
Nonetheless, it’s still 10-8 in MVPs in favor of Boston here.
The Lakers have had seven scoring champions to their name while the Celtics, somewhat shockingly, have had zero.
The seven scoring championships in Laker history came courtesy of George Mikan (three-time winner), West (one-time winner), O’Neal (one-time winner) and Bryant (two-time winner).
That’s a pretty decent group of point-producers right there.
It won’t come to as a surprise to anyone who uses social media even seldomly, but judging by online presence, the Lakers have a bigger fan base than the Celtics do.
And it’s not all that close.
On Twitter, Los Angeles’ purple-and-gold franchise has an absurd 9.2 million followers to Boston’s 3.5 million. On Instagram, the Lakers boast 14.9 million followers to the Celtics’ 5.3 million. And on Facebook, Los Angeles has 21 million followers to Boston’s 8.9 million.
A clear and emphatic sweep here for the Lakers.
The final tally here in talking points “won” reads as follows: Six categories won by the Lakers, four categories won by the Celtics and two draws.
So going by our article, one could argue the Lakers have the better case to be considered the NBA’s GOAT franchise overall thanks to a wide variety of factors.
But no matter what, fans are going to have their opinions and in a topic as hotly contested as this one, it’s not likely minds are going to change that easily. We just wanted to present the facts for each side in a fair manner.