Connect with us


The Celtics Have 18 Championships. The Lakers? 17. (And Maybe One More.)

The Duck Boats are being gassed up for the Boston Celtics championship parade. The clam chowders are on the stove. I’m already being insufferable to other basketball fans — the poor souls who, unlike me, aren’t Celtics fans.

The Celtics won their 18th championship on Monday night — which the N.B.A. says is a record. They broke a tie with their longtime archrivals — the undoubtedly inferior Los Angeles Lakers, who have 17.

Now, a pedantic fan might note that the Lakers won five of them when the franchise was in Minneapolis, so do those really count? I am a pedantic man.

But a really pedantic Lakers fan might have a counter: The franchise does have an 18th championship. The N.B.A. just doesn’t count it.

The N.B.A. formed from a merger of two rival leagues in 1949: The Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League.

The new league had 18 teams: 10 from the B.A.A. and eight from the N.B.L. Several of those teams are still around today: the Celtics, Knicks and Warriors from the B.A.A., and the Lakers, Kings, Hawks, 76ers and Pistons from the N.B.L.

The more established N.B.L. began in 1937, though a version of it existed as the Midwest Conference two years prior. The B.A.A., meanwhile, started in 1946.

Most of the best basketball was in the N.B.L. One indication: A yearly basketball competition from 1939 to 1948 called the World Professional Basketball Tournament featured a hodgepodge of teams from all around the United States. N.B.L. teams won the tournament in seven of its ten years.

Which brings us to the Lakers.

A truly terrible N.B.L. team was the Detroit Gems, which played for only one season, going 4-40 in 1946-1947.

Benny Berger, a Minneapolis businessman, purchased the Gems and relocated the franchise to Minneapolis. He renamed them the Lakers. The Minneapolis Lakers, led by George Mikan, won the N.B.L. championship in their 1947-1948 inaugural season, as well as the final World Professional Basketball Tournament, against the legendary New York Rens, the first Black-owned, all-Black professional team.

Here’s where things get interesting.

After winning that N.B.L. championship, the Lakers left for the B.A.A. and immediately won another championship — led, again, by Mikan. This championship is considered the first official one in Lakers history.

Mikan was one of the best players in the world — if not the best. But his 1948 championship doesn’t officially count in the annals of the N.B.A. Imagine if one of LeBron James’s four championships magically disappeared.

Why did this happen? Shoddy bookkeeping? Amnesia? A long-term conspiracy to make sure the Celtics stay ahead?

All good suggestions, and fine by me as a Celtics fan. But as a basketball geek, I must point out: The N.B.A. considers itself a successor of only the B.A.A., claiming it absorbed the N.B.L., but its name is a merger of the two — N.B.L. plus B.A.A. equals N.B.A.

The N.B.A., however, only counts B.A.A. records for teams and players that survived the merger as part of its official record book (the Warriors’ 1947 B.A.A. championship still counts, for example). When it combined with the N.B.L., the league says it expanded — and didn’t merge with a rival. The Times headline at the time called it a “merger.”

This may seem like semantic details. A merger? Expansion? Who cares? Well, anyone who follows the N.B.A. knows that team and player legacies very much factor into fandom. And in the case of the N.B.A., more than a decade’s worth of statistics just do not count.

But there’s a more important reason the omissions matter. The N.B.L. also integrated before the B.A.A. and the N.B.A.

As Murry R. Nelson recounted in his 2009 book chronicling the history of the N.B.L., the Chicago Studebakers and Toledo Jim White Chevrolets both signed Black players in 1942. Before that, most of its players were white, except for Hank Williams, a member of the Buffalo Bisons in 1935, when the league was known as the Midwest Conference. (Williams died in 1938, shortly after becoming arguably the first Black player to play professionally in the league that would eventually become the N.B.A.)

Not counting N.B.L. statistics as part of the official basketball history books but doing so for the B.A.A. doesn’t just blur discussions about historical greatness. It diminishes the accomplishments of trailblazing players who came before the merger, while also telling an incomplete story about the history of professional basketball.

So to my fellow Celtics brethren, yes, the Celtics have officially retaken the lead for most championships. Let us brag from the bricks of the Freedom Trail to the banks of the Charles River.

But there is an argument that the Lakers remain tied. Let’s not forget about players like Williams and all they did to give us the N.B.A. we have today.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must See

More in News