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Celtics vs. Lakers: Which laundry are you cheering for?

Too many trades hurt team identity and rivalry.

OLD SCHOOL: Magic Johnson (left) and Larry Bird played for the same team their entire careers, a rare feat today.

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On Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics will resume the most famous rivalry in professional basketball. The two teams met in the NBA Finals seven times in the 1960s and three times in the 1980s, leaving an indelible mark on the game. So to American sports commentators and fans, who are sentimentalists at heart, this year's Final looks like a blast from the past.

Look again. Sports rivalries as we once knew them are dead, strangled by the constant movement of players between teams. These days, it seems, pro athletes change their uniforms more often than their underwear. That's why comedian Jerry Seinfeld has famously likened spectator sports to "cheering for the laundry."

This year in the NBA, there's plenty of new laundry to cheer for.

The Lakers were also-rans until January, when they acquired forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. And the Celtics were absolutely woeful before the arrival of Kevin Garnett (from Minnesota) and Ray Allen (from Seattle). One Celtic reserve, Sam Cassell, is playing for his eighth NBA team; another, P.J. Brown, is on his sixth one.


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