Frantz: It’s just Lakers vs. Celtics — nothing else

Boy, you’ve really got to hand it to the marketing gurus over at ESPN. The promos for the NBA Finals are underway, and to say they’ve given a new meaning to the word “hyperbole” would be a massive understatement.

“Amidst the echoes of 10 classic Finals meetings,” the voice-over thunders. “Two historic franchises take the floor to write the next chapter in their storied rivalry …”

The verbal histrionics, by the way, are over the video backdrop of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird standing side-by-side before tip-off, followed by slow-motion footage of a James Worthy dunk and then a Bird dunk (why?), then more Magic and Bird togetherness.

“One of the most anticipated matchups in Finals history,” the announcer bellows (presumably with a straight face, since there are ratings to consider and millions in advertising dollars to be earned) over the background shot, split-screen, of Bill Russell alongside Wilt Chamberlain. Followed by separate images of Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. No, really.

And then Paul Pierce, tugging on his Celtics jersey, before a quick shot of Kobe Bryant on the dribble.

Coverage begins Thursday night, the booming voice reminds us, on ESPN’s parent network, ABC. So this is the historic matchup we were all waiting for, right? Isn’t that what we were told when the NBA playoffs began, seemingly six months ago? We all wanted to see a renewal of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the NBA Finals, they said — and now we’ve got it.

Well whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

The truth is, trying to prop up this L.A.-Boston revival as an extension of the enduring showdowns of the 1980s is like trying to compare 2008’s Britney Spears to 1988’s Madonna. Madonna was a platinum-selling Material Girl, while Britney, umm, well, just did it again.

Outside of Kobe, who is unquestionably an all-time great, is there anyone else in this series that deserves to be mentioned with those 1980s juggernauts? Okay, you might be able to make a case for Garnett, but coming into these playoffs, the Big Ticket’s career has been devoid of any big wins. Younger fans may disagree and try to argue for Pierce, but be honest — who would you rather watch?

The Showtime Lakers offered us Magic, Kareem, and Worthy. The Celtics of the ’80s featured Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. All six of them are Hall of Famers, among the greatest to ever pull on a pair of short shorts. Are we really going to get excited for Kobe, Gasol and Lamar Odom in their place? Are Garnett, Pierce and the incredible disappearing Ray Allen supposed to fill the roles vacatedby Boston’s original Big Three?

The center matchup in the ’80s featured Abdul-Jabbar and Parish. Today it’s Gasol against somebody named Kendrick Perkins.

Back then it was Bird and McHale vs. Worthy and Bob McAdoo or Michael Cooper. Today it’s Pierce and Garnett against Odom and … Vladimir Radmanovic.

Can’ wait to see Kobe and Derek Fisher face off with Allen and … Rajon Rondo? You should’ve seen Magic and Byron Scott against Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge, among others.

The over-hyping of this series was never more evident than in ESPN’s promo, in which the screen flipped from Russell and Wilt in the ’60s to Gasol and Garnett today. Words fail me.

The point is, commissioner David Stern, you might have a nice little matchup here for the NBA title, and these two may well have been the best the league had to offer this season. But before we start trying to stir the echoes and make this series an extension of the rivalry between all-time greats, we need more than just similar colored-jerseys and familiar cities.

What made those previous 10 Finals showdowns great was that talent just oozed from both clubs’ rosters, and the battles they waged were historic because of the high level at which they competed … not just because they were in the Finals.

Enjoy the series, it might be fun. But when it’s over, pop in an old VHS from the ’84 Finals, or switch to ESPN Classic. It’ll be even better.

Sports personality is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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