I Miss Rivalries in the NBA

by | Feb 26, 2021 | Opinion | 0 comments

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I think you’re “pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down”.

There is nothing better than hating a player or a team, in the name of sport, of course. Rooting for your team to vanquish the foe in the enemy uniform. It’s as American as Apple pie. Being a Buffalo, New York native, when the NFL season rolled around, as far back as I could remember, Miami Dolphin hate was the main course on the rivalry menu! This whole area couldn’t wait for the game, the electricity, anxiety, giddiness; the feeling that you would literally explode with excitement at kickoff!

It was an indescribable feeling.

Reflecting on the NBA, a few decades ago when Michael Jordan was right on the cusp of full “His Airness” mode, the Detroit Pistons physically forced a rivalry with the Chicago Bulls. It was only over the course of 2 or 3 years but, a rivalry nonetheless. The punishment that the Pistons dished out actually helped the Bulls become the NBA dynasty of the 90’s. It gave Chicago some much needed toughness. Bird/Magic was on television? Life stopped! Why? Because of the RIVALRY!! I remember the older guys in the barbershop talking about the Russell/Chamberlain battles of yesteryear. They described the games so vividly, you swore that you were there (or even old enough to witness it!). It seemed that every great player/team had a foil a few decades ago. Nowadays it feels like when I watch the NBA, I’m watching an AAU reunion!

I read a basketball article some time ago that told the story of when LeBron James was a teenager. He played for an AAU summer league team out of Oakland, California. So what, you say? Uh…… Lebron is from AKRON, OHIO!! That team also had Kendrick Perkins (NBA) and, Leon Powe (NBA). Betcha there’s no beef in that trio! Here’s what I’m trying to say, athletes in today’s NBA are by far the most physically gifted in the history of the league.

7 foot tall post players who dribble and pass like a 6 foot tall point guard! I don’t know about you but the sight of 6’11 Kevin Durant running up the court unchallenged for a coast to coast dunk irritates the basketball coach in me. I’m never looking to see anyone injured but when I see that, I long for a Charles Oakley or Rick  Mahorn hip check just as a reminder that “ain’t nothin free” out there!

In 1987 during the NBA Finals, the Celtics and Lakers were at it again for the Larry O’brien trophy. Kurt Rambis, the lovable utility man of the “Showtime” Lakers, was on a fast break with what seemed like a easy layup or dunk. Out of nowhere comes the long armed, barrel chested, Kevin Mchale swooping in like a bird of prey. He lays a clothesline headhunting move that the late, great Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum (another childhood idol!) would have been proud of!! Fortunately, Rambis wasn’t injured but, GAME ON 4REAL for both teams afterwards!! Again, I LOVE the NBA players of today but, let’s get back to good old fashioned rivalries.

Lebron could have played tight end in the NFL, I’m convinced of that. Physically, there is no match for him on the court at ANY position. He doesn’t have the mean streak to destroy the opponent like Kobe, Jordan, Bird, Dr. J or the all time hardwood pest, Isaiah Thomas. Great players who stoked the competitive fires of rivalry. Maybe it will return, maybe not. In this present day, my consumption of the modern NBA is like diet ice cream. I’ll partake but, I like good old fashioned sugar in my dessert, not that artificial sweetener.

But hey, I still love ice cream and, I still love the NBA. Let’s put some rivalry syrup on top of the sundae!!

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Mike Hicks
Written by Mike Hicks