Scratching at the eyelids

By my calculations, tonight is the next-to-last night of ESPN/TNT's "Rivalry Week." In principle this is a good thing, but I'm just not feeling it. At the risk of blowing what little credibility I have, there are no lasting NBA rivalries—once a particular group of players and coaches are off the two teams, the rivalry's meaningless. In baseball, football, and, from what little I know, hockey, who you hate as a franchise is as important as who you are. In fact, nothing makes a newcomer more vividly a part of the tradition than to hate who they're now supposed to. Business, not personal.

In basketball, though, rivalries are circumstantial, a product of recent history, and almost too personal (and individual-based), to carry over. Just look at the way ESPN runs through the vaunted match-ups this week hopes to invoke: Lakers/Celtics as Wilt/Russell, Bulls/Pistons as Jordan/everyone (everything was personal for the Bad Boys), Lakers/Celtics 2 as Magic/Bird, Knicks/Bulls as Jordan/"those Knicks" (Jordan could make a whole team take it personal), Heat/Knicks as, well, something that happened so frequently at that time that it boiled over. The most recent great NBA rivalry? Obviously, it's Lakers/Kings, but without principle agitators Shaq, Horry, Rick Fox, Christie, and Webber, does anyone think it means a lick anymore?

Our friends over at scheduling central shouldn't be wasting their time looking to a lost past. Instead, I humbly propose they pay attention to whatever's fresh, however trivial or transient it is. Pistons/Pacers—there's some rawness. Shaq vs. Kobe. Mavs/Kings, since in a very passive, typical way, games between those two offenses have, out of force of habit and repeated playoff meetings, become something more than mere basketball. T-Mac/Vince still has some juice. Marbury vs. whoever's just traded him.

I do have to give the NBA credit for putting Suns/Pistons on tonight, which, as I've obnoxiously written before, is a battle for the future of basketball's very soul. Not sure how often you can put one of these together, but it's certainly no worse than putting on a game that has gravity whatsoever to it.


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