The Death of the Rivalry

For better or for worse, I think we can safely say that rivalries as we know them are dead in the NBA. Perhaps some genuine rivalries will arise from the ashes in the coming years, but I think at this point in time, we are forced to acknowledge the fact that there is no legitimate and/or interesting team-vs-team rivalry currently present in our NBA landscape.

Long gone are the days of a team like the Pistons storming off the court (in a play-off game, no less) before time has expired in a calculated display of disrespect; or the days where the odds of the teams breaking down to fight at some point were somewhere along the lines of 2:1 (a la the Miami Heat and New York Knicks in the mid-to-late-90s); or even the rivalries that were deeply informed and nurtured by a deep-seeded history that expressed itself in the minutia of every game. These days are long gone. They are relegated to the realm of semi-obscure rap lyrics voiced by Grammy winners (“A n**** who smokes Reggie Miller”) and ESPN classic spotlights.

In fact, the only rivalry that has really been of any interest whatsoever in the past decade or so has been the Kings and Lakers rivalry from the early years of this century. Of course, this rivalry was of a completely different breed than the historic rivalries of yore. The Kings-Lakers rivalry was built on the fact that seemingly every time the two teams played in the play-offs, they were damn good games. Shaq eventually started playfully insulting the Kings by calling them “the Queens,” and a bit of a rivalry developed, but let’s be real here: any real rivalry has no room for playful insults. Real rivalries are based on two things: either (a) a genuine sense of dislike between the teams that can be sensed every single second of the game or (b) a historical dislike between the teams that the players have (somewhat inexplicably) embraced. In either case, in these “real rivalries,” every single possession of the game seems to express the urgency of the rivalry and, in turn, makes watching the game one of the most compelling experiences you’ll have as a sports fan, whether or not you really care about either of the teams involved.

But, these days are gone in the NBA. I suppose I’m here to summon my inner-Jadakiss and ask “Why”?

The most common explanation for why rivalries have disappeared is the age-old “these black folks are making too much money” excuse that white people love to pull out. The theory goes that rivalries are dead because these guys all make so much money that they don’t care about much of anything and they all like each other and everything is hunkydorey and blah blah blah.

This is hogwash.

Players in the NFL are rich but the Eagles and Cowboys (as well as the Eagles and Giants) rivalry is as alive as its ever been. And what about baseball? The Sox and Yankees rivalry has resurfaced as one of the most hyped events of the sporting year. So, why has the NBA rivalry dynamic all but been eliminated while it has flourished in the other well-paying black sports? It simply can’t be that these rich guys are just so happy being rich that they don’t have time to hate each other. There’s something deeper at play here.

I tend to think the main reason rivalries have gone the way of the dinosaur and underground hip-hop is because of one man: Michael Jordan. This might be disputable, but it is my contention that Mr. Jordan single-handedly ushered in the “this is a league of stars” ethos that we here at FreeDarko have embraced like our own little long lost puppy. Jordan reinvented the league by transcending it: being so fucking dominant that he was the ultimate enemy, inspiring so much hate and fear and dominance that the other contenders wound up nurturing a competitive hatred that seemed to hold no bounds, expanding outwards to other teams. So, what’s remarkable about Jordan’s influence on the league is that he not only instigated hatred towards himself and his team, but his dominance was so widespread, so all-encompassing that his very presence inspired hatred that extrapolated outwards and in all directions. In other words, Jordan’s superhuman dominance not only made everyone hate Jordan, it inspired everyone to hate each other.

The Association benefited from this proliferation of hate. It was more fun to watch than it ever was, and it’s not hard to find the predictable nostalgist talking about the good ol’ days that are covered with little more than a decade’s worth of dust and nostalgic optimism. Again, this is a disputable point, but I think the moment we most clearly hear rivalries' death knell is when Jordan’s influence waned.

My reading of the story goes like this: Within the Association, Jordan was just the dominant bad guy, inspiring awe and fear and hate as he trampled everyone in his path, winning championships with a frequency that likely won’t be duplicated any time soon. Outside of the Association, to the fan/viewer, Jordan helped redefine how we understand the game. His abilities were so transcendent that, despite the fact that he won with such frequency and that the stamina and potency of his competitive desire was incomparable, the ultimate impact Jordan had on the game was his insistence that the “performative” (the HOW the game was played) was what made this game special. Jordan didn’t change the game simply because he won so much--lots of Stars in the NBA have won a shit load of games. He changed the game because he won in such unbelievable, aesthetically-pleasing (and, if you were rooting against him like I perpetually was, heartbreaking) fashion.

And so, in the wake of Jordan-era, we live in a world where the Association has embraced the “performative” over the simply “competitive.” To some degree, the league’s rich history has been abandoned, and all we are left with is the day-to-day performances of individuals (who grew up watching Jordan) battling out whatever it is they need to battle out on the court, and doing so unapologetically, the only way they know how.

Somewhat paradoxically, Jordan—through his inability to lose—helped make us see that this is “NOT a league of winning and losing.” There’s simply no room for sustained rivalries--historical or personal--when the “performative” is the dominant way that the players themselves (and the proud FD readers) engage the NBA. During Jordan's unparalelled tenure in the league, rivalries flourished because he inspired hate everywhere. When he left, the locus of hate was gone and we were left with a generation of players that weren't responding to any sense of hate, but instead were living embodiments of the legacy of performativity that Jordan left us.

Things done changed.



At 3/29/2006 10:57 AM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...


Your historical analysis of the hoops paradigm of the last fifteen years is astoundingly acute. You correctly point out that FD is the true heir of Jordan's performative legacy to the exclusion of the competitive. The death of rivalries, the focus on superstars, regardless of which market they toil in, and the elevation of performance over winning do seem to be the order of the day in the culture of the Association. There is a reason why on two consecutive Christmas Days, ABC had the Kobe vs. Shaq game as the top biller, above the Pistons vs. Spurs matchup.

It's sad to see the NBA unable to sustain Jordan's truly unique fusion of the performative and the competitive, but that is precisely what made him so great. In fact, it may not be sustainable for some time. One could argue that the early millenium Lakers, under Phil Jackson, were able to do just that for three years, led by MJ's clearest successor. However, the three great teams in the league today do not seem to have a single Jordanesque player; the Spurs, Mavs and Pistons seem to be unaffected by the Era of MJ.

At 3/29/2006 11:57 AM, Anonymous T. said...

I'm not sure that this is that accurate. Perhaps there's no national scale rivalries anymore (Pistons/Pacers?) - but there's no team that anyone hates more down here in Houston than Dallas.

(Yes, I'm well aware, that for a rivalry to develop, both sides need to win games) - but it was a contentious playoff series last year, full of dirty plays, short tempers and even Yao Ming got angry and stepped to Josh Howard.

At 3/29/2006 12:54 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

There may not be any great rivarlies at this point, but it's only a matter of time. These things are cyclical. It takes time. If McGrady wasn't so apt at shrinking from the moment especially against Bryant, for example, the Lakers and Rockets could have a great one.

And do you really think that if Ron hadn't been suspended for all of last season and gotten traded this year, Indy and Detroit wouldn't be Miami vs. NY all over again?

All it takes is one incident (especially in the playoffs; think MJ and Xavier McDaniels almost coming to blows in the '92 Conference Finals and effectively kick-starting that great Bulls-Knicks rivarly), one well-placed comment in the press and a cast of fearless characters to give birth to a great rivarly.

Give it time.

At 3/29/2006 1:01 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Shouldn't that Ron-Ron and Detroit thing sparked regardless of Ron playing in the game? They billed it as a rivalry, but them dudes were hugging each other like any other game.

Perhaps I should edit my thesis to say that "rivalries on a grand scale are dead." Sorry, but nobody besides Dallasonians and Houstonites really care about the in-Texas rivalry of them two teams.

I do think some rivalries will shape up in the near future, but I think the game changing over the past decade or so is also an important factor in the disappearance of these rivalries.

Perhaps more needs to be made about the sense of "ahistoricity" a lot of these players have. In order for historical rivalries to be worth watching, the players kind've have to buy into them at least a little bit. Surely it's the fans that make something like the Sox and Yanks rivalry out to be more than it is, but the players have to invest some energy in that history. I wonder if players in the NBA are willing or capable of doing that.


At 3/29/2006 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rivalries stem from hatred and success. Unfortunately, the most successful teams of the past five seasons have been hard to hate - the Spurs and the Pistons. How do you hate Duncan, the most boring good player in the game. Hating him is like hating Allan Houston's j... and the Pistons, despite some beef with the Pacers, are a team-first group of players that are hard to really dislike. You think Heat fans (if such a thing exists) are going to get worked up to beat the Pistons because they genuinely dislike the Pistons.

So who will save the rivalry? Kobe. No one can bring out hate and success like Kobe - give him a contender, and you'll see the rivalries again.

At 3/29/2006 1:04 PM, Blogger emynd said...

By the way, mutoni, how is an example that involves MJ supposed to somehow disprove my theory that rivalries died out after MJ?


At 3/29/2006 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to expand my thoughts a bit, no one gives a eff about Dallas as a rival because Dallas has not succeeded at a level where the average fan would care. The Yank-Sox rivalry is based upon the Yank's success; it's why in Baltimore they hate the Yanks, too. And everywhere else baseball is played. The Jordan Bulls were hated in NYC; hated in Cleveland; hated probably in Seattle, in Portland, in Utah, wherever a contender whose fan's championship hopes laid wasted because of Jordan and Pippen....

The only two teams with success capable of bringing out that hate in fans and players are the Pistons and the Spurs, and other teams and their fans can't find a valid reason to hate those two teams other than for their success. Petty jealous makes not a rivalry. You need a bad guy to focus your hate on, too.

Get Kobe and KG together on the Lakers. You'll have rivalries in no time...

At 3/29/2006 1:30 PM, Blogger Mirabeau Lamar said...

I remember every playoff season from 99 through 04 absolutely hating the Lakers. Watching the Lakers and rooting against them seemed to unite all of my friends. Nothing like a flashy LA team to truly hate. Spurs fans are still bitter about the 04 series with LA as that rivalry had potential as well.
Having two demonstrative superstars can really make a team some enemies. The addition of Rodman to the Bulls for the second 3peat surely exacerbated that hatred.

At 3/29/2006 1:31 PM, Blogger mutoni said...


rivalries didn't die out after MJ (the Bulls version, of course). Miami and NY faced off in an epic 7 game duel the year after Mike left us. Plus, Lakers vs. Kings did happen right?

The only reason Detroit v.s Indy didn't escalate any further is because Ron is no longer involved. If Stern had been lenient and suspended him for say 15 games, some crazy shit would have went down.

And I see no reason to believe that today's NBA players are incapable of investing the necessary energy to build a great rivalry. There have surely been periods (ableit, short ones) in NBA history where no great rivalry existed. I'm simply too lazy right now to look it up.

Like I said before, these things come and go. Give it time.

At 3/29/2006 1:47 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

Seems to me that key ingredients to rivalries are sustained success and repeated playoff match-ups.

If GMs can't acquire and retain talent, teams can't maintain their success, there isn't competition, and the same teams don't see each other in the playoffs, where realy rivalries seem to get formed.

In the East, e.g. the Sixers, Nets, Bucks, and Raptors could have formed some great rivalries over the last five years, but none has been able to maintain a roster that permitted sustained success. The rest is counter-history.

At 3/29/2006 2:36 PM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Let me make an overly simplistic explanation for lack of rivalries: expansion.

When Russel and Wilt started out dueling, they played against each other in around 8 regular season games per year, then usually met in the playoffs. In the 1960s, the Lakers and Celtics met in the Finals quite frequently. And in the early 80s, you could count on the Celtics and Sixers competing for the Eastern Conference every year.

With expansion, you don't play everybody as often. You don't have to meet the same teams in the playoffs year after year (and when teams do, such as the Lakers-Kings, you get a rivalry). You don't usually have to overcome a particular opponent to win a title (as the Pistons had to overcome the Celtics, and the Bulls had to overcome the Pistons).

With everything more spread out, the caustic connection between particular teams is lost.

At 3/29/2006 2:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

it would seem to make sense that we would see more star-on-star, regardless of where each currently plays, rivalries in the wake of jordan and free agency's heyday. somehow, though, these always seem relegated to the category of gossip, or depend on the currently involved team(s) and their fans taking up what's basically an individual cause for them to get any media coverage.

kobe/shaq being the exception that proves the rule, of course.

i mean, do you see any great clamoring for pistons/kings?

At 3/29/2006 2:46 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

what i forgot to say: it seems like the greatest individual rivalries, either as a cause or effect, were anchored in franchise rivalries.

At 3/29/2006 7:18 PM, Anonymous Carlos Destrroyo said...

I think the constant fluctuation of players between teams, combined with the lack of face time between teams, works against the notion of creating meaningful rivalries. For instance, take a look at the Celtics and Lakers. Only The Truth has been with Boston for more than 3 seasons, and the senior members of the Lakers are Kobe and Devean George. The lack of continuity amongst the rest of the team really makes it hard for players to develop a shared hatred of a singular opponent. Combine that with the fact that they only play something like twice a year, and a once-fierce rivalry turns into just another game.

Of the great teams (Stones, Spurs, Mavs, and Heat,) the only stars you can really hate on are Dirk and Shaq. However, Dirk hasn't won anything, and Shaq is so damn impossible to slow down that it feels like a waste to hate on him. The rest of the Dallas team is pretty anonymous, and it's hard to get worked up about Mark Cuban, so Dallas flies under the radar despite their crazy winning percentage. On Miami's end, Wade hasn't been in the national spotlight long enough to grate on anyone, guys like 'Toine and Flex Mourning have been relegated to minor roles, and the team hasn't been together long enough for fans to really see them as a hateable target.

Put Damon Jones and Artest on the Lakers though, and people will bring guns to the game.

This was much longer than intended.

At 3/29/2006 7:53 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

It all relates back to the lack of villainy. Much like the media never telling us the good parts about...(er sorry, forgot which blog I was on for a minute), they never tell us the bad parts about the stars in this "league of stars". Sure Bruce Bowen is hateable, but he's Bruce Bowen. He isn't beating you, Timmah is rocking you to sleep (1 bankshot...2 bankshots...3banzzzzzzz), if you are an Gilbertophile, does it really give you a lot of satisfaction if Arenas outscores BB 35-6?

By all rights, how it should work is that if you are and LBJ man, you should actively be rooting against Melo and vice versa, but with the constellation the way it is, you are encouraged to have your Lebron and you Anthony, even though a Kosher diet might instruct otherwise.

To go back to the Red Sox - Yankees analogy, I'm not sure whether I enjoy Papi hitting HR's more or less than Slappy striking out in the clutch. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone in the NBA who I want to see do poorly. Heels! We need heels!

At 3/29/2006 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

charlie villanueva has the perfect look for a villain, with his crazy hairlessness it's ike he's out of a bond script.. that or he's rudy from fat albert.
anyway it's kinda hard to hate on him though, he doesn't really do much wrong, except for not trying of course.

At 3/29/2006 9:33 PM, Blogger donthaveablog said...

one just needs to watch vince carter before every game smiling and chit chatting with anyone and everyone on the other team, giving them props and hugs like they're long lost brothers reuniting. they're no rivalries cuz everyone just wants to love each other...maybe they've learnt something from the east coast/west coast rap wars, i don't know.

constructing the schedule so that the emphasis is on inter-conference/division play would be a good start.

At 3/29/2006 10:27 PM, Blogger emynd said...

I don't think you can really create rivalries. The NBA had a ridiculous "rivalry week" (which is what inspired this article) and I dont think any of us even fucking noticed.

Also, there rather clearly isn't a lack of villians... it's just that, for whatever reason, these villians don't inspire the hatred that a succesful rivalry needs. I think it's more complicated than just saying that there's not enough good teams or whatever. It's not like the rivaling Knicks and Pacers were stellar teams.

I stand by my thesis.

Rivalries as we know them are dead. They will undoubtedly evolve into something else, helping us redefine what a "rivalry" is, but the rivalries of yore are gone.

Eat it.


At 3/29/2006 11:23 PM, Blogger donthaveablog said...

well thank god for the NHL bc there are plenty plenty of rivalries there.

At 3/29/2006 11:33 PM, Anonymous Tinns said...

You probably got other stuff to do by now, but if you feel like it e, let's hear a list of those villans that there are clearly so many of. And good ones like Dirk.

(Really nice post, by the way (Butler!). It also made me think about what FD would be like (or if it could even exist at all) with MJ running things.)

At 3/30/2006 1:41 AM, Anonymous dp said...

there isn't any one reason for the diminishing presence of rivalries inside the association but a combination of factors.

teams have to be good for a sustained period. these teams have to retain their core players and these players have to describe a detectale dislike for the other team.

MIAMI and DETROIT might be able to form a rivalry. I see SAN ANTONIO and DALLAS making an even better rivalry since they hail from the same state.

the passion of the fans also lends to the forming of a rivalry and NBA fans lack the bloodlust of even your most demure NHL fan (aside from Detroit fans love of Ron Artest).

I don't think rivalies have gone the way of the dinosaur but I agree with you that the marketing of superstar personalities has removed the focus from team play.

At 3/30/2006 2:23 AM, Blogger Drew said...

Deadspin shine

At 3/30/2006 4:48 AM, Anonymous Torgo said...

One of the reasons the Cowboys Redskins thing is such a rivalry is the number of games in the NFL season. They play each other twice each year, out of 16 games, and those two games usually have a tremendous impact on who goes to the playoffs. Carlos Destrroyo and Pacifist Viking have it down, free agency and expansion killed the rivalry. Can you imagine, after all the negativity, LJ and Mourning playing on the same team again? Or Jordan playing *with* X? (Or John Starks, or Reggie Miller, or Dikembe) It's not that they make too much money to hate each other, it's just too likely that they might end up working together to really start some hatred. Give Ray Allen a week to get over it, and he'd love playing with BB. It'd cover his total lack of D.

Now, teams play each other 4 times a year, and while the shame of losing all four games with Atlanta is something Indy should commit group suicide over, it's not going to stand in their way come April. Four games out of 82 just isn't enough to matter. 2 in-conference games out of 16 is life or death.

Final point: Jesus. The same thing is going on in the NFL. A couple years back, I think JVG got in trouble complaining about Charlie Ward leading prayer groups with players from both teams before, and after, each game. If they're holding hands and praying before a game, how bloodthirsty can they get? Of course, JVG caught a lot of flak for the comment, and since then, people aren't willing to comment on it. If you ask me, though, I blame god.

At 3/30/2006 9:00 AM, Blogger emynd said...

I'm not buying any of the "They don't play each other enough," "Teams have to be good for a sustained period," or even the "Core players keep moving around" arguments. These things have been happening in both MLB and the NFL and rivalries are still quite strong there. We can manufacture all sorts of reasons that rivalries might be dead, but none of the reasons are as striking to me as the fact that the way the game itself is played has changed dramatically since Jordan.

As for the list of potential Villians (I'm limiting this to play-off only teams), ten years ago this list could potentially include any "star" player on any given team, regardless of likability (i.e. Isiah Thomas), but I think this list is a good start:

Kobe Bryant
Ron Artest
Rasheed Wallace
Carlos Boozer
Vince Carter
Kenyon Martin
Paul Pierce
Stephen Jackson
Damon Jones
Andrew Bogut
Alonzo Mourning
Antoine Walker
Sam Cassell
Kurt Thomas

I'm sure I've missed a few people, but these are just some of the potentially hatable characters in this league, no?


At 3/30/2006 9:25 AM, Anonymous Torgo said...

If you're not buying those reasons, well, at least let me quibble with those "villains" you've got there. To me, a villain has to be someone with a rational chance of defeating our hero. We didn't have the slightest fear that the jungle dwelling revolutionaries could harm a hair on Arnold, but the Predator, we wondered, "How the hell can he beat that thing?", and when he did, with a freaking bow and arrow, and some mud, we felt cheated.

Which brings me to Damon Jones. He's Sully. He's a funny man. That's why we'll kill him last. Or in other words, he's an insufferable jackass. Last year, he was a minor threat (not the good punk kind), but this year, he's a joke. Not a villain. A minor henchman. Same with Boozer (scum who will probably pull his hammy while actually trying to take candy from a baby), Walker (has been who freakishly started at center last night), and Kurt Thomas... has been. And what could possibly make Bogut a villain? He hasn't done anything yet.

On the other hand, if Melo is a villain, what about LBJ? I see Melo as the antihero, while LBJ is starting to feel a little Lex Luthor to me.

Sheer slime? Tim Thomas. The kind of guy who would wait until the hero is exhausted, then stab him in the back.

At 3/30/2006 10:11 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think the problem with villianry is that the cult of freedarko has triumphed, and, in the wake of an anti-hero like iverson becoming the unofficial face of the league, it's become much more difficult to unequivocally hate an opposing player that has the gravitas to qualify as a villian. like artest, kobe, sheed, vince, melo, pierce. . .all of these are prime examples of fd psychology in motion. which is kind of the anti-jordan, since mj never showed enough for you to rationalize or complicate his villianry.

At 3/30/2006 11:07 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

I think Torgo is right--it's not just that teams play each other less, it's that those games MEAN less.
In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams go to the playoffs, and 8 of those have to win their division. So when the Vikes and Packers play, there is something real on the line. In MLB, there's only two wild cards, so you probably have to beat your rival to win the division and go to the playoffs. In the NBA...well, you might want to beat your rival to get a better seed in the playoffs, but you really don't have to beat your rival just to make the playoffs. There's less at stake.

But I'm more interested in concrete explanations than the more abstract Jordan-changed-everything explanation (which I guess would put me in the minority here).

At 3/30/2006 11:51 AM, Anonymous nightingale said...

Pistons/Pacers could have been a great rivalry, but it was spoiled by a cup.

Before "Fight Night at the Palace," Pistons/Pacers had the makings of a great long-term rivalry: (1) same division - meet 4 times per year; (2) met in the playoffs many times in recent history, with multiple game 7s; and (3) multiple crazies/villains like Ron Ron and Sheed. In fact, the initial events that night could have cemented the rivalry, what with Ben actually losing his temper, the mini-shove-fight, and Ronny's impromptu nap on the scorer's table. Had the night ended there, a true rivalry could have blossomed.

But then that cup came flying in. With the subsequent suspensions and the intense league scrutiny, the rivalry was choked off before it even started. Any semblance of a rivalry was buried when Coach Right Way called time to recognize the end of the Reggie era.

Another great rivalry started this way in Detroit between the Red Wings and the Avalanche: top 2 teams in the West for a few years, many playoff meetings and game 7s, and a few crazies (even for hockey). Then Claude Lemieux caved in Chris Draper's face in the '96 conference finals. Had he been suspended for a season, the rivalry may have ended. But he got 1 game, and thousands of penalty minutes and several goalie fights later, a true rivalry was rollin.

As an unabashedly selfish fan, I blame a cup for taking away my rivalry.

At 3/30/2006 11:53 AM, Anonymous Carlos Destrroyo said...


Your villains are hateable enough, but for the most part you can only hate these guys on a game to game basis. Only Ron-Ron, Kobe, Vince, Pierce, and 'Melo are good enough to honestly be the catalyzing force behind a man's hatred of another team, and even then it can be a stretch. Artest is so new to Sacramento that no one in Detroit gives a crap. Vince hasn't been in Jersey long enough to break non-Torontonian hearts, and the Nets still feel like a fluke without a lethal big man. Boston is bad enough to ignore Pierce, and Denver isn't enough of a fixture to get heated attention from every city they play in.

The rest of the list falls into the "Guys you can hate for existing, but not for killing your team." Who outside of Cleveland honestly cares about Boozer? 'Sheed is loud, but there are four other guys on the Pistons who can slay you. Kurt Thomas is on a good team, but do you honestly see him being The Man and dropping Dallas or the Spurs?

I agree with torgo. These guys are all annoying in their own way, but none of them have the continuity with one team or killer instinct to get into a "hate" niche.

The Nets had a chance with K-Mart and the tattoo of his ugly-ass kid; as a Pistons fan, I hated that guy. If they could have thrown Vince and/or Zo into that mix, there would not be a team I hated more. However, they're merely irritating.

Lebron is one guy I see as having potential to be a league-wide killer, but the man has no team and seems to have been created in the basement of a mad PR scientist. I guess the latter is reason enough to hate him; how can you be that damn talented and not say anything interesting?

At 3/30/2006 12:54 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the brawl united the pistons and the pacers against the fans. i guarantee you that sheed et al. felt more sympathetic toward their fellow pros, on the verge of getting murdered by 20,000 drunk spectators, than said angry mob.

and ben/artest fighting was actually just the latest installment of one of the weirder personal rivalries of all-time. one that you could argue galvanized both teams the way that the great star/star grudges did way back when. how amazing would it have been if that year's eastern finals had been all about which defender could most impact the game?

but the brawl made it into some "we can get through this. . . we're not as bad as that made it seem. . . we love competing against each other and want to meet again to prove how professional and un-ugly it can be." distancing themselves with the viscerality of the fans' hatred. and really, can you blame them?

At 3/30/2006 2:06 PM, Anonymous nightingale said...

"how amazing would it have been if that year's eastern finals had been all about which defender could most impact the game?"

almost as amazing as it would have been had artest's penthouse-proposed pay-per-view boxing match with ben actually happened.

At 3/30/2006 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is easy: as others have pointed out, we had two great rivalries getting going, then both defused abruptly. everyone hated lakers, was getting to point of 90s bulls, spurs/lakers likely could have been great, etc. but lakers blew up. pistons/pacers well on its way, situation blows up, artest suspended for season, then traded, rivalry gone. this is not some sea change, just anomalous situation.

At 3/30/2006 4:01 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

I have nothing to add to What Shoals Said, so I will reprint and agree. This is more or less what I've been trying to say:

i think the problem with villianry is that the cult of freedarko has triumphed, and, in the wake of an anti-hero like iverson becoming the unofficial face of the league, it's become much more difficult to unequivocally hate an opposing player that has the gravitas to qualify as a villian. like artest, kobe, sheed, vince, melo, pierce. . .all of these are prime examples of fd psychology in motion. which is kind of the anti-jordan, since mj never showed enough for you to rationalize or complicate his villianry.


At 3/31/2006 12:15 AM, Anonymous sauce1977 said...

Jordan's example seemingly appears to be an anomaly.

In order to reach the status of Jordan, one must be a Family-Friendly Marketing Dionysus, and one must also play for a team which enjoys an extended decade of dominance and success.

Jordan's presence grew before the internet. In the current era of professional sport, scandal is seconds away from an uploaded picture and a story to go with it. Jordan, in his day, could have easily reached scandal and resulting iconic deflation through his gambling exploits.

Jordan's team, the Bulls, were fueled by a semi-talented executive body which supplied enough quality support to sustain the team's dominance to multiple championships.

The individual salary of a dominant player, in this age, helps derail the financial ability for a team to stock quality support for an extended period.

The best example is Kevin Garnett and the 2005-2006 Timberwolves.

The NBA's CBA, coupled with the mediocre executive talent of Kevin McHale, could keep Garnett in Minnesota and never provide him with enough talent to support an extended run of dominance.

That would make Garnett one-half short of the mark to approach Planet Jordan.

To find the future of the Jordan Path, LeBron James could approach the $$$-ability. If the Cavaliers, a team with a most inept past, find enough supporting role-players, King James could see extended on-court success.

However, he's only as marketable as his personal story allows. He, like every athlete, is one scandalous story from being denied Disney-Pure Gigantorlucre.

At 3/31/2006 1:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't we all just get along and agree to hate the Spurs? Rivalry reinvented for the 2K6...

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