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On the NBA: Where’s the Beef?

Rivalries have long keyed the hold of pro sports leagues over their audiences. Lakers/Celtics, Yankees/Red Sox, Cowboys/49ers, Michael Jordan/Everyone, etcetera—these are highly palatable binaries for network executives. This is because rivalries cut to the heart of what makes professional sports so appealing to so many, at base-level; rivalries ignite an emotional, physical, regional, Us-versus-Them pride that’s a breath-taking form of escape for fans who are worn out with the problems of their own typical days, full of taxes and commutes and complicated people asking for conversation and affection—among many less mentionable problems. Sports only ask for your money. And in these storied rivalries, we have found cause to unite as local, otherwise-anonymous citizens, and the solidarity of rooting has brought senses of passion and inclusion to many a beleaguered person.

But in the contemporary NBA, I’m heartened to see that this solidarity seems to be shifting away from these classic binaries—away from anything like that demon always bordering eerily close to healthy competitive fervor: hatred—and more toward a common love of the game.

Last I checked, there are few real rivalries left in the league. The only which immediately comes to mind is between the Heat and Celtics. These teams seem to genuinely dislike each other, as the Celtics have routinely gotten into LeBron’s head and pushed his teams to the brink—and with Ray Allen as the new Helen of Troy between the two, Jason Terry is right to suggest that ‘fireworks’ are in store if the teams meet in the playoffs.

But what is it that thrilled or enraged us when LeBron recently posterized Terry, in the midst of aMiamicomeback inBoston? Distinct from the countless displays of his well-chronicled athleticism, the end of the sequence had the King earning a rare technical foul, as he leered over Terry’s body, sprawled onto the court, and dipped and re-grasped his mouth-guard in taunt-like fashion. Whatever the cause—genuine, strong mutual dislike seems likely—this moment was far more charged than any other of the season’s big-time dunk highlights (which are increasing as ostensible career currency as the league’s following is more and more embedded with the internet). This rivalry is real, and all the others that have been pawned off to me and other NBA fans all season are fairly laughable. This one has beef.

Is this a good thing? Again, I argue that it’s not, and that we should be pleased and heeded as fans of the game to witness, and want, something as civil as possible in our NBA experience. To play up, stoke, and root for heated rivalry (a sort of competition that goes beyond just wanting to win) is frankly mean-spirited. I do get very excited when moments like the dunk over Terry occur—or when I hear rumors of any number of things Kevin Garnett whispered to opponents, to rile them into senselessness—but it’s the better part of me that’s even more satisfied when I hear about how friendly the Heat and Thunder (likely to meet again for the title, this June) are with each other, off of the court. Calls for them to share the kind of antagonism enjoyed between James and Terry belong in the bush league.

I expect the media to continue their efforts to sell us any old game as a rivalry—that sort of thing still sells. But in a world in which the media is less and less centralized, and in which each individual’s voice is more heard than before, the grander, more nuanced picture shows us that, for the most part, these guys are pretty friendly. And this adds to my appreciation of the sport, because gamesmanship and the want to destroy walk the finest of lines in a world as talent-dense as the NBA, and I’m now saving extra admiration for the stars who can manage to walk it.

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Total comments: 25
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    I thought that whole back and forth was hilarious. Danny Ainge was whining about Lebron whining and Pat Riley called him a hypocrite to his face. For anyone who hates Boston as much as I do, it was an enjoyable moment.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Fine coming.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    I found some....

    Pat Riley vs. Danny Ainge...still going at it 30 years later

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, the thing is that in Uruguay's First Division, there are 14 out of 16 teams based on the capital city (some years ago, there was an intent to expand the sport and make it a "national thing" but other cities teams couldn't compete financially). We are 3 million, half of them live in the capital city, and the capital city's state is the smallest one of the 19 states....just so you get the picture.

    By the way, I didn't know MK Dons had to do with Wimbledon....

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    I love soccer more than anything and am from a country in which the two most important teams congregate about 93% of the fanbase. Those two are two of the greatest team in soccer history ever (Nacional and Peñarol). Both were world champions 3 times and they both have won over 40 national championships. You could understand that the rivalry is much needed, it's like a tournament itself inside the tournament. Maybe you don't win the championship, but you won both matches against your rival and you get to brag about it. Rivalries create passion, and in this hemisphere, usually that passion creates violence between fans of both teams (which of course is not cool) before and after the game.

    What I don't particularly like is that a single team has 6 or 7 rivals just because there was a beef in one game. Rivalry, in leagues like the NBA, should be based primarily on location (and the proximity of said rival) and on history (Lakers-Celtics, period).

    I think a lot of the problem with the generation of authentic rivalries in American sports can be tied to the franchise system. In Europe, sports clubs are deeply associated with the local community and have been for a very long period of time. It is inconceivable that a team would, for example, up and leave to go somewhere else like the Sonics/Thunder did (although actually come to think of it I remember this happening once in the UK, when a third tier side Wimbledon FC moved to Milton Keynes. But I think that was because the Wimbledon team had to declare for bankruptcy, and there was such an outcry about it that after a few years they tried to say that instead of moving they had actually founded a new club...long story). I know teams do a lot of community outreach programs (I'm inundated with NBA Cares ads when I watch League Pass, I know that much), but the threat of a team leaving means that only the most historic and deeply embedded franchises have that sense of connection to their city that allows their fanbases to be truly rabid about their team. That's why the NCAA teams tend to inspire more passion from their fans - the university has a built in set of fans who identify with their team, and the team's identity is tied to the university. Can you imagine the Longhorns deciding they're going to move to a new university and leaving Texas behind? It would be ridiculous! And that permanence is what allows rivalries to thrive.

    Another factor that plays into this is geographical proximity. There's a reason why the biggest games in what the rest of the world calls football tend to be derbies - the clubs are based in the same cities and once you've picked a side you are going to see opposing supporters every day. Usually one's allegiances are dependent on some division within society (eg. for Rangers/Celtic in Scotland, the Protestants support Rangers and the Catholics support Celtic) and that helps cement the tribalism and sometimes hatred that can develop. With that closeness comes the ability to attend each others' home games without too much effort, which leads to a riveting atmosphere at the matches where they play each other. The sets of supporters hate each other, and that hatred is channeled into a hatred of the opposing team that heightens the drama. In the NBA in particular, there are only two cities with multiple basketball teams, so unless you're in New York or Los Angeles, you don't have to pick a side. There are no societal boundaries that deliniate "Trailblazers people" from "Rockets people" apart from where you live. The distance you'd have to travel to attend away games (and therefore have significant interaction with the fanbases of another team) prevents that passion from adding to things.

    Now, you probably don't want the quite level of enmity that fans have in some of the more bitter rivalries, but provided it doesn't get to that extreme they do add quite a lot to the fan experience. On the surface there's a bit of a clash with the NBA's aim of being family friendly entertainment, but I think it should be possible to get something going without destroying that.

    ST

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    I love soccer more than anything and am from a country in which the two most important teams congregate about 93% of the fanbase. Those two are two of the greatest team in soccer history ever (Nacional and Peñarol). Both were world champions 3 times and they both have won over 40 national championships. You could understand that the rivalry is much needed, it's like a tournament itself inside the tournament. Maybe you don't win the championship, but you won both matches against your rival and you get to brag about it. Rivalries create passion, and in this hemisphere, usually that passion creates violence between fans of both teams (which of course is not cool) before and after the game.

    What I don't particularly like is that a single team has 6 or 7 rivals just because there was a beef in one game. Rivalry, in leagues like the NBA, should be based primarily on location (and the proximity of said rival) and on history (Lakers-Celtics, period).

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Steven--I was not aware about the Spurs soccer connection...thought it was a san antonio spurs thing. Confused me.

  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    You do know that the Barclays Premier League is watch around the world more than any other sports league in the world? And this discussion was about beef, what better rivals in the world then United/City Spurs/Arsenal Liverpool/Everton?

    The NBA lost its edge due to money, AAU, and free agency.

    Not in the same country that boasts NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL is it the most watched.. NBA forum here..

  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    I do love the fervor that McEnroe played with and Connors always seemed so cool in comparison. I know it was just a ball bouncing back and forth, but such monotony has never been more entertaining than those days of tennis!


  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago You do know that the Barclays Premier League is watch around the world more than any other sports league in the world? And this discussion was about beef, what better rivals in the world then United/City Spurs/Arsenal Liverpool/Everton?

    The NBA lost its edge due to money, AAU, and free agency.
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    While we're so on topic anyone want to talk about McEnroe/Connors? Trevino/Nicklaus? How about Scotland/Canada in curling? Seriously.... :blink:

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    This needs more context....and punctuation... :mellow:


    I am a Tottenham Hotspur supporter.

    City = Manchester City the baby blue team from that perticular city.

    Come on you Spurs! Or COYS! Is a chant said at Spurs games in order to get behind the football club.

    It was meant in fun towards the two pronounce city supporters in this forum. They knew exactly who I was pledging my alliance for.
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    Rivalries are healthy and much needed to keep fans' interests piqued. Otherwise each game is just a game and each win is just a win. I would rather watch 50 replays of Jazz (or Sonics, or Mavs)/Rockets games from the past than view one live Rockets/Bobcats (or Raptors) contest, am I right? I mean as far as actual enjoyment of the game goes. When the incentive to win is compounded by having extra incentive to beat "that guy", then more is on the line and emotions and other factors get involved. I have never jumped out of my couch and screamed at the TV during a Rockets/Bobcats match. It's like the difference between playing chess or poker on the internet versus playing it face to face with a real human. Without rivalries, every opponent becomes anonymous. The Jazz have gotten boring since the departure of Sloan, so I see that rivalry waning, and the Sonics, well it's hard to draw the parallel between them and OKC. I still hate the Mavs and will for years to come. I hate any team that Danny Ainge is a part of (still to this day). Is it just my (skewed) perception or does it seem that Rockets and Spurs fans have always been somewhat amiable? Why is that? I do look forward to, based on our similarities in age and play style, an at least decade long rivalry with GSW. No me gusta Bogut.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    City sucks. Come on you Spurs!!!!

    This needs more context....and punctuation... :mellow:

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Golden State is going to be great for the league...Stephen Curry has all the makings of Reggie Miller 2.0. Mark Jackson (who played with Reggie) has that team whipped into a mean machine. They just added Dwight Howard to their enemy list with Lee's elbow to Dwight's face (which is awesome if Howard joins us next year). Jackson is helping keep rivalry alive in the NBA. I think Doc Rivers is too.

    I watched the clip of McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis the other day. So awesome. Makes me like McHale a little more knowing he's got that in him. Hopefully, he will impart a little bit of that into the Rockets....just a little.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7r6vXeOfyQ

    I think the Pacers are going to stand up for themselves this year in the playoffs and not make any friends in the process. I'd love to see some of this come playoff time...

    reggie-miller-choke_display_image.jpg?12

  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    Remember the good old days when there was all that trash talking between Jordan and Barkley or Reggie? There wasn't anything wrong with that. The only reason the NBA put a stop to intense rivalries is because of the whole incident at the Palace which led to Artest punching a fan which is a BIG no-no, the NBA was getting a "gangster/thug" image and that's why David Stern starting making drastic changes to cut out anything that would perpetuate the unwanted image (that's also why everyone has to dress professionally to games now, back then everyone was rocking hoodies and tims). Now that the era of gangster rap has practically come to an end, I think it's about time we brought back the trash talking, pushing, shoving, and allow more room for intense rivalries like the ones we once had.

    Here's a good example: Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets. The games we played with them this season definitelyhad an 80's/90's kind of feel to it with all the trash talking andphysicality. I don't know about you guys but I absolutelycan't wait to play those guys again next season and wipe the floor with them, I'm absolutely certain we will improve more than they will so they're not really worthy rivals but it's still exciting. Case and point: Trash talking and rivalries give games more appeal.

    we can never go back to the way it was because players don't have the same mentalilty. when I was growing up if 2 people got into a fight best man won and everybody gets to go home. now a days if 2 people get into a fight 1 may pull a gun and kill the other. no telling how many artest's there are in the league or in the stands. we don't have metal detectors on the doors for nothing.

    I just think our collective ceiling is a lot higher, so we have more room for improvement than they do. Also, you have to consider that their salary expenses will be around 75 million next season so they will probably have to let Jarrett Jack go, he has been so important to their success so that will hurt. With all that considered, we have a much brighter future than the Warriors do. I'd rather aim higher, a rivalry with the Thunder for instance could be very long lasting.

    totally agree I think we will be better over the long haul. I like there backcourt, but we are the better built team...........just thinking about it GS vs hou does have all the makings of a good rivalry. simular sytle, smiular talent, both teams are young and rising at the same time............you know whatyou just made me hate GS a little more :lol:

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    I have to disagree with this article, I really love hatred between teams. I feel like it really allows the fans to get better into it, and if your team wins it means a lot more than just a regular game. For instance, to get out of the NBA when I'm watching Premier League, and my favorite team Manchester City goes against Manchester United flames ignite, and the fans as well as the players get into heated competition. I actually wish more of this rivalry to occur in the NBA.


    City sucks. Come on you Spurs!!!!
  • feelingsupersonic says 1 YEAR ago I came up on Dream's first trip to the Finals and though we got whipped that Rockets versus Celtics battle was great. Nothing beats all those games between the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980's. Hawks versus Celtics, Rockets versus Jazz, Sonics versus Rockets, Detroit versus Chicago, San Antonio versus Houston and many other rivalries made the NBA much more exciting in a different way back in the 1980's and the 1990's. The Rockets versus OKC looks to be a promising rivalry and Golden State has a back court that will rival Harden and Lin going into the future and I find that pretty exciting.

    Also to Paradise, I also agree that Manchester rivalry with the Detby and all that is pretty cool. Go City!
  • Paradise says 1 YEAR ago

    I have to disagree with this article, I really love hatred between teams. I feel like it really allows the fans to get better into it, and if your team wins it means a lot more than just a regular game. For instance, to get out of the NBA when I'm watching Premier League, and my favorite team Manchester City goes against Manchester United flames ignite, and the fans as well as the players get into heated competition. I actually wish more of this rivalry to occur in the NBA.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I just think our collective ceiling is a lot higher, so we have more room for improvement than they do. Also, you have to consider that their salary expenses will be around 75 million next season so they will probably have to let Jarrett Jack go, he has been so important to their success so that will hurt. With all that considered, we have a much brighter future than the Warriors do. I'd rather aim higher, a rivalry with the Thunder for instance could be very long lasting.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't know about that. They are LOADED. Almost as much talent as Denver. Of course, the Nuggets are better coached, but I wouldn't sleep on GS. I hate them, but am objective enough to see the talent there.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Remember the good old days when there was all that trash talking between Jordan and Barkley or Reggie? There wasn't anything wrong with that. The only reason the NBA put a stop to intense rivalries is because of the whole incident at the Palace which led to Artest punching a fan which is a BIG no-no, the NBA was getting a "gangster/thug" image and that's why David Stern starting making drastic changes to cut out anything that would perpetuate the unwanted image (that's also why everyone has to dress professionally to games now, back then everyone was rocking hoodies and tims). Now that the era of gangster rap has practically come to an end, I think it's about time we brought back the trash talking, pushing, shoving, and allow more room for intense rivalries like the ones we once had.

    Here's a good example: Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets. The games we played with them this season definitelyhad an 80's/90's kind of feel to it with all the trash talking andphysicality. I don't know about you guys but I absolutelycan't wait to play those guys again next season and wipe the floor with them, I'm absolutely certain we will improve more than they will so they're not really worthy rivals but it's still exciting. Case and point: Trash talking and rivalries give games more appeal.

  • Rahat Huq says 1 YEAR ago

    I want more rivalries as well. Am loving Rockets-Warriors.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Personally, I think there are too many games as it is. But I would feel bad for the current generation if they lowered the number of games because some people hold all time records in high regard.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    I strongly disagree with your premise - personally I'd prefer it if there were a few more rivalries around. The regular season is far too long, and there needs to be a way to make more of the games meaningful and get the crowd involved. A big rivalry between two teams is one of the best ways to do this - the players play a bit harder than usual and the fans get a lot more excited. Obviously, you don't want it to get ugly, but the best games to watch are the ones that combine extreme skill with passion. Tell me you weren't a bit more psyched than usual for the return match between the Rockets and the Warriors after the three point barrage in the first game. I know I was.

    ST

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