It's Rivalry Day here on the NBA blogs of SB Nation and for some teams it's quite obvious who their biggest archenemy is and for some unfortunate teams it's more like they're the last ones who didn't get to take a seat when the music stopped playing.
Luckily for the Miami Heat, and despite their relative short history compared to some other franchises, the team has seen its share of memorable showdowns that any true fan of the NBA can recall vividly and that's something you can't say about every team.
For this reason, it might be best to take a look at three teams that can be considered the most hated team for a diehard Heat fan and that has consistently given the two-time champs plenty of moments of grief, anger and ultimately joy in beating them.
First meeting up in the 1992 playoffs and continuing with the Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway - led Heat teams of the late Nineties, the Chicago Bulls had their way with the Heat and must have viewed playing the upstart expansion team a good luck charm. They were ultimately speed bumps on the way to three different title runs by the Bulls. About the only highlight for Miami in that era was an amazing victory in the 95-96 regular season when a skeleton roster of 8 players led by Rex Chapman beat Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the champion Bulls.
In the years afterwards, the Bulls and the Heat always provided great theater in both the regular and post season. Who can forget Udonis Haslem and his flying mouthpiece in 2006 on the way to a 6-game series victory? The Bulls got their revenge on the Heat with a blowout victory in the first game of the following season and sweeping the defending champions in the first round.
After the 2008 NBA Draft where the Bulls beat out the Heat for the first overall pick and the right to draft Derrick Rose, as well as that highly enjoyable summer of 2010 where Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James all spurned the Bulls advances, the rivalry seems to get better and better, at least from a Heat fan's perspective. With the Big 3, the Heat may have lost out on the top seed in the East both years, but they easily took care of them in five games in their first season together against Rose and his squad and didn't get a chance to beat them again with a healthy Rose. There's always next year.
All good ingredients for a rich rivalry to be sure, but are they the biggest rival of all time for Miami?
The bad blood started when Pat Riley traded in his winter coat for shades and headed down south to partner up with Micky Arison in 1995. Then there were those amazing battles in the playoffs for four straight years with every series going the distance that featured unforgettable images like Jeff Van Gundy holding onto Mourning's leg like a little kid or P.J. Brown flipping over Charlie Ward after a free throw attempt. Let's not forget the Knicks fans that dust off their jerseys and head to the AAA for every game between the two teams that always makes for good times every year.
Since then there's been some great moments in the regular season to be sure, with amazing individual performances from Wade and Jamal Crawford. But the Knicks have been a disaster for so many years that the rivalry just isn't the same, even with an enjoyable but ultimately un-fulfilling first round matchup that gave New York their first playoff victory in several years and earned them applause at Madison Square Garden (but did little else to stop Miami from an easy gentleman's sweep). Good for them.
This rivalry is "newer" but has become the biggest enemy of the Big 3 era and has the potential for even more epic battles to come, or at least until Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce hang it up. The Big 3's first regular season game was against the Celtics, whose triple superstar formula is acknowledged to have inspired the Heat's own championship blueprint, and the battles in both postseasons that have seen the Heat victorious but not without giving their all against a team that always plays their best against the Heat. Swiping Ray Allen away from the Celtics months after beating them in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals just adds more fuel to the fire and another fascinating storyline to a rivalry that is getting more and more interesting.
What do Heat fans have to say about this? Which team would you choose? Have your pick below and sound off in the comments.
Update: The SB Nation Blog-A-Bulls site has picked the Heat as their top rival. Which makes sense considering the Heat have given them so much pain these past couple of years but a little surprising given their rich history. I guess they're still a little upset about their hometown guy choosing to stay in beautiful sunny Miami because they disgracefully cross his name out in favor of the referees as the main reason they won it all in 2006. They also seem to have a bad case of selective memory, highlighting how the Heat have committed "plenty of flopping and whining" in past match-ups. I guess they simply don't recall anything like that from their own players.
But I wonder if they remember that sweet LeBron dunk where he literally jumped over John Lucas?