Basketball rivalries are born out of the hard collision between two titans on the highway towards NBA royalty. The components of this hard collision allow for spectators to witness differences in both the players’ physical and mental approach to the game. This year, no series has better reflected the definition of animosity than the East Semi-Final between Miami and Chicago, with hard fouls, ejections, and fan bird-flipping, causing flashbacks to old-school fans worldwide.
The animosity between two sides has always added extra importance and intrigue to a game or series. You can easily apply it to a movie of your choice, with two enemies as protagonists who, when they meet, catch the attention of every single soul present.
For fans, there’s nothing more thrilling than basketball animosity. Earlier this year, we saw former team-mates Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen bump heads for the first time after the latter chose to leave Boston and join forces with East-rivals Miami, a move that didn’t sit well with Garnett. The whole arena, heck, the whole world, gazed at the two new-born rivals, waiting impatiently for that split second when their eyes would cross. Moments like these make you forget where you are, why you are there, and who you are with. You don’t think about nothing else but the loyalty that was broken and now drives the animosity between them.
Dating back to the late 80’s, the series between Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the ‘Bad Boys’ Detroit Pistons are almost always used to explain the physicality and antipathy that moulded the league during that time. Players like Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman stood at the core of rivalries, relying greatly on their physical attributes on the defensive end to throw off opponents and literally resort to any strategy, often absurd, to come out with a W.
Today’s rules are specifically designed for the prevention of such scenarios, limiting players from playing too physical, hence avoiding any potential altercations. Despite this attempt to "supervise" the players, the strict regulations still, in some ways, favor animosity between players.
LeBron James' superstar status gives him the luxury of getting calls a non-superstar player wouldn’t get in a million years even if he brought doughnuts to the refs before the game. The fact that James has the upper hand on most of his opponents contributes immensely to the animosity shown in his defenders during a play-off series. In addition, when you combine already-strict rules to this unwritten law of ‘Superstar Foul Calling’, you slowly begin to understand why, even if not to the same degree, animosity still finds his way into today’s regulated NBA.
As far as basketball animosity goes, Kobe Bryant is one of the few players left in the league. To clarify, every player has an enemy or rival, however it is clear that Kobe maintains a distant relationship with opposing players, a characteristic that allows him to carry that competitive mentality on to the parquet better than anyone. While it is not animosity per se, it is basketball animosity at its finest.
The maybe-too-close relationships players broadcast on the internet, the AAU circuit, and social media are all used as primary examples to justify the decline in physicality as well as the league's lack of essential animosity between teams.
Former players are always eager to stress this topic. They believe that the lack of animosity, obviously to a certain degree, is bad not only for the game, but for the fans as well, as a somewhat-competitive game between buddies isn't what they paid for.
Imagine if everyone was like Kobe. Kept your distances, acknowledged others’ accomplishments, and still managed to be respected. Of course, players are entitled to do whatever they choose, however the hugs and jokes before a game should be avoided until after, just out of respect for the game and the fans.
I remember watching ESPN’s NBA Countdown a while back. Magic, as usual, entertained the audience by telling a story on Michael Jordan’s manipulative personality and how after beating the Phoenix Suns in a play-off game, invited the Phoenix Suns to one of his restaurants in down-town Chicago and took the bill. This episode not only makes you question if there was any animosity between the two teams,but it also makes you realize that even though the NBA was more physical and antagonistic, the relationships between players were very similar to today’s.
A rivalriy, is the hatred between two sides that doesn't subdue with time. Basketball Animosity, even though similar, is slightly different. It is the hatred between players on a basketball court that only vanishes outside the hardwood. It is what shapes play-off basketball, and, in the end, decides who wins.