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It’s not a secret that the NBA has gotten softer. We marvel about the talent that we’re lucky enough to see every single day but realistically, the league itself is not the same. Yes, this is a “get off my lawn” take, which goes hand in hand with starting every sentence with the cliche’ “back in my day” but the day and age of rivalries in the NBA certainly seems dead.
We do see hatred boil over which eventually turns into a Twitter battle, but that’s all it escalates to. Gone are the days where the Celtics and Lakers would actually and legitimately hate each other with a passion like the bloods and crips. The Bad Boys would have broken a record for techs in a season by the All Star break. We claim to have better and fiercer competition, but when we have a league where the best players are either teaming up or vacationing together and having banana boat rides for fun, the hate isn’t there.
The push for a rivalry has been seen. We all want a Spurs and Warriors rivalry, a flashy showboating team against the dying style of the NBA that San Antonio represents. The Clippers and Grizzlies had a chance to blow up, but both teams fizzled out and can now battle it out in their seemingly annual game of the four vs. five seed. The one rivalry we desperately beg for is Russell Westbrook’s one-man army waging a rage-fueled war against anyone that has ever crossed the Bay Bridge, but the Thunder simply aren’t good enough to take down the Warriors; even with Durant sulking on the sidelines.
Without rivalries, we resort to throwing the villain title at anyone who lets it stick. It’s sort of like finding antagonists in The Walking Dead. Sure we appreciate them for what they are, but realistically we are conjuring up villains in a post apocalyptic world just for the sake of having them. Instead of trying to mold the lanky human stick figure Kevin Durant into some sort of super villain like he’s Bane from Batman, we’ve overlooked one of the budding rivalries that remind us of the blood feuds of the past.
The rivalry we have received is so out of the blue, yet perfect enough to make it must-watch basketball. The league’s newest and best rivalry is the Washington Wizards against the Boston Celtics.
What appeared to be, and naturally is, a race for second place behind the Cleveland Cavs has morphed into a hate-filled feud that has featured injuries, props, theatrics, and numerous pushing and shoving fights that you may see at a middle school playground.
People are finally beginning to realize how amazing of a playoff series this would be after last night’s most recent scuffle during the sprint for second, but this dates back much further.
Last season was the prologue to the rivalry that has been boiling over this season. It seemed like nothing at the time, but there were two separate incidents that led to the beginning of disdain towards one another. First, it began when Jae Crowder, who may be hated in D.C more than Dan Snyder, turned and started yelling at the Wizards bench after Randy Wittman allegedly cursed at him. It continued during the next meeting when Marcus Smart broke Bradley Beal’s nose. Those two events combined with the back and forth battle for runner up in the East was the powder keg we needed to give us a new rivalry.
It’s not like we’ve seen one or two moments from the meetings this season between the two clubs. Every single game added another storyline to this hate-filled joust for second, with more action than the entire 24 Legacy series.
Game one featured public enemy №1 for Boston, John Wall, doing his best Kam Chancellor impression when he dropped the hammer on Marcus Smart while holding a cozy twenty point lead in the fourth. With the table set from a season before, Wall’s kamikaze-esque action aimed at Smart, and a chippy Boston team which features the “don’t take shit from anyone” attitudes of Smart, Crowder, and Isaiah Thomas. The perfect storm for things to blow over during game two was created.
There you have it. Anytime you get a full blown disrespectful nose poke like Crowder did to John Wall followed by a reach around slap, you might as well get the launch codes for the nukes ready because it’s going to be a war.
Don’t think it’s that serious? Nothing says rivalry like police officers having to hit the court to separate players after the game.
The second meeting made this rivalry extremely apparent. For those people who watched the first two games with their eyes closed while covering their ears so they still couldn’t notice what was taking shape, Washington made sure everyone knew where their minds were at when they added a uniform spectacle to the mix.
It’s hard to kill a team before the midway point of the season, but Washington’s point was clear. Their funeral getup before their second win of the season against Boston made it clear this wasn’t just something that would blow over.
Now, after the most recent chapter in the league’s newest feud featuring Terry Rozier bulldozing Brandon Jennings while the Celtics knotted up the season series at two games a piece, the regular season story ends with the same amount of hatred it started with.
While rivalries may not be the staple they once were in the NBA, they aren’t dead. It doesn’t have to do with players going back and forth through the media in a rivalry created out of nothing. We’ve just been looking in the wrong places.
If there are basketball Gods truly out there, they will somehow tilt the playoffs to allow these two teams to meet for a bloodbath seven game series. If the regular season was any indication, it could give us one of the best rivalries in recent memory.