Sunday, November 11, 2007

NBA Missing the Timeless Rivalry

Heading into tonight's Heat/Knicks matchup at Madison Square Garden, I feel better about facing Miami than I have in years. The Knicks are 2-2 but have been competitive in all four games they've played. The Heat are 0-5 and struggling.

The Heat's website ran an article which described the matchup as one of the best rivalries in basketball. The only player still on either roster from the epic battles of the late '90s is Miami's Alonzo Mourning, and he's a shadow of his former self. This is simply no longer one of the best rivalries in the game. There will be no emotionally-charged contest between these two unless something happens this year to spark the two sides (a fight, a heated OT game, some words to the media, etc.). Every time the Red Sox and Yankees play, the media hypes the contest regardless of their seasons. Granted, the two teams are normally at the top of the league, but the history which follows that rivalry outweighs anything in the game of basketball.

Pistons/Cavs has developed into a nice little matchup, however recent. Lakers/Suns is usually a great shootout to watch. And any combination of Texas teams (but especially Spurs/Mavs) will draw national attention. But there's just no rivalry which is bigger than its players. Sox/Yanks is bigger than its players. Celtics/Lakers was spearheaded by player matchups like Bird and Magic, but even then, the green against the yellow was the attraction.

Player turnover and shorter careers hurt NBA franchises in terms of developing a longstanding rivalry a la Sox/Yanks. In the MLB, players can stay with a team for a decade or more. There's also more nostalgia surrounding baseball and football, which might add to the feeling of a rivalry involving more than just the players.

As a Knicks fan, I hated Reggie Miller. I hated Alonzo Mourning in his prime. I hated the Pacers and Heat just as much as I do the Red Sox. Only it was always contingent on the players. There's just no nationally-hyped matchup in the NBA that is more meaningful than the current roster, recent success and the size of the markets.


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