Monday, May 31, 2010

The NBA Really Isn't the Revenge League Anymore

The problem with this piece of sports writing is that it lacks a command of history:

The Boston Celtics would probably prefer you not refer to the 2010 NBA Finals as a rubber match. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Magic in last year's title round; Orlando simply topped Boston along the way.
Sure, the Celtics beat the Lakers in 2008 and Los Angeles rebounded to win a crown of its own in 2009. But as the teams prepare to meet in this year's championship series, it would seem the only team eager to settle the score is the Lakers.
After Saturday's Game 6 triumph over the Suns to secure the Western Conference crown, Los Angeles players immediately tried to squash the revenge talk, but it's hard to buy what they're selling.
"The challenge is to win the championship," Kobe Bryant said. "The Celtics are in the way. They feel the same way about us."
True, both teams probably couldn't care less how they end up with the Larry O'Brien trophy. But both sides are sure to be amped because of the rivalry between the teams.
But Los Angeles can't possibly suggest that it won't have extra motivation given the way the 2008 Finals unfolded.
As's J.A. Adande wrote in Sunday's Daily Dime, the one thing Bryant hasn't done in his decorated Lakers career is top the rival Celtics on the league's biggest stage. His Lakers legacy could forever be tainted as "the guy who couldn't beat the Celtics."
First of all, who cares? I mean, really.
Do you think there is a "rivalry" between these two clubs? They're both stocked with free agents who haven't played with their respective teams for more than a handful of seasons. Bryant and Paul Pierce have history with their franchises. Most of the other players, not so much. So, this is nothing like the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Second, many of these players never had their rivalry start at the college level. Bryant and Kevin Garnett--no college. That's lame, but I had to slip in something here at number two.
Third, the NBA has driven commentary and trash talking and the things that make great rivalries out of the game. It's true that a $10,000 fine for talking about the officials can really nail a guy making $12 million a season in shorts, and really cause him to curtail his criticisms. But if someone like, I don't know, Rasheed Wallace, were to go in front of the cameras and say "I'm going to make Gasol scream and cry like the manchild that he is, and when I dunk on him, his world will shatter to pieces and he may--he may--urinate all over himself with mortal fear," they'd suspend him.
That's what makes a rivalry--the trash talking. The smack talking, if I may extend the metaphor.
And that's exactly what the NBA has squeezed out of the game.
So, there's no "rivalry" here. There are just two teams trying to win in the playoffs. These players will show up and play hard if it is within their grasp. But they're not going to go where they need to go to start a real rivalry with another team. Many of these players don't plan on playing where they're playing right now in a couple of years--why offend a future teammate, coach, or franchise?

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