The Los Angeles Lakers will never be able to separate themselves from certain teams in terms of rivalry.
The Boston Celtics, for example, will always be the Lakers' historical rival and the team most hated by fans of the purple and gold. Too much as happened between the two teams over too long a period for that to ever change.
But if you step away from the rivalry that is Lakers/Celtics, you'll find that the next team in line that qualifies as the Lakers' biggest rival is the San Antonio Spurs. Over the years, these two teams have faced off countless times in the regular season and playoffs and have controlled the Western Conference for the better part of the last 15 years.
Back and forth these teams went, vying for superiority. Since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, the Lakers and Spurs have accounted for nine of the 15 NBA championships. They have battled it out in multiple playoff series with the winner of those matchups being the team that went on to win it all.
Over the years, these matchups have fueled a mutual dislike from each fanbase. Lakers' fans would look at the Spurs and see the methodical machine that cost them their chance at a four-peat. They looked at Duncan, Parker, Bowen and company as the guys that cost them their chance at history.
But while that dislike is natural, I think respect is more fitting.
The Spurs and the Lakers are actually more alike than you'd think. Strip away variables like market size and celebrity sightings, and what you have are two model franchises that are well run and built on the same principles of hard work, having a plan and organizational patience.
Both teams have built their teams around two superstars that will go down in history as all-time greats. Both have also employed all-time great coaches that got the most out of those superstars by appealing to them as people as well as competitors.
Around those great building blocks, both franchises filled in their rosters with other fantastic players that could play second fiddle to their more accomplished teammates. On top of them, they then added supremely gifted role players that were more than happy to fill in the blanks to help them win.
These formulas for success are nearly identical even though they came in different packages. But, in reality, if you look at the Lakers and the Spurs you really see two sides of the same coin who may seem like they've gone about their business in different ways, but have really been very much alike in building a dominant organization.
And that's what makes respecting the Spurs so easy. The personality of their team may be different. They may come off as boring and bland (though, if you watch them play, I'm not sure how you could think that). But the truth is they've gone about their business in a way that mirrors the Lakers in a lot of ways.
No, Tim Duncan is not like Kobe, Robinson is not like Shaq, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Laker equivalent to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs have had much of their success via home-grown players while the Lakers have built their teams through free agency and trades.
But by drilling down, the bigger picture is missed. Like the Lakers, the Spurs have gone about building a winner in a way that makes most sense to them. And, in doing so, they were able to be one of the top teams in the league for the last decade and a half.
Through that time there have been some hard-fought battles between the two teams, but through it all a mutual respect should be there. If there's any team that deserves it, they do.
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