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Do NBA Superstars Have to Hate Each Other?

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Do NBA Superstars Have to Hate Each Other?
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Hate is a strong word, one that doesn't have to be thrown around in the NBA—even if you're a superstar. 

Just don't tell that to Rajon Rondo.

Since the league's inception, rivalries have been bred and subsequent hatred has been brewed. 

Sometimes it exists between teams themselves (I've yet to see anything but bad blood spilt between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics), and sometimes it's between a player and fans (has Cleveland forgiven LeBron James yet?). 

Other times, however, there is nothing but existing ill will between players.

I highly doubt that David Lee and Blake Griffin are about to get together for drinks. The same can be said for Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

Kevin Garnett is no longer friends with Ray Allen, and Rondo never was. I'm also wondering if the Brooklyn Nets have taken out a league-wide bounty on Rondo yet as well.

But is such perpetual abhorrence necessary? Do high-profile players have to hate each other? Is there some unwritten code that dictates opposing bigwigs have no business being in cahoots?

Absolutely not.

Animosity such as this is not necessity.

The NBA is a business; it's a competitive entity. But animosity is not a contractual commitment of its superstars.

There will always be cases like that of Griffin and Lee, Garnett and Allen, Rondo and everybody, but that's an occupational hazard, not an obligation.

Some fans (not all, just some) would like to believe that the opposing team is a sworn enemy, that they're franchise cornerstones loathe their adversaries. And you know what? For 48 minutes, that holds true.

You won't see LeBron and Carmelo Anthony tangoing on the court during a game, nor will you see Kevin Love chest-bump Russell Westbrook after the latter posterizes him. Don't believe for a minute that this must continue off the court, though.

There's no reason superstars cannot be amicable acquaintances or even friends. Some of us have created this illusion that a lack of personal hostility can diminish the competition we witness. And yet, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Are you less likely to watch 'Melo play LeBron because they're friends?

Take Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The two were criticized for working out together over the offseason—and not just by perennial contrarian Skip Bayless.

Instead of accepting it for what it was, two of the league's best players—and Team USA teammates, mind you—pushing each other to the limits for the sake of improving, it was blown out of proportion.

Surely this was a devious act on James' behalf. He was threatened by Durant's talent and wanted to be able to imitate his moves, sabotage his craft.

By comparison, it was nothing short of ignorance on Durant's part. How could he associate with one of the assailants that torched the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals?

Ira Winderman of NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk didn't help stifle such pleas for this friendship to cease when he went on an essential rant about how there are no longer true rivalries in the NBA:

Know what the NBA needs just about now? Something along the lines of bounty-gate.

Because leagues are at their best when rivalries are pure, lines are drawn, when you’re either with us or against us.

Oh, there’s still some of that in today’s NBA, including the surliness of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins toward anyone not in their team’s colors, and the one-upsmanship between the front offices of the Nets and Knicks, but at a time when Kevin Durant is working out alongside LeBron, it does tend to take the edge of what the NBA once was, the pulsating chants of “Beat L.A.!” even when you weren’t actually playing L.A.

At first glance, I thought he was kidding. Then I realized he was serious and involuntarily clasped my hand above my forehead in exasperation and disbelief.

Conjecture such as Winderman's is shortsighted and completely misinterprets the spirit of competition and rivalry.

Would you pass up the opportunity to watch the New York Knicks wage battle against the Miami Heat just because 'Melo and LeBron are friends? Are bouts between the Thunder and Heat any less compelling because James and Durant embrace the concept of civil discourse?

And has the rivalry between Allen and his former teammates softened because he took out a full-page ad in The Boston Globe to thank the city and franchise?

Of course not.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
I'm fine with Durant and LeBron being friends.

I understand the need for rivalries in sports. It heightens the level of competition and provides both fans and players with a stronger sense of purpose.

At the same time, however, congenial relationships between fellow athletes doesn't diminish the frequency in which such "necessities" occur.

I don't know about you, but some of my most hard-fought pick-up battles have come against good friends of mine. Losing to someone I respect and socialize with outside of the game is much more difficult than falling at the hands of someone I despise. As such, contests against affable persons inspire me more, because they mean more.

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And that holds true everywhere, the NBA included.

Mutual acrimony will always exist in sports. Competition spawns questionable behavior and that, in turn, garners hatred. But hatred can lead to much more than passionate competition; it can lead to something that is detrimental to the very nature of the game (Malice at the Palace, anyone?).

That's not what rivalries are all about. At all. They're about vivacious competition; they're about arduous battles where a victor does not emerge until the final buzzer.

They're about superstars bringing out the best in each other. 

And I don't know about you, but I'll continue to drop everything to watch LeBron and Durant face off on a basketball court.

Whether they hate each other or not.

 

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