The most reviled basketball team in the state of Utah is the Los Angeles Lakers, hands down.
As the 22-19 Jazz prepare to travel to Los Angeles for a Friday, January 25 matchup against the imploding 17-24 Lakers, Jazz fans are drooling over the prospect of kicking the hated Lakers while they’re down.
And after they kick them, they’ll give their nemesis a wedgie and swirlie for good measure.
The contempt between the Jazz and Lakers is so intense that it resulted in a Laker fan using a chemical weapon against a Jazz fan after a game last November.
The Jazz-Lakers animosity has built up over decades of intense games, heated playoff series, and dramatic cultural differences between the two fan bases. Utah is already 2-0 against Los Angeles this season, and Jazz fans would savor a third straight win like a big helping of green Jell-O.
The Seeds of a Bitter Rivalry
Nothing hardens a rivalry like playoff battles, and the Jazz and Lakers have had some classics.
Utah owned Los Angeles in the late 1990s.
A veteran Stockton-Malone Jazz team dismantled an upstart Shaq-Kobe Lakers squad in both the 1997 and 1998 playoffs, prompting Sports Illustrated to publish the most beloved SI cover ever seen in Utah.
The players on both teams in the late 1990s genuinely disliked each other.
In 1997, Shaquille O’Neal and Utah center Greg Ostertag had an altercation after a shootaround that ended with Shaq dropping Ostertag with an open-hand slap. In 1998, Utah scrub Greg Foster made a throat-slitting gesture as Utah beat Los Angeles in the regular season, prompting harsh words from Lakers coach Del Harris and many Lakers players.
As the SI cover provocatively declared, the Jazz embarrassed the Lakers back then.
Embarrassment is a powerful motivator in a heated rivalry, and the Lakers used that motivation to destroy the Jazz several years later.
Lakers Domination Deepens the Feud
The Jazz-Lakers rivalry was starting to cool down in 2003 when John Stockton retired and Karl Malone bolted Salt Lake City to spend his final season chasing a championship with–ironically–the Lakers.
But the bitter rivalry was rekindled when the two teams squared off in the playoffs for three consecutive years in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Lakers dominated, winning all three series by margins of 4-2, 4-1 and 4-0, respectively.
The Lakers won five titles between 2000 and 2010, leaving Lakers fans gloating and Jazz fans stewing.
The Clash of Cultures
The rivalry between the Jazz and Lakers also extends off the court.
The differences between Utah and Hollywood are as stark as Donnie & Marie versus Lady Gaga.
Politically, Utah is the ultimate red state while California is bluer than a bad Katy Perry dye job. With many Utahns being descendants of hearty Mormon pioneers, a good percentage of Jazz fans respect traditional values like hard work, loyalty and fairness.
And that’s what annoys Jazz fans about the Lakers.
Big market teams like Los Angeles are viewed throughout Salt Lake City as having an unfair advantage over smaller market clubs like the Jazz, allowing them to simply buy championships with their $130 million payroll. Hard work and loyalty have nothing to do with the Lakers’ titles, Jazz fans argue, Los Angeles just has vastly deeper pockets.
Jazz fans were seething this offseason when the Lakers brought in Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, putting together what looked like an All-Star team that would compete for the title for the next several years.
Now, with their hated rivals imploding, Jazz fans are giddily rejoicing.
Besides the Lakers, who are the Jazz most bitter rival?
Kicking ‘Em While They're Down
The Jazz are doing everything possible this year to rub salt in the Lakers’ wounded ego.
On November 7, Utah beat Los Angeles 95-86, dropping the Lakers to 1-4 and prompting Los Angeles to fire coach Mike Brown.
On December 9, the Jazz beat the Lakers 117-110, silencing the fans at the Staples Center.
A third victory in three months would push the Jazz one step closer to the playoffs while moving the Lakers one step closer to the NBA lottery draft.
Sometimes it’s great to watch your team have a solid year and compete for a playoff spot, like the gritty 2012-2013 Jazz are doing.
Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable to watch your bitter rival self-destruct in a purple and gold mushroom cloud.
So far this season, Jazz fans are enjoying the best of both worlds.