The NBA's premier matchup on Tuesday night pits the defending champion Miami Heat against the Indiana Pacers in a rematch of two fiery playoff series.
And with the Eastern Conference largely devoid of championship-caliber squads, Pacers vs. Heat has naturally evolved into one of the game's biggest rivalries.
Unless it hasn't.
According to Heat forward LeBron James, meetings between the Heat and Pacers can't yet be classified as a rivalry.
LeBron James says there is no rivalry in the NBA now.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) December 10, 2013
Why, you ask?
Well, if you listen to James, it's because meeting in the playoffs two years in a row isn't a substantial sample size to properly evaluate a rivalry in the NBA.
LeBron scoffs at Heat-Pacers as rivalry. Says meeting twice in playoffs isn't enough. Says Lakers-Celtics was a rivalry.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) December 10, 2013
In addition, it appears that James was so fired up by the subject that his repetitive tone conjured up memories of a rant by another famous hoops star.
Just saw LeBron answer the rivalry question on ESPN. He said rivalry so many times it reminded me of Allen Iverson's "practice" rant.— Shandel Richardson (@ShandelRich) December 10, 2013
Even more interesting is that LeBron proclaimed rivalries in today's NBA to be non-existent.
LeBron, "Threre's no real rivalries in the NBA these days. You don't see the competition enough."— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) December 10, 2013
I asked LeBron if he was upset the NBA was devoid of rivalries: "It’s just the truth. I thought about that. There are no rivalries."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) December 10, 2013
On that subject, he may have a point.
Do rivalries exist in today's NBA?
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets had a chance to establish a true hatred of one another, but as we saw last week, the Battle of the Boroughs has a long way to go until it reaches rivalry status. The same goes for the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, as those showdowns were squashed by another knee injury to Derrick Rose. Ditto for Heat vs. Bulls.
Out West, there are some emerging battles of note, but the hatred simply doesn't appear to run deep enough for those matchups to be classified as rivalries just yet, although the Phoenix Suns tend to disagree.
LeBron says there aren't rivalries in NBA anymore? Must have forgot about #SunsAtLakers tonight. We forgive him. He's busy with the Pacers.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 10, 2013
Historically, James noted that there are several big rivalries that jump to mind.
LeBron's real rivalries: Cowboys-Redskins, Ohio State-Michigan, Duke-North Carolina, Bears-Packers, Lakers-Celtics, Bulls-Pistons.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) December 11, 2013
Apparently the self-proclaimed New York Yankees fan forgot about arguably the most historically significant rivalry in sports between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Oh well.
For the fans' and the league's sake, let's just hope James changes his stance should the Pacers and Heat meet in the playoffs for a third year in a row.