No matter how intense and heated the rivalry between Paul Pierce and LeBron James gets on the court, it's still not personal.
Isn't this one of the league's premier individual matchups that we're talking about? How can that not be personal?
According to The Truth himself, there's no dislike between the two outside of basketball, as the rivalry stems solely from a pair of competitors going after the exact same prize—a championship. If you're confused, don't be. Pierce explains himself and the differentiation between on-court rivalries and off-court dislike further, courtesy of ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk:
I think it is more of a basketball thing. We are aiming for the same prize and only one of you can get it, you know?
I mean, it's going to be a dislike there. That's nothing that has carried over off the court. I think everything -- the dislike for me, LeBron, or Miami or Cleveland -- it's all based on what we are both chasing, and that is about it.
The Future Hall of Famer was also asked to elaborate on his relationship with LeBron:
I really don't have a relationship with anybody in the NBA outside my teammates. You know? These are guys that I respect. Been to the All-Star Game with a lot of them. It is a mutual respect. That's all. It is not like I am calling anybody. My friends are pretty much who I grew up with and my family.
Think of this as a variant of the relationships that LeBron has with other players around the league. He was receptive to working with Paul George earlier in the season, and he trained with Kevin Durant in the past, despite having intense on-court and in-season rivalries with each of those two standouts.
Pierce, even though he's one of the more old-school players in a new-school league, is just providing further testimony that the NBA has evolved.
Gone are the days when teams bitterly hated each other, as the Detroit Pistons and, well, just about everyone else did in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Instead, they've been replaced by a league filled with amicable rivalries, though there a a few notable exceptions.
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers qualify. Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook do as well. But LeBron and Pierce?
Remember, Pierce was the man LeBron named as his biggest rival back when the aging star played for the Boston Celtics. But even then, there was no vitriol, merely an acceptance that he always had to go through Pierce and the C's in his quests for championships.
As Jeff Zillgitt wrote for USA Today, "This marks the fifth time in the past seven seasons James and Pierce have met in the playoffs, and in 25 playoff games, James is 13-12 against Pierce (and Kevin Garnett), and each have won two series."
No wonder there are some iffy feelings on the court.
Will this make the series between the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets even more intense?
Nope, probably not, as each team is filled with veteran leaders who would already do anything to expand their ring collections.
Then again, it probably won't need to be any more heated.