The Most Intense NBA Playoff Rivalries
Here in Los Angeles we have two polar opposites as owners of our basketball teams. Jerry Buss is a ladies man, Donald Sterling has been "happily" married for 53 years! Buss will spend money when needed, Sterling saves his money when needed. Where Buss earned an an M.S. and Ph D in physical chemistry at 24, Sterling opted for Law School.
I'd trade either of them for Mark Cuban.
Cuban dances on TV, spends wisely and speaks his mind. He definitely speaks his mind. His recent assertion of a strong dislike of the basketball team in San Antonio created a rivalry that didn't really exist outside of Texas. Not to say that Spurs vs. Mavericks wasn't a series that would catch the attention of a true basketball fan, it would; but, few outside of Texas would Tivo it.
Cuban saying "I hate the Spurs" changed all that. This is now a full-fledged rivalry with Cuban playing the part of villain.
Which got me to thinking, what other rivalries exist that excite basketball fans? The list was pretty easy compile and presented here in order of last intense to capture-the-nation-intense.
Spurs vs. Mavericks
The tale of the tape makes this look like a mismatch. The Spurs have won four championships and four conference titles, while the Mavericks have won zero championships and only one conference title. The Spurs have won 15 division titles, while the Mavericks have won 2. Both the Spurs and the Mavericks however have 3 60-win seasons.
That is the amazing thing about a rivalry, it's less about the end result, like total championships, than it is about intensity of the battle. When these two teams line up for a playoff battle its often time about more than just moving on to the next round. It's about a former player on one team becoming coach of the other, an owners mouth or if none of that exists, it's about bragging rights in the great state of Texas.
When Don Nelson left the Mavericks he handed over the reigns of the team to Avery Johnson. Johnson was the point guard for the Spurs during their championship run in 1999. In the playoffs the Spurs defeated the Mavericks in 2001 and 2003, while the Mavericks defeated the Spurs in 2006, maybe with a little help from Johnson's in depth knowledge of the Spurs playbook, and in 2009.
In 2010 they meet again, true basketball fans are watching.
Lakers vs. Kings
Sure this one is relatively new, only really becoming a full-fledged rivalry in 2000, but it got intense quick. In 2000 the Kings scared the Lakers but the team from LA prevailed.
In 2001 the Lakers steamrolled the Kings, but in 2002 things were different. The Kings had the Lakers knocked down, but could never deliver the final knockout punch.
Instead, the punch in 2002 was delivered by the Lakers Robert Horry.
Like the Sixers vs. Celtics series earlier, however, the Lakers vs. Kings battle was so intense it flowed into meaningless games. The same year that Horry broke the hearts of Northern California basketball fans the two teams met in a preseason game.
Rick Fox and Doug Christie got into a skirmish. In typical basketball fashion, the two were separated and ejected. Rick Fox however wasn't content to take the rest of the night off. He ran around to the Kings' tunnel leading to their locker-room and confronted Christie. A fight broke out that resulted in suspensions for both.
Now, that's a rivalry!
Bulls vs. Pistons
What's not to love about a Chicago vs. Detroit series? The Bad Boys, the Jordan Rules, the bad blood; this was a classic series between to teams that seemed to genuinely not like each other. The only reason it's ranked this low is because we haven't seen the matchup in a while.
Back in the day, the Pistons were the Bad Boys: the team of players that didn't believe in giving up an easy layup to their opponent. They were the dominant mountain that the Michael Jordan led Bulls had to climb to reach the top. In 1988 MJ torched the Pistons for 59 points in a Bull victory leaving coach Chuck Daly livid. It was the only game the Bulls would win in that series that year.
The two met up again in 1989 with the Pistons employing the "Jordan Rules" to slow down the Bulls' superstar. Whether the Rules ever existed or not is debatable, what isn't is that, once again, the Pistons defeated the Bulls this time in six games. The next year, it took the Pistons seven games, the Bulls were gaining.
The rest is history. The Bulls climbed the Piston mountain and went on to greatness.
The 2006-2007 matchup between these two iconic franchises seems like a distant memory for the Pistons. Hurry back Detroit!
Celtics vs. 76ers
This one really does harken back to old days and hasn't been seen in a long time. It earns this spot because of the long history and the amazing players involved. How does Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Julius Erving sound?
Back when these two teams met in the 60s and 70s basketball was different. There was no flagrant foul rule, hand checking was OK and a clothes line tackle got you a trip to the free throw line and the guy who gave it to you got high-fives. The rivalry reached its peak, however, in the 80s.
The Celtics met and beat the 76ers in 1981 in seven games on the way to their first championship in five seasons. The following year, the 76ers returned the favor dropping the Green Team in seven games. The rivalry was just heating up. You know it's bad when you can't even meet for what in soccer is called a friendly, in basketball its called an exhibition.
A 1983 "friendly" between these two teams was anything but. Fights broke out between Moses Malone and Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird and Marc Iavaroni,and Gerald Henderson and Sedale Threatt even got into it. Yeah, this happened during an exhibition.
Then in a 1985 while Bird was getting the best of Erving and made it clear to the legend that he was, Erving reached out and choked him. That's what makes a rivalry a rivalry.
Hurry back Sixers, the Celtics are getting old!
Bulls vs. Knicks
This one started in the 80's but didn't get hot until the 90's. Where the Michael Jordan led Bulls had to get over the Pistons to move on to greatness, the Knicks needed to climb Mount Jordan. They were never quite able to make it.
In 1989 the Bulls not only beat the Knicks, but demoralized them in a six-game upset. That win propelled the Bulls to greatness and the Knicks began to falter. In 1991 they met again with the Bulls sweeping the Knicks. That was the series were MJ managed his unreal posterizing of Patrick Ewing.
It's Ewing that actually makes this series stand out for me. All athletes think they are better than their opponent. They don't all say it, but why take the floor if you don't think you're better or can be better? Ewing not only thought he was a better center then Bill Cartwright, he was, but he was convinced his Knicks were better than the Bulls.
Sorry Pat, they weren't. The Knicks could never beat the Bulls!
Well, at least not with Jordan aboard. When MJ skipped out to play baseball the Knicks finally got past the Bulls. It was bittersweet of course, because it took seven games even without His Airness and they would eventually lose in the Finals to the Rockets.
The rivalry was renewed when MJ came to his senses and laced 'em up again in 1996. The Bulls with MJ were a lot different than the Bulls without him. Chicago beat New York 4-1.
Lakers vs. Celtics
The creme de la creme. East Coast vs. West Coast. Blue Collar vs. Laid Back Surfer Dude. Sprinkle in some of the greatest players of all time and you have a rivalry that makes Nielsen ratings and general basketball fans excitement go way up!
This rivalry has it all, history, consistency and storylines galore. It all started in 1959 when the Celtics beat up the Minneapolis Lakers. In the 60s they met six times in the Finals with the Celtics winning each time. OK, not much of a rivalry yet, I know.
The teams took the 70s off, but renewed their rivalry with vigor in the 80s. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed everything. The kid with the winning smile and the stud with the porn-star mustache injected new life into the greatest rivalry in basketball. The teams met three times in that decade with the Lakers winning two of the three.
The 2008 Finals pitted the two most successful franchises in history yet again. Think about it, 50s, 60s, 80s and today; there is no more enduring and compelling NBA rivalry than the Lakers vs. the Celtics.