LeBron James Joins Pals: Have We Seen The End Of Individual Rivalries?
The formation of the new Miami Heat juggernaut has drawn incredible amounts of criticism, intrigue, and jealousy. But while fans and analysts focus on the tremendous talent that is now concentrated in South Beach, perhaps another factor is being overlooked: the camaraderie within the superstar core.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade have been, and will now forever be, linked to one another since they went first, fourth, and fifth, respectively, in the 2003 NBA Draft. Not only do they each possess incredible skill on the court, but they are also known to be good friends. A lot of that showed in the hype leading up to their ultimate rendezvous in Miami.
While, in a sense, this creates a wonderful, almost warm, backstory to this reformation of NBA horizons, it contributes to the ongoing decimation of one of the more exciting aspects in all of sports: rivalry.
Sure, team rivalries will always exist, from Red Sox-Yankees to Duke-North Carolina to Redskins-Cowboys. But, throughout generations, individual battles have always seemed to be prominent parts of each sport too.
The past couple of decades, in particular, demonstrated this. The 1980s saw the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry provide a healthy backdrop to the Celtics-Lakers ongoing bout. In the '90s, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras supplied a rivalry that any American would tune in for, regardless of a sincere interest in tennis.
In the 2000s, there appeared to be a couple of budding one-on-one shows in basketball that would only continue to grow over time. Both of these involved James, and both are now eliminated due to the relocation of the King's court.
Even though their friendship was apparent, the Wade-James matchup was always the storyline behind every Heat-Cavaliers game in recent memory. Two superstars, just entering the prime of their careers, apt to give their best performances while playing one of the best players they will probably ever face.
Remember the epic battle Wade and James waged on January 25th? Wade had 30 points at halftime . But it was LeBron who got the last laugh, as his two free throws with 4.1 seconds left in the game proved to be the difference in the 92-91 Cavs win.
The two matched each other with a game-high 32 points, a stat that reflects well on the developing history between the two. The Cavs held a slim lead in their series with the Heat in the LeBron-Wade era, going 13-9 but winning nine of the last 10 matchups.
Okay, it was a friendly rivalry, but a rivalry nonetheless.
Then, there was the player to whom James was always measured in the modern-day "Who's the Best?" discussion. While the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James NBA Finals never came to be, it was always the dream matchup, for fans and ABC executives alike. And, who knows? Maybe it would have eventually happened. It's not like we weren't close to seeing it.
Now, though, those two rivalries will cease to exist.
It goes without saying there will be no sort of competition between Wade and James, unless they decide to have a game of H-O-R-S-E during a shootaround. As for Bryant, there can be no sincere comparison to James in any game anymore, regular or postseason. Anytime the Lakers take on the Heat, it won't simply be about Kobe versus LeBron. It will be Kobe versus LeBron and Wade, which must already be giving the Black Mamba fits in his sleep.
Maybe Bosh and Pau Gasol can start something, but that's the only dim glimmer of hope we have.
Really, though, this may speak more about the state of sports as a whole in this day and age. No matter what game it is, there just doesn't seem to be the same amount of animosity as there used to be. If anything, fans seem to be showing more hatred than the players.
Perhaps it's a result of the politically correct culture in which we now submerge ourselves, or how much closer players are nowadays, given social networking sites and off-the-field means of interaction. Whatever the reason, individual rivalries seem to be at an all-time low right now.
In baseball, this probably has a lot to do with how much more cautious umpires are about beanballs. 10 years ago, Mets and Yankees fans checked the schedule months ahead of time to predict when Mike Piazza would step up to bat against Roger Clemens. The beaning and the World Series bat shard-throwing incident were still fresh in their minds.
Pedro Martinez didn't exactly have a single rival on the Yankees; he more or less took it upon himself to challenge the team as a whole (even former bench coach Don Zimmer). But, alas, that venom dried up with Martinez's departure from the Red Sox and subsequent fade into irrelevance.
In football, the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry was actually pretty enticing for awhile. It had several of the key elements: two star players who play the same position, postseason play, and one participant who always gave valiant efforts but could never seem to get over the hump (Manning). Eventually, though, Manning got his revenge and won a Super Bowl of his own, and his battles with Brady don't seem to have as much fire now as a result.
Interestingly enough, hockey may have the most promise in terms of a one-on-one rivalry. Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are the two premiere players in their sport, which definitely helps. Capitals-Penguins games are always hyped up, simply because of the two stars.
Still, there are two ingredients missing: a chance to see Ovechkin and Crosby compete for a championship (they are both in the East and have never even played in a Conference Finals against each other) and a prominent interest in hockey.
Even individual sports don't seem to have individual rivalries anymore. Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal could have been epic if there was not a five-year age difference between them.
Tiger Woods has never really had a true rival. His greatest challenger is the retired Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 career majors Woods has been chasing since well before he tarnished his squeaky-clean image.
Lance Armstrong? Michael Phelps? Usain Bolt? These guys have always been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition in their respective sports. People tune in to see them break records, assuming already they will win in whatever it is they are participating. (Or at least that used to be the case with Armstrong.)
Nope, LeBron James, as he proved to be with the entire NBA, was the key to yet another element of sports. His games may now feature a whole lot of domination, but without a sense of confrontation.
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