The weakest aspect of the National Basketball Association today is the lack of true rivalries. Sure, rivalries do exist in the NBA, but often they are short-lived and based off of meaningless associations. Take, for example, the most powerful rivalry that exists in the NBA today: The Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics.
I do not doubt the legitimacy or the veracity of the contempt that the Lakers and their fans feel for Celtic fans or vice versa, but compare the so-called best rivalry in the NBA to those in the NFL (Packers/Bears, Jets/Dolphins, Giants/Eagles/Cowboys) or the MLB (Do I really have to name the best rivalry in sports?). The Lakers and Celtics are separated by 3000 miles and do not even play in the same conference.
I am not arguing that the Knicks don't receive some special satisfaction from beating the Bulls or that rivalries do not exist. They certainly do, but over the past decade they have lacked the tenacity once seen in the 1990s and previous decades.
The newly formed Sunshine State Rivalry will undoubtedly not be just a feud between two teams. It will be a culture of contention between entire organizations. Just like in 2000, Florida will be divided into Red and Blue.
Here are five reasons why the Sunshine State Rivalry will become the most ferocious in the NBA:
1. The Front Offices / Coaches
After LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat in early July, Magic GM Otis Smith had some not so flattering words for the King:
"I was surprised (James) went (from Cleveland to Miami). I thought he was, I guess, more of a competitor. … The great ones do and usually stay in one location.”
The Magic, however, were not done attacking Miami's new acquistions. Stan Van Gundy, the Magic's head coach, commented on Chris Bosh's pre-signing activities with Wade that he was following him "around for two weeks like his lap dog."
The verbal jousting, however, did not stop there.
After Pat Riley responded to Smith's comment by calling it "absolutely stupid," the tensions escalated into a public personal spat. Van Gundy retort made the issue a family affair:
"Pat getting onto people for making moral judgments made me laugh. I was with Pat when we had all of those Knicks series and he had no problem making moral judgments on my brother. What I read into that was that I guess Pat is the only one allowed to make those moral judgments and the rest of us can't do that."
Also, there's the fact that Riley pushed out Van Gundy as head coach depriving him of his first NBA championship. With all of this bad blood, one can bet that Van Gundy is salivating at the possibility of ruining the home introduction of the new Miami Thrice when they play Orlando on October 29th.
2. The Race for the Southeast Division
The game on October 29th brings up another extremely important aspect. The divisional rivalry. Because they are both in the Southeast division, the Heat and the Magic will match up four times in the regular season.
Each one of these games will be considered essential by both teams looking to gain an edge for the division title. Since head to head matchups are also an important tiebreaker for teams with identical records, it is evident that each team will be desperate to try to steal a game on the road.
As previously mentioned, this is one facet of rivalries that the Lakers-Celtics can never attain. By having more games against each other, the rivalry will grow and the possibility for conflict expands exponentially.
Plus, it's always nice to have an extra Southeast Division Champions banner hanging from the rafters.
3. The Personalities
The Flash and the King vs. Superman. Stan Van Gundy vs. his former boss. Heck, maybe Raptors fans will care because the two best players in their franchise's history are on different sides of the rivalry.
There is no doubt that there are huge egos on the line when these two teams matchup. Two of the most fearless slashers in NBA history will attempt to dunk over the most feared defensive stopper in the game. The athleticism alone is mind-blowing.
While there is no solidified feud between the players on each team yet, it is likely that the first time Dwight Howard commits a hard foul against one of the Miami Thrice there will be some emotions stirred. I doubt there will be room for Howard in Wade's Fave Five after that...
4. Florida: Red or Blue?
Floridians will once again have to choose between Red and Blue. The geographical proximity of the two teams will force fans to be in constant interaction with one another. Imagine if the Yankees and Mets played in the same division. Or better yet imagine a world in which the Clippers could be over .500. In Los Angeles, one doesn't really have to choose to be a Clippers fan because they have essentially become an irrelevant franchise.
In Florida, the teams separated by less than 300 miles, not only play in the same conference, but also play in the same division. Fans will be forced to choose Heat or Magic. Red or Blue. The nature of the rivalry changes because fans of each team will be in constant contact with one another.
Let the trash talking commence...
5. The Talent
The most necessary component to a strong rivalry is that both teams are actually competitive. Sure it can be easily argued that, on paper, the Heat are a much stronger team; however, Miami has not proved anything on the court yet while the Magic are still the reigning Southeast Divisional Champions and only two years removed from an NBA Finals appearance.
The Magic have the best defensive player in the NBA.
The Heat have two of the top four players in the NBA. (Just to avoid an unnecessary argument I'm not worried at this moment where to rank Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant around Wade and James)
The Heat have a very talented young coach and a Hall-of-Famer watching from above.
The Magic have the more experienced coach manning the sidelines.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that both the Heat and the Magic are undoubtedly two of the favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference. The games between them will be hotly contested, not only because the players or the fans care more, but also because both teams simply have the talent to compete.
Summer has ended, but as the NBA season inches closer, it just gets hotter and hotter in Florida.
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