Rivalry. What does a rivalry mean in the NBA? Kevin Garnett recently dismissed the Celtic vs Hawks “rivalry” from this pantheon due to one-sidedness. Is that really how it works? And what makes anyone call a matchup in the NBA a rivalry anyway?
The most indisputable rivalry in the NBA is the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. This goes back to when there were only eight teams in the NBA and they met in the 1959 championship. A history of the game and of the games best players can be made just from these two teams. It has West, “Magic”, Bird, Wilt, Cousy, Auerbach, Baylor, Bryant, and the list goes on. These two teams have won half of all NBA championships, and more than half of these two fan bases are phonies who jump on with whatever team is hot.
Outside of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, the NBA is virtually without one of real historic significance. The NBA’s rivalries are fleeting at best, and born out of things other than historical impact. The Bulls-Pistons rivalry died once Jordan put on a Wizards jersey. The Lakers-Heat rivalry was really a Shaq vs. Kobe rivalry and I dare you to come up with another NBA match-up that means anything to you at only a quarter of the way in the season.
I give you Hawks vs Celtics. The Boston Celtics very first NBA Championship was against the St. Louis Hawks in 1957. These two teams matched up 4 times in the NBA title game before the conferences were realigned. The Hawks (.250) also have a better championship-series winning percentage than the Lakers (.181). You can’t turn on sports-classic without seeing Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins in “the Duel” of the 1988 Playoffs.
Fast forward 20 years and you have on of the most entertaining basketball series we’ve seen in a while. The lowly sub-.500 Hawks take the dominating highly pedigreed Celtics seven games and the intensity of the match-up has carried over into this season.
We’ve seen two games between these teams this year and there have been clutch shots, tempers boil, body’s fall, and a two-point average margin of victory. Someone forgot to tell these teams it isn’t after the all-star break yet and these games don’t mean as much!
A rivalry is built on what it brings out of its fans and the players. On both sides, players have said that this game requires and brings their best out. Twice more we have seen it bring the passion of the fans out.
In a thin cupboard of NBA rivalries the Celtics vs Hawks is as good as any you can name (that’s not Celtics vs. Lakers).