Even if it's a stretch to call Paul Pierce and LeBron James true rivals, it's hard to dispute the two have a strong dislike for each other.
From 2004 on, Pierce and James engaged in a sometimes-one-sided battle that had two of the NBA's top players bickering back-and-forth. That dislike came back up again this week when Pierce said James isn't a top-five player in NBA history.
On Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins spoke with ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth and Amin Elhassan about the spark that led to the feud, noting Pierce was fed up with all the "Chosen One" talk surrounding James' entry to the league. That led to a fateful preseason night in 2004 when Pierce spit in James' direction on the bench.
(Note: Perkins says the incident took place in 2003, but the two teams did not meet in the preseason that year.)
"Paul is talking noise to the bench, right?" Perkins said. "He's talking big noise to the Cavs bench, and they're sitting over there, Bron and them, they're all sitting over there. ... Paul actually spits over there at the bench, right? The ultimate disrespect."
Pierce was fined $15,000 by the NBA for his actions, but that was hardly the end of it. The Cavaliers and Boston Celtics were playing on Ohio State's campus that night, and both locker rooms were located next to each other. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst in 2012, Pierce had to be carried away from James in the hallway after the game to prevent a fight.
Perkins had the good fortune of playing with Pierce in Boston for a number of years as well as one season with James in Cleveland. He says the disrespect between the two is still palpable.
"Ever since that moment," Perkins said. "LeBron James and Paul Pierce hate each other. They don't speak to each other. Even now, today."
Which brings Perkins back to Pierce saying James isn't a top-five player in league history. The former forward believes it's entirely personal. It always has been. Maybe it always will be.
For the record, Perkins believes James does belong on that list—whether he believes James is the greatest of all time, is a different argument.