Kobe Bryant's LA Lakers vs. Miami Heat: Return of the East-West Rivalry?

Euno LeeCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2010

Pac vs. Biggie.  Death Row vs. Bad Boy.

Crowded, uptight New York vs. smoggy, lazy Los Angeles.  And now...

Sunny Los Angeles vs. Sunny South Beach?

The East Coast vs. West Coast (excuse me, the Least Coast vs. the Best Coast) rivalry is primarily one that was engendered by hip hop superstars Tupac Shakur and Christopher "Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Frank White, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. Big Poppa" Wallace.

For those of you who don't follow hip hop, the rivalry began when Tupac Shakur was shot five times and robbed of his jewelry at a Manhattan recording studio in 1994.  Shakur claimed he saw the aforementioned Mr. Wallace following the shooting, and immediately fingered him and implicated others involved with Mr. Wallace, including record label Bad Boy Records. 

In his major label debut, Mr. Wallace released the track "Who Shot Ya?", perceivably implying that Wallace had been involved in the 1994 robbery. Shakur believed this to be a confirmation of his suspicions and released numerous tracks disrespecting the East Coast, and in particular, Bad Boy Records.

Then, like a huge wave of a young adult marketing madness, other West Coast artists came out dissing East Coast artists, and vice-versa.  The wave crested tragically with the death of Mr. Shakur in a Las Vegas shooting in 1996, and the shooting death six months later of Mr. Wallace in 1997.

What does this have to do with the NBA?  With Miami in the east, and Los Angeles in the west (ironically both ideal vacation locations), the Lakers and Heat, through their frenetic building in free agency, have re-established this "beef" between fans.

The road to the NBA Finals is paved for essentially two of the league's super-powers.  One of my readers from a previous article commented that it was a basketball "Cold War", and that this free agency was a figurative "arms race."

He's absolutely right:  the Lakers had the NBA's first "super team" of the post-Jordan era (Shaq and Kobe), and they have the super team that just closed out this decade with an NBA Championship. They faced another relative "super team" in the Boston Celtics, but excuse me if I may, the Celtics were a shadow of their former selves-- those Celtics peaked in 2008, and L.A. won the rubber match in 2010. 

Free Agency 2010 commenced, and LeBron James decided to move to Miami along with Chris Bosh.  The Miami Heat drew massive mainstream-media coverage for the move.  Just like that, Miami moved a giant, ESPN One-Hour Special sized step to the front of the Eastern Conference.  The rivalry itself has been bubbling under since last week, but the opening salvo has been fired.

How did this happen?  Well, let's start with the fact that most L.A. fans hate LeBron James for the fact that they believed him to be a pompous, self-loving Sports Center highlight and nothing more. 

However, to expect any genuine on-or-off-court acrimony between the two teams is a bit of a stretch in an NBA where opposing players host slumber parties at each other's houses . Or is it?

In an opening salvo, Ron Artest is hosting a Lakers Championship Party, "(redacted) LeBron James Edition. "

Aside from being completely hilarious and establishing Ron Artest as THE Los Angeles fan favorite after Kobe, Artest reflects the sentiment of many Laker fans who have seen Kobe Bryant compared to every other player to come up in the league, only to see these "up and coming, better than Kobe" players fall short in delivering a championship.

Can you blame them Laker fans for hating LeBron?  As much as you might hate L.A., you have to admit Kobe and the Lakers delivered the hardware when LeBron and the LeBronettes were busy coming up with pre-game rituals and goofing off on the court.

L.A. fans also know that, by and large, the scene in Hollywood, Downtown, and Santa Monica clearly outclasses anything in South Beach.  You don't see Angelenos hopping on a plane at LAX to go to Miami for the summer (driving up to Vegas is a different story).  

Both routinely fill the seats; Miami (a city with an infamous amount of things to do) explains this phenomenon by saying most fans go to the game to start their night off the right way, saying "the partying starts after the Heat win."  Apparently last season, the party simply didn't start about seventeen times.

As far as differing styles between coasts, L.A. isn't the one smiling and hugging each other and jumping up and down (with the exception of 0:00 Q4 Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, anyway).  For once, they're all business; they just out-hustled an aging, "one last fight in us" Boston squad.

In a town known for its Hollywood glitz and celebrity glamour, Chris Rock's words fall on deaf Kobe Bryant's ears.  That scene from last year's Finals stands out to me, not because it was replayed on Sportscenter a hundred times, but it was the exact opposite of what a Laker would normally do.  Then again, it's exactly what you thought Kobe would do; he's focused, serious, and not exactly the world's favorite player, but he delivers.  (By the way, Kobe's facial expression was priceless.)

So the Lakers are officially an out-hustle team when they need to be.  Never in my lifetime would I have imagined writing that sentence, but there you are.  The new "Hollywood" team?

The Heat.  South Beach isn't exactly known as the best place to raise your kids, if you get what I mean.  Add that to the fact that Miami doesn't have a state income tax, and you can understand why taking less than the maximum contract is not as unselfish a move as it sounds.  The Miami Wades have finally become just "half of Team USA".

The Heat look absolutely formidable with the addition of Mike Miller and returning Udonis Haslem.  However, they still lack a quality big man.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas, while a complete class act, is not the answer to Miami's defensive void in the low-post.  Whether or not Pat Riley realizes this, or if he's just spending Mickey Arison's money with hopeless abandon, is up to you to decide.

It's not hard to knock a Miami team with precious little championship experience, when this seasoned Laker squad has been through three NBA Finals campaigns together (seven, in the case of the nucleus of Phil Jackson, Bryant, and Fisher) and have managed to come away with two of them. 

This arms race looks much more serious when considering the two teams are building around trying to match-up against one another (or in Miami's case, building an actual basketball team, period, because you can't win with three guys).

So who comes out on top?

This is why we are NBA fans, after all.  We'll let the season decide who the true winner is in this new found rivalry.


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