This era of the NBA has plenty of talent, but no edge. Sure the Lakers are somewhat glamorous, but that is only because the media keeps telling us they are glamorous. Watch old highlights of Magic Johnson. THAT was glamour in L.A. The 1990s were dominated by Michael Jordan and he had plenty of edge about him. He was as unpredictable as he was unbeatable. After the work stoppage in 1999 and another non-baseball related retirement from Michael Jordan, the NBA looked totally different. It was dreadful and boring. Television ratings dipped because of the snooze-fest with the Spurs-Pistons NBA Finals, and dress codes, and Ron Artest’s fights were making the headlines. Though the Kobe-Shaq run was slightly better, it was boring because their just was not good rivalry.
It was an era where the edge was gone. The spark was gone. The media tried to revive it when LeBron James burst on to the NBA scene by pitting him against Carmelo Anthony – a player he would line up against only two times per season. That did not take for obvious reasons.
This playoff season, however, will be different. Balance is restored between the conferences, and the once-young and inexperienced players have now built up plenty of playoff experiences to give rebirth to rivalry. Even hatred. The best possible match up of the 2010 NBA playoffs will feature rivalry and hatred. How can that be forecasted? It’s easy. Read the comments of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. They want to bring rivalry and hatred back to the NBA.
Doc Rivers was told in an interview with NESN that LeBron thinks the NBA needs an emotional, hate-filled rivalry. His response?
“I’m all for it,” Rivers said. “I love it. He [LeBron James] is the new leader. I think we should all listen to LeBron, if that’s what he’s saying. I really believe that. You know, the AAU thing has changed the game in that way. Everybody knows each other, and I just don’t understand how everybody is still friends. It drives me nuts. But that’s the way it is.”
Deeper analysis of this quote and concept from Rivers is warranted, and will be addressed in more detail soon on The Sports Debates.
The bottom line is, if Cleveland and Boston meet in the second round of the playoffs – a distinct possibility – forget about pre-game handshakes and smiles. It is the playoffs. The playoffs do not allow for friendships, and these two teams grasp that idea and put it into motion. They put it into emotion.
Of course the basketball would be very entertaining as well. The teams split the regular season series, with plenty of damage done. Big Baby Davis – who simply MUST be the league’s dirtiest player now – caused Shaq’s injury. Kevin Garnett likes to prevent other teams from shooting a hoop after the whistle blows – an intentional shot to the opposing ego that Garnett relishes, and other teams despise. Rajon Rondo is perpetual and energetic. Multiply those scenarios by ten, given the pressure of the playoffs, and plenty of hate is stirring from the Celtics.
While the determined affability of Cleveland head coach Mike Brown is lauded by some, it must be vanquished for this series. LeBron plays with a chip on his shoulder. Anderson Varejao is the single most energetic/annoying player in the league. That attitude is a winning attitude as the NBA season turns from Spring to Summer.
The series will be peppered with hard fouls, plenty of complaining, technical fouls, flagrant fouls, defensive stops, and big shots. Each minute of each game will be dripping with anticipation because any event could set either team off.
The Cavs have other factors at stake, too. LeBron is in a contract year. The extremely popular Zydrunas Ilgauskas is likely set to retire at season’s end. LeBron is in a contract year. Also, LeBron is in a contract year.
Make no mistake – the most emotional team will win this series. The Cavs have the most on the line and the most spring in their step. They simply must win. If not, a burgeoning fire of hatred just got a big bunch of gasoline thrown on it.