Featured Gallery, NBA / Jan 31, 2011 / 12:00 pm

The next Kobe vs. Shaq: Finding the NBA’s growing rivalries

Rajon Rondo (photo. Christian Kozowyck)

With all the directions you could take in promoting yesterday’s Lakers/Celtics game — NBA Finals rematch, NBA Finals preview, legendary franchises collide, Future Hall of Famers Summit — it’s a good thing nobody tried to hype it as Kobe vs. Shaq. That rivalry, as Justin Timberlake would sing it, is dead and gone.

Kobe dropped 41 points on Sunday. Shaq went scoreless. There was one moment when Kobe baited Shaq into a foul before hitting a tough baseline shot, then made a show out of glaring at his ex-teammate/ex-nemesis, but otherwise there was nothing to see. If anything, you could say Kobe has ultimately won their feud by simply staying active more consistently and relevant longer. He is Prince to Shaq’s Michael Jackson.

So now what? Who fills the roles to make up the NBA’s premier 1-on-1 rivalry? LeBron and Dwyane Wade used to get into entertaining shootouts before they joined forces like Harlem Heat. LeBron and Carmelo turned in a classic as recently as last season, but their matchups have been hit-or-miss. Chris Paul and Deron Williams routinely put up underwhelming 11-point, 6-assist stat lines against each other. Dwight Howard and Yao Ming, well … maybe if Jordan Hill allows Yao to use one of his good legs.

While depth of talent is certainly not a problem in the League today, the biggest pesticide that is killing off rivalries is that players are too friendly with each other. And I don’t have a problem with athletes not hating each other, but that is the reality of the situation.

I saw an interview with Magic Johnson over the weekend where he said he and Larry Bird despised each other and barely spoke for the first eight years of their careers. Anyone who watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 film on Reggie Miller saw that the venom he had for New York — and vice versa — was very real. Wilt Chamberlain was still taking barbs from and throwing barbs at Bill Russell long after they’d both retired.

For the most part, today’s players aren’t like that. And if you don’t like it, blame the infrastructure of basketball in the United States. Thanks to an increasingly more organized and expanding AAU/grassroots system, elite players from around the nation cross paths with each other regularly at tournaments and camps throughout the spring and summer — not to mention when their high school teams play each other during the season in national showcase games. And while sometimes that familiarity builds rivalries, more often it builds friendships.

Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups became friends as teenagers at an airport while traveling from the McDonald’s All-American Game. The foundation of the Fab Five was built during elite camps where Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard were regulars. LeBron and ‘Melo formed a bond well before the ’03 NBA Draft. Looking at it more recently, don’t you think Austin Rivers‘ decision to sign with Duke had a little to do with his friendship with Kyrie Irving? In the past, these Denver-to-Chicago, Akron-to-Baltimore, Florida-to-New Jersey connections probably wouldn’t have been made before the players reached the NBA. Now they’re happening at 13 years old and younger. And it’s hard to build a blood feud with a guy you’ve been cool with since you both had pimples and braces.

That said, there are some entertaining and (at least potentially) combustive individual NBA matchups that could create great rivalries:

* Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose‘s contrasting styles and endless speed is like watching two NASCAR drivers fight for the checkered flag. Same goes for Rondo vs. John Wall, and Rose vs. Wall.

* Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are laying a foundation of dueling double-doubles.

* Brook Lopez and Amar’e Stoudemire can score on each other all day, and they have the NYC/Jersey thing going, and Brook is about to snap if Avery Johnson points out his rebounding issues one more time.

* LeBron and Kevin Durant are the two best at their position and seem destined for a classic Finals showdown some day. Or maybe LeBron and Wade will devolve into a Shaq/Kobe replay.

The elements are there on the court for great rivalries, not to mention that the next beef is just one misread Twitter post away. And if that’s not good enough, we’ll still have Marvin Williams versus Shawne Williams.

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  • nizzio

    Bargnani and Stoudemire. They love to score on each other.

  • Dayinho

    Celtics and the rest of the league. Kobe and Marcus Thorton against the assists.

  • yeah right

    the biggest rivalry is Shawn Marion vs. his jump shot

  • http://www.curtpalme.com/forum/files/you_re_a_homo_767.jpg JAY

    The days of personal rivalries in the NBA are close to being dead. I’ve brought it up before, and AB mentioned it in the article… AAU ball makes players too friendly with eachtother. It’s ridiculous how friendly everyone is.

    Where’s the hate?

  • NTstateOFmind

    good read AB

  • Chaos

    There has to be a kobe vs ray allen/pierce moment where they just physically rough on each other and it builds from there. Jus look aat when kobe got the fighting with reggie. I think the dilution competitive kills rivalries as well. Some guys jus wanna get paid, others wanna build a brand but guys on the lakers and the celtics wanna win CHAMPIONSHIPS and that’s where it builds. Jus like maybe dwight howard and kendrick perkins, there is def bad blood there, or maybe CP3 vs Rondo or something. Someone has to get slighted or there has to be some rough play. Pretty sure jordan got up for games where he played drexler, dumars, starks, harper(pre-knee surgery), penny, grant hill, gary payton, byron russell same way kobe gets/got up for Pierce and Allen, AI, Reggie, Ellis, Vince, J-Rich, Artest and Barnes (pre-recruitment) and patterson(the “kobe stopper”). Come on man, I wanna see some superstars fight and go at each other neck

  • http://www.curtpalme.com/forum/files/you_re_a_homo_767.jpg JAY

    @Chaos: “Pretty sure jordan got up for games where he played drexler, dumars, starks, harper(pre-knee surgery), penny, grant hill, gary payton, byron russell”
    MJ was up for damn near every game. He didn’t really need a specific matchup to be in the mood for handing someone his ass for lunch.

    Today’s NBA players are like married women… just because they’re “the one” you shouldn’t just expect “some”… they gotta be in the mood for some action. Bitches.

  • https://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    CP3 and Rondo? Wasn’t it Rondo who told dude he would NEVER win a ring or something like that?

    Nice rivalry written all over that one.

    With the words Durant said about Bosh you know that might become one with James putting his two cents in.

    Charlie V and K.G.

    Even though nothing happened yesterday gotta say Paul P. and Ron Ron.

    Shaq come playoff time against Howard. You KNOW Shaq is going to say something about still being the last something or another.

  • First & Foremost

    AAU and elite summer camps get a fair share of the blame but I think it has to do with the rule change. Rivalries build when frustration boils over. If guys aren’t allowed to pester and provoke opponents for 48 minutes, then when the final buzzer sounds you have nothing to hate. For the most part he played a good game, you played a good game but one of you got more bounces than the other.

    If 2 players have to be seperated in the 2nd quarter right before half. You know they both are going to come out swinging in the next half. The loser may deliver a cheap shot while the winner circles the next date they play each other. Rivalries I would like to see:
    LMA vs. STAT
    Ellis vs. Curry
    Rudy Gay vs. Igudala
    David Lee vs. Kevin Love
    Blake Griffin vs. Shawn Kemp Highlights
    Manu vs. Rogaine

    The league has migrated from prideful tough guys to courteous marketing machines.

  • K Dizzle

    LMAO @
    “Today’s NBA players are like married women… just because they’re “the one” you shouldn’t just expect “some”… they gotta be in the mood for some action. Bitches”


  • First & Foremost

    Just look at the rule changes.
    Clothes – Nothing says its on like guys stepping of the bus in prop glasses, sweater vests, beats by dre headphones, 3 piece suit and top hat.

    Techs – If I stare at you after I dunked on your soul I get a tech. I can’t point and laugh at your bench because none of you can guard me. I can’t scream in your face just to be screaming in your face.

    Comments – I can’t talk trash about you after the game. I can’t post trash talk on twitter. How cool would it have been if Kevin Love posted on Twitter that he was going for 30 rebounds vs the knicks when he had 6 at halftime?

    The NBA is killing itself by trying to make it a gentlemens league.

  • Chaos

    Jay you r right about jordan, he gets up for every game but I bet he went at those guys with particular ferociousness….the commment was great lol

    @first & foremost – u right dude, the nba is killing itself cu of the Brawl, and rivalries and shit talking is what makes the games better because those guys will leave it all on the court against those guys….

    Lakers vs Celtics in the Championship again this year. Calling it like I did at the beginning of the season. The Celts want vengeance…and that championship match would be better for the league since head to head in finals with these two teams is 1-1 (in the 2000s, not overall). A tie breaker would make for great finals television

  • http://www.curtpalme.com/forum/files/you_re_a_homo_767.jpg JAY

    @First & Foremost
    The brotherly love started before the dress-code rule, before twitter and way before this year’s zero-tolerance for expressing emotion. It started with the AAU program. These guys have relationships long before they get into the NBA and that’s the problem

    “Rivalries build when frustration boils over. ”
    I disagree. Everyone in the league right now is frustrated with the referees bullshit calls, but we’re here trying to find some of personal rivalry. IMO, rivalry builds when players genuinely don’t like the opposition. It’s generally known that Bird and Magic didn’t like eachother and didn’t even talk to eachother until deep into their careers. If there was AAU back then, I doubt that would be the case. If there was AAU back then, who knows, maybe they would have talked about playing on the same teams when they grew up. It’s totally possible, and it’s more or less the norm with today’s players growing up playing AAU ball. Then when they get to the league, they’re all buddies.

  • http://Dimemag.com Chrisballz

    KG v any other power forward. I feel everyone in the L hates him hahaha

  • http://dynastybball.wordpress.com/ sean.dynastybball

    Maybe Chris Paul is the one putting up the low stat totals when he faces Deron Williams… but D Will almost always get the stats and the W. That’s why there isn’t even a rivalry there… D Will dominates.

  • jdizzle

    AAU has played a factor but come on we all know whose fault this is: David Stern. Thanks to him trying to clean-up the league you cant even breathe on anyone without getting a 2-game suspension. And what ever happened to the goons/enforcers The Charles Oakleys, the Anthony Masons, the Xavier McDaniels, the Dennis Rodmans…where are they? (figuratively)

  • http://dynastybball.wordpress.com/ sean.dynastybball

    D Will
    07-08 vs NOH 16:7 ppg 11.0 apg
    08-09 vs NOH 16.3 ppg 10.6 apg
    09-10 vs NOH 19.2 ppg 12.0 apg
    09-10 vs NOH 18.0 ppg 8.0 apg

  • http://dynastybball.wordpress.com/ sean.dynastybball

    Last one should’ve been 10-11

  • First & Foremost

    @JAY point taken. AAU has had a great deal with the problem but it also had help.
    Other factors to consider.
    Age Eligibilty – Players were more polished coming out. Now we have to wait 3 to 4 years to see if a player will pan out. Favors vs. Ed Davis would make a good rivalry but both ride the bench. How many times do you hear leading up to the draft… “So and so will make a great rivalry for years to come” then player A turns out to be nothing more than a role player and player B doesn’t make it to a second contract.

    The NBA doesn’t need a D-league, it needs players to stay in college.

  • First & Foremost

    @JDizzle – Exactly
    Goonish players are casted as people with questionable character. Forget that he already has a prison/nba type body and will come into the league muscling his way to 10 rebounds off the bench, 4 illegal jaw shattering screens, and will never be micked up. They aren’t marketable and their jerseys won’t sell.

    Those guys fuel team rivalries. Hard foul in the middle of the 3rd on a star player. That team rallies around their star and you hopefully see well executed basketball. The other team comes out still wanting to play tough defense to say ,”Not in our house.” headline the next day – “Old-School Rivalry Renewed”

    When frustration boils over… Do you think Dominique took his beatings in stride. There is nothing like being ruffed up, refs letting it play, AND YOU LOSE. I’d be more inclined the next go around to drop 30 with 40 foot 3’s and dunking on everyone.

    Rivalries are born when you walk out the gym saying, “**C* THAT TEAM”

  • stefan

    best article I’ve read recently!
    these young bitches that are in the nba today act like spoiled kids, growing up with ps3s and xboxs. they are soft and lack character. we don’t get any more players with a real personality, only jokers.
    I thing this lack of personality (see magic and bird, jordan, rodman, the mailman, dominique, the pistons.. and from the active players: pierce, kobe, j-will and others) makes it impossible to have rivalries.

  • JAY

    I’m slow… just catching on…. there’s a K Dizzle and a J Dizzle, here at DIME??? Holy fuck. Let’s try to keep it to those two letters please. Can we all agree if there’s another Dizzle that shows up, we ostracize the dude.
    Not even playing, I’m sure I’ve addressed both J and K, but thought they were the same dude.

    Shizzle, Dizzles.

  • matt

    Celtics- most hateable team. KG-a****ole. gr8 player but he constantly insults younger players + foreign players. The whole taunting thing and making fun of charlieV. not cool. Pierce- hasn’t said anything, yet. Shaq – is ok. Rondo – punk, told CP3 he’d never get a ring. Rondo-it’ll be nice when ur ancient hall of famers retire and we’ll see u pass to awesome players, wait u can’t make players great can u? I’d really like to see u and perk as part of a core of a rebuild. no future hall of famers,.Also, what a great 3pt shot u’ve developed. Rondo- u r in a gr8 situation. But DRose,DWill,CP3, even Nash, Westbrook these r guys u can build a franchise and go to war with. They make other players seem a lot better than they actually r. U won a ring, bravo. it doesn’t mean u can talk smack to ppl. Honestly the only person who i like is R.Allen – awesome textbook jumper and never says anything, doesn’t like to talk smack, he’s how players should act, professionally. Him, Battier,Hill,Nash,TD,Durantula – true pros.

  • Rainman

    i agree, Bargs and Amare, everytime these two go one on one, its a battle. No defense, all offense.

    Plus, Bargs has been better than Lopez all year.

    If only the Raptors can get to being a playoff team, then you’d have a real rivalry…

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    Has Bargnani really been better than Lopez? Bargnani is averaging 2 more points than Lopez, fewer rebounds (albeit just barely), he’s shooting a lower percentage from the field, he’s only hitting 32% of his threes, he’s shooting fewer FT’s per game and at only a slightly better percentage than Lopez, he’s turning the ball over more, and the Raps are worse than the Nets.

  • jdizzle

    @JAY CTFU! Apparently Dizzle is like a rapper calling themselves Lil or Young/Yung.

    BTW who wouldn’t wanna see a Jahii Carson vs. Kiwi Gardner rivalry somewhere down the line?

  • Why Oh Why

    Hey Matt, CP3 is no angel, Paul P talks with the best of them. This post is about building rivalries, not franchises. Isn’t trash talk apart of rivalries.