Basketball’s Buddy System

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December 2, 2013 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Hate is a very powerful thing.  Love, hate, and fear are all enourmously provoking feelings, not only because they are innately overwhelming forces, but also because the degree to which we are able to feel them.  It’s love that leads to life, hate that leads to the destruction of life, and fear that leads to the reduction of life.

With that being said, hate can at times be a good thing.  Hate can lead to self discovery or self realization.  By having such loathsome feelings for someone or something, it makes you try and comprehend why this person or thing stirred up such feelings in the first place.  The best place for hate though occurs on the sports field, more specifically on the basketball court.  And sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much hate in the NBA anymore.

Ideally competition should breed hate, which should then foster more competition.  You want to be better than the person you hate in every way imaginable.  Back in the 90s, when the NBA, was at its best and most entertaining, there was so much hate, it made the breakup of Yugoslavia look like a scuffle.  There was a very real and noticeably feeling that certain players hated each other, and it made the games more exciting for it.  Reggie Miller/John Starks, Alonzo Mourning/Larry Johnson, Charles Barkley/Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas/Michael Jordan, these were only a handful of the more intense personal feuds that were commonplace in the NBA back in the 1990s.

But beyond the personal, there was also the undeniable fact that there were entire teams that weren’t simply rivals, but actually hated each other.[1]  The Knicks hated the Heat and the Bulls, the Bulls hated the Pistons, the Cavaliers hated the Bulls, the Hornets hated the Knicks, and just about everyone hated the Pacers.[2]  That’s what made the games so intense, because it was more than a competition; it was an attempt to vanquish.  Reggie Miller wanted nothing more than to best the Knicks, Isiah Thomas tried everything he possibly could to prevent the ascension of Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley couldn’t spend more than 3 weeks on the same team as Scottie Pippen.  It’s fun when every superstar in the league hates each other because it adds to the excitement and intrinsically creates an extra layer of competition in which two opponents are motivated enough by hate to do whatever is necessary to best their opponent.

The most pressing question I’ve had as of late regarding the NBA is “Where the fuck did all this buddy-buddy bullshit come from”.[3]  The notion that I get is that either everyone in the NBA is best friends with each other (false) or no one hates someone else enough to take their frustration out on the court (most likely, but disappointing).  The only rivalries I can think of are Kobe Bryant vs. former teammates like Shaq or Smush Parker, and Lebron James vs. Delonte West.  The problem with the James/West feud is that there level of talent couldn’t be further apart as James is the greatest player in the world, and West can’t stay on one team for longer than a year.  Their rivalry was borne from the fact that West, whilst playing for the Cavaliers, was screwing Lebron’s mother.  So on top of being a one-sided rivalry, it’s also one that has absolutely nothing to do with basketball.

The only time in recent memory that a team has expressed distaste for another team was when the Chicago Bulls declared that they hated the Miami Heat.  Granted the two teams play very physically when they match up but I’d be shocked if Joakim Noah and Mario Chalmers were to ever duke it out in front of David Stern.  The Bulls don’t like the Heat because they lose to the Heat; the Heat haven’t ever stabbed the Bulls in the heart, nor do they represent the antithesis to everything that the Bulls stand for.  The Knicks and the Pacers hated each other because not only was there unbearable heartache on both sides, but because both teams represented different ideals, much the same way that the Bulls and Pistons did in the late 80s-early 90s.  Now there’s all this picking opposing players up off the floor and congratulating them for making the game winning shot.

Knowing that opposing players hate each other, makes the game more real, because it heightens or maintains the core fact that this is two opposing forces facing off for supremacy.  And you would absolutely do whatever it took to win if you hated the guy on the other bench.  As spectators it allows us to buy into the notion that not only are the playing to score more points, but that their always waging a personal war for dominion.  Without player rivalries, the most exciting rivalry in the NBA is David Stern vs. Mark Cuban…and that’s so 2006.

[1] Granted most of these hatreds were from the Eastern Conference, but that’s part of the reason why the East was much better and more fun to watch than the West.  It was more than a possibility that someone would get maimed during the game.

[2] Because they were assholes.

[3] “When will the Knicks be good again” is a close second.

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