Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's In a Rival?

I often wonder if you were to ask a Lakers fan who their biggest rivalry was with, would they say Portland? If you ask a Blazers fan, it's not even a question. More likely you will get a down trodden look and a shake of the head as many painful memories come flooding into our mind. We're taking a look at some of the teams that we like to call rivals: The now defunct Seattle/OKC, Utah, Denver, and of course the Lakers. Seattle/Oklahoma City The I-5 rivalry had little intrigue during my life time. The only time that the Blazers and Sonics met in the playoffs since I was born was in 1991 when the 8th seeded Sonics pushed the Blazers to 5 games in their 1st round win. Before that, the teams faced each other 3 times, all in the first round. It's really a pity that the two teams never matched up in the Western Conference Finals, with everything on the line. Had they ever met for a high stakes match, the close proximity could have made for a truly electric rivalry. Instead, we can look back on some good regular season competition, including a famous trip to the Tacoma dome, and hope that some day basketball will return to the city of Seattle and this time, a true rivalry can be formed.
For myself, it was damn near impossible to hate the Sonics for a couple of reasons. First, I have a lot of family in the Seattle area whom I visit frequently and saw a couple of Sonics games. While the Blazers will always be #1, try telling a teenager to hate The Glove and The Reignman, it's not going to happen. How can you not watch Kemp's Top 10 Dunks and detest him with the intensity as if he were Kobe Bryant or Karl Malone?
The tables have turned quite a bit since the mid 90's in regards to my feelings towards that franchise, purely because of Clay Bennett and his stealing of the Sonics and moving them to become the Thunder. Although their trio of young gunz, Westbrook, Durant, and Green are extremely likable players, I don't like them or root for them simply because of their jersey they don each game. If the Thunder ever lean to play better with Durant on the floor than off it, they could become a legit foe for the Trail Blazers in a few short years. Now, that would jump start an electric rivalry. Finally, I am tired of this whole Oden v. Durant debate and how much better Durant would have made us and that Oden is nothing more than Sam Bowie 2.0.
Denver The Denver Nuggets too are really only rivals because of their close proximity and presence in our division. They make the list only because recently the regular season games have been hotly contested. Coupled with a personal dislike for CaMarshmallow Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and everyone's favorite Bird Man, Chris Anderson, this makes them also a minor rivalry. This clip pretty much sums up my disdain for the current Denver Nuggets squad. Utah The Utah Jazz are the only team outside of the Lakers that could be truly considered at least a minor rivalry. With five playoff matchups since 1990 and some great battles between Karl Malone and Buck Williams and Brian Grant, there seems to be at least a little something extra that comes out between the Blazers and Jazz. If there were two teams that could be blamed for Utah never earning a championship banner during the Stockton and Malone era, it was the Bulls and Blazers. In 1991 the Blazers took on the Jazz in the second round after their tough 5 game series with the Sonics. After 2 close games at home in which the Blazers won, the Jazz took game 3 in Utah. Some of the worry that the team was vulnerable crept back in, but was dissipated when the Blazers won game 4 and would go on to take the series in 5. The two teams would meet again the following year, this time in the Western Conference Finals, but again the Blazers dispensed of the Jazz, this time 4-2. In 1995-96 the Blazers would struggle just to get to the playoffs, going 18-5 to storm into the playoffs. The Jazz would take the first two in Utah, but Portland bounced back with two wins at the new Rose Garden arena. The Jazz then proceeded to stomp out the Blazers in game 5 64-102 in route to their finals appearance against the Bulls. In both 1999 and 2000 the Blazers and Jazz met in the Western Conference semi finals. In 1999, the Jazz were confident going in to the series and took the first game at home, but Portland stole game two in Utah and proceeded to win the series in 6 games. In 2000, The Blazers would go up 3 games to none before Utah would snag one in Utah. When the Blazers completed the series with the win in Portland it would set expectations sky high for the next round against the Lakers and continue the trend of Blazer dominance over the Jazz in the playoffs. These two series epitomized Brian Grant as he muscled, scrapped and battled with Karl Malone each night, holding Malone below his seasonal average in both series. Since the divisional realignment in 2004, Utah also joined the Blazers conference adding slightly to the rivalry. Regular season matchups have been close as of late and this is another rivalry that could gain momentum as the two teams struggle with Denver for superiority in the Northwest Division. Lakers A great rivalry is one in which both teams genuinely have a nasty dislike for one another as well as the teams' fan bases. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, hating the Los Angeles Lakers is the equivalent of Notre Dame or the New York Yankees being your #1 rival, because, seemingly, every fan base hates the Lakers and every team gets that extra boost when the Lakers come rolling into town. The Blazer/Laker rivalry is more of little brother (Portland) trying to compete with and take down big brother (Los Angeles). There have only been a handful of occasions where Portland and LA have been a true rivalry, where the Laker players and fans have taken Portland seriously as a threat to their crown. There was 1977 where Portland swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals en route to the NBA Championship, but the Blazers, being only a 7 year old franchise, probably were seen as a fluke and not a threat year in and year out. 1991 was probably the first time the rivalry intensified, as experts predicted either team to represent the West in the NBA Finals. Portland was the team on the rise, ready for stardom after their surprise run to the 1990 NBA Finals and the Magic-led Lakers were viewed as having one last hurrah left in them. We all know how that story ends. Interestingly enough, that series was my first experience with the heated battles and started my Laker hatred. Being 5 at the time, I remember coming home after going to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II in theaters (I swear I have never put TMNT ahead of the Blazers again!) only to find out the Lakers defeated my beloved Blazers in Game 1. To a 5 year old, my world had collapsed and was in complete dissaray and since then, there has been no franchise I have despised more so. Portland got their revenge the following year in a 3-1 series win in the Western Conference Quarters over LA, but with the tragic news of Magic Johnson being infected with the HIV virus, beating up on the Lakers just wasn't as satisfying. LA whooped up on us in the 97 and 98 playoffs, both 4 game affairs in the 1st round, but again, they were our #1 targets but the Lakers had loftier goals than bullying little brother some more. Finally, the rivalry seemed like it would be engaged in full on hate mode for the next 5-7 years when the 1999 season rolled around. The year before, Portland made a run to the WCF out of no where to become relevant again, and each franchise made 1 move which brought fuel to the fire. Portland traded 6 players in the fall of 99 to Houston for Scottie Pippen and the Lakers hired prior Blazer nemesis Phil Jackson to coach another dynamic duo, Shaq and Kobe. Now it wasn't just a race to see which team would come out of the West, but what team would win it all; The WCF was dubbed "The Real Finals". There is no doubt, even in peak times for both teams, that Portland hated LA more than the other way around. Hell, the Blazers would even make special Beat LA shirts for regular season games and the fans would buy them up. I wasn't sure if I could hate the Lakers any more than I did that spring 91 day, but Game 7 takes the cake. I was already lobbying my dad mid-way through the 4th quarter if we could get Finals tickets and really thought little, ole Portland was finally going to do it. We were finally going to shock the world, come back from a 1-3 deficit and win a Game 7 in Los Angeles, only to see my hopes and dreams of an NBA Championship shatter with that choke job. To make matters worse, LA went on to 3 peat and Portland became the "Jail Blazers" and falling back into the abyss of mediocrity, until now. It has taken many years, but the Blazers are back, with even the Lakers taking notice. Throughout our downfalls, we have still been able to baffle the Lakers at the Rose Garden, to the tune of 8 straight victories for the home team. Kobe has gone so far as circling the games in Portland on his calender and there are now those famous scuffles taking place on the court, most notable the hard foul on Rudy last year and Lamar Odom trying to break into Portland's huddle. Make no mistake about it, losing to a team as much as Portland has to LA (2-9 in the playoffs) makes you shutter just hearing the name, but that is not the only reason why LA is undoubtedly Portland's biggest rival. There is the whole city of Portland vs. city of Los Angeles viewpoint. Most Portlanders don't like the lifestyle of LA, the phoniness, and how so many Californians are coming into Portland. There is also the bandwagon affect. The Lakers have the most bandwagon and fickle fans of any franchise in the NBA. You know the fan, we see them at the RG two times a year; Kobe jersey, fitted cap titled to the side, thin mustache, fake diamond earrings, and can always be seen leaving the game early in the 4th. More than anything mentioned above, it is the unlikable players LA puts out on the court and the arrogance of Phil Jackson. Kobe is the arrogant player who cheats on his wife. Shaq still to this day belittles Portland and is on Pryzbilla's hit list for falling on him and throwing the ball in his face. Then there is Derrick Fisher who you want to smack for no good reason, maybe it's the way he wore his headband? Rick Fox is the greasy haired douche who tries to get under the skin of his opponents. And Sasha Vujacic who whines mercilessly and has never committed a foul in his life are only a few of the jackasses put on display by the Los Angeles franchise. Even if the Lakers and their fans don't take Portland seriously as a threat to them, they will always been enemy #1 in all of sports for me. "My two favorite teams are Portland...and whoever is kicking LA's ass."(And yes, I proudly wear this shirt)


  1. Lakers fans would say Boston's their biggest rival, no question. San Antonio would probably come in 2nd. Portland might crack the top 5.

    PS Fuck Clay Bennett. A pox upon the Superstolens.

  2. I think San Antonio is yesterday's news, just like the Kings are, in terms of a rivalry. I think This year the Celtics and Cavs will be their 1/2 rivals, but their fans are starting to get pissed off by the fact they can't win worth crap here in PDX and they know we have a team that matches up extremely well with theirs. We will be #1 soon..a WCF this year would increase that as well!

  3. I don't think SA's done until Duncan's done. I like the Jefferson acquisition. Parker and Ginobili are still in their primes, injuries notwithstanding. I like the McDyess signing, too.

    More than anything, I want to see Oden emerge. I'm tired of hearing him compared to Sam Bowie and Erick Dampier.

  4. Well, judging by the last couple years, Duncan looks like he is on the down side of his peak. But seriously Richard Jefferson? What has he ever accomplished? Jason Kidd made him the household name he has become, but still was never an all-star or a legit outside threat. When I think of Jefferson, Jason Richarddson comes to mind. Big name player, but really just slightly above average. SA will be better than last year, but I don't see them creating too much ruckus in the playoffs.

  5. Jefferson goes strong to the cup. Richardson's in love with the 3. Jefferson's also a much better defender.

    In terms of Duncan, dude averaged 19/10 last year with almost 2 blocks a game. He also shot over 50% for the floor. He's slipping but he's still better than most. He had 19 boards against the Hornets, 8 assists against the Lakers, 6 blocks against the Clippers. He's still got it. Did you know he's been All NBA every season he's been in the league?