Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:46 pm
With Kobe vs. LeBron Thursday night in Cleveland, it's the perfect time to come up with a list of the top five individual rivalries in NBA history.
Michael Jordan makes the list, but only barely; he never had an individual rival or anyone close to his equal.
Kobe and LeBron make it, even though they haven't (yet) competed head-to-head for a championship. But as (arguably) the two best individual performers in the game -- albeit at different stages of their careers -- this is as good as it gets in modern times. (And not because of the puppet commercials.)
So with the following rough criteria -- competing for championships, relative difference in skill level, and the competitiveness of their teams -- here are my top five individual rivalries in NBA history:
1) Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell: This is a no brainer. The two dominant players of their generation competed for the Eastern Conference title six times and the NBA title twice. Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever, due to his 11 championships compared to Chamberlain's two.
2) Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: Their rivalry began in college with the seminal NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State in 1979, which made the NCAA Tournament what it is today. It continued throughout their NBA careers with the Celtics and Lakers lifting the NBA to national prominence with three NBA Finals matchups in the '80s. Lakers vs. Celtics is all you need to say to conjure memories than span generations.
3) Bird vs. Julius Erving: Before we had Bird vs. Magic on the NBA stage, we had Bird vs. Dr. J. Their teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals in four of the first six years of the '80s, splitting the four meetings to determine who would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals (with the exception of 1981, when the Celtics faced the Rockets). Who among us (in 35-and-up demographic) didn't get his first video game experience on that grainy but thrilling "One on One" video game featuring Bird and Dr. J?
4) Kobe vs. LeBron: I put them here because of A) What is, and B) What might still be. LeBron is just entering his prime, when presumably he will begin stockpiling championships. Unlike Jordan at a similar stage of his career, LeBron has a formidable, immortal rival in Bryant who is still standing in the way. Kobe continues to play at a high level and has a chance to keep LeBron's championship trophy case barren for a couple of more years. (And they have the puppet marketing machine going for them, too.)
5) Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas: As inhabitants of the same conference, Mike and Zeke never squared off with a championship on the line. But Jordan's epic battles against Isiah's Bad Boy Pistons -- taking his lumps in the '89 and '90 Eastern Conference Finals before finally breaking through in '91 -- marked the emergence of one of the all-time greats. By supplanting Isiah and the Pistons, Jordan dispensed with the last true individual rival he would face en route to six NBA titles in eight years. Their rivalry also transcended the court; it was personal. Isiah's alleged "freezeout" of Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game, Jordan's alleged efforts to sabotage Thomas' failed bid to be included on the 1992 Dream Team, and the visceral hatred that exists to this day between Jordan's long-time agent, David Falk, and Thomas makes this a must in my top five.
Posted on: March 13, 2009 4:02 pm
The Spectrum hosts its final major league sporting event Friday night when the 76ers host the Bulls and bid farewell to the old arena filled with memories at the corner of Broad and Pattison. I spent a couple of years working in Philly and never had the pleasure of covering a game at the Spectrum. I wish I had. I would've gladly traded the dozens of Eagles and Phillies games I had to endure in the awful Vet.
When the Spectrum is demolished later this year to make room for a new hotel and retail complex, a lot of memories will go with it. The building was blessed with Julius Erving's entire career and hosted all those epic battles between the Celtics and Sixers. Dr. J and other members of the Sixers' '82-'83 championship team will be honored before the game.
I gotta ask: Couldn't the last game at the Spectrum have been Sixers-Celtics? How dumb.
Here are transcripts and audio links from radio interviews with Larry Bird and Dr. J talking Spectrum memories. Good stuff.