Finally. The NBA has a rivalry truly deserving of the label. Not the kind of rivalry where players are actually friends who like a bit of back-and-forth, the kind of rivalry where players outright dislike each other.
Look back through basketball history. Every decade can be defined by its various feuds and rivalries. The early-00s had the Lakers and Kings, the Lakers and Suns, and the Lakers and Spurs. The 1990s featured the Chicago Bulls overcoming a Detroit Pistons squad they loathed. The 80s was the time of Larry Bird and his bitter battle with Magic Johnson.
However, since the league’s popularity has exploded in the last 10 years, the number of true blood rivalries has dropped completely. Maybe it’s the Internet era and the invasion of social media that means players are more connected than ever before. Maybe it’s the current free-agency climate that means players are moving between franchises more than ever and don’t want to risk alienating a potential teammate.
Whatever the reason, the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors have decided to have a good old-fashioned feud worthy of the name.
It’s hard to pick where the rivalry really started, but the emergence of the Clippers as a genuine playoff threat after years spent as the laughingstock of the Western Conference is probably the root of their attitude. The Clippers were one of the worst teams in basketball for more than two decades. Only once from 1980 to 2005 did they post a record better than .500.
Of course, the same can be said for Golden State. The Warriors went through their own barren period, not appearing in a conference finals at all between 1979 and 2015 and only making the playoffs nine times in that period.
Thus, both these squads are fighting for the same respect and recognition. It just so happens they both play in the crowded Western Conference, where one or two wins can separate the top six seeds.
This is no media-manufactured narrative, though. The players are the driving factors here. For several years now games between the two have been tight, tense, chippy battles with plenty of cheap shots and dirty plays.
Draymond Green was rather blunt about it last season. “It’s no secret. We don’t like them. They don’t like us.”
There was Blake Griffin being told to “stop flopping” by David Lee. There was Blake Griffin being yanked down by the arm by Festus Ezeli on a dunk attempt. There was the Warriors bench exploding when Griffin hit the side of the backboard on a shot attempt and a scuffle involving Griffin on Christmas Day 2013.
Yeah, the Warriors don’t much care for Blake Griffin.
It’s not just Blake, though. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has even been sniping through the press all summer at the Warriors, accusing them of not acting like champions should, called them “sensitive” and “lucky” that they didn’t have to play his Clippers on their run to the 2015 Finals.
The animosity even led to the Clippers refusing to pray with the Warriors in the opening week of 2013, until then considered a pregame staple for Christians in the NBA.
And the rivalry shows no signs of letting up. With the Warriors now toting around the burden of being defending champions, Los Angeles has an even bigger reason to take them down. To add fuel to a towering inferno of bitterness, the Clippers went ahead and brought in Josh Smith, who isn’t afraid of physical basketball, and the dictionary definition of an annoying, smash-mouth player in Lance Stephenson.
Sure enough, tempers flared in Tuesday night’s preseason tilt between the two teams. The Clippers’ 130-95 win featured 66 fouls, 87 free throws, nine technical fouls and an ejection of Chris Paul.
The Warriors and Clippers face off for real on Nov. 4 and March 23 in Oakland, and at Staples Center on Nov. 19 and Feb. 20. Both teams figure to be at the very sharp end of yet another crowded Western Conference.