Every good story has a protagonist and an antagonist. There is a conflict with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. Eventually a resolution is reached. Usually in our culture it’s the good guy who comes out on top but this is not always true.
Sports are no different.
Rivalries make sport compelling, imploring us to tune in and spend three hours of our time watching two teams battle. There is something primal, something innately interesting about watching two teams that strongly dislike each other play to see who is best. These rivalries may come and go, only the all-time great rivalries (Lakers-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox, Tar Heels-Blue Devils) never fade, but they are an integral part of what it means to be a fan.
I’ve attempted to identify the Spurs top five rivals. I’ve thought about playoff battles, on court conflicts, off court conflicts and personalities. Most importantly, I’ve thought about what team do I most enjoy beating. To me this is the essence of what makes a rivalry. It’s all about the satisfaction with beating a team that you despise.
Don’t like my rankings? Please share your own.
5. Utah Jazz – During the mid-1990’s, the Jazz had the Spurs number, knocking them out of the playoffs in 1994, 1996, and 1998. It always seemed that the Spurs would run into the Jazz and never have enough firepower, never forcing a series to go to the final game. It did not help that the Jazz were led by Karl Malone, whose elbows-of-death injured more than one than player during his career. In April of 1998 that player was David Robinson. Malone caught the ball in the post and turned, his elbows connecting with Robinson’s head and knocking the Admiral unconscious. Adding insult to injury, Robinson was called for the foul. Since Malone’s retirement the Jazz have struggled with the Spurs, but it does not make beating them any less sweet.
4. Houston Rockets – The Rockets (I-10 rivalry for those in Texas) were another mid-90’s nemesis of the Spurs. They only knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs once but it was one of the most painful playoff series in Spurs history. In 1995 the Spurs had the best record in the league and Robinson captured the MVP. They were the favorites facing the underdog Rockets who were seeded 6th, but Hakeem Olajuwon famously outplayed Robinson and ultimately carried the Rockets to their second title. Spurs fans have been bitter towards the Rockets ever since. More recently, the Spurs traded away Luis Scola to the Rockets for nothing in return, which has also left many fans bitter. While the Spurs and Rockets have not had many playoff battles, their one meeting in 1995 ended Robinson’s best chance to win a title as the Spurs “go-to” player.
3. Phoenix Suns – The Suns knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs a couple times in the 90’s but this rivalry grew heated during the Nash-D’Antoni era in recent years. The Suns captured America’s attention with their “seven seconds or less” mentality. On the other end of the spectrum were the Spurs, winning with solid team defense and low scoring affairs. This rivalry had everything – exciting finishes, players calling each other out, suspensions and the Suns owner mocking the Spurs. Remember the chicken dance? Suns players and fans hated the Bruce Bowen for “dirty” play and Ginobili for flopping. They even claimed that the NBA favored the Spurs, something that always blew my mind. Spurs fans hated the Suns for Amare Stoudemire’s whining, D’Antoni’s sideline antics and the Suns fan’s constant complaining. It was a fun rivalry, especially since the Spurs always came out on top. Unfortunately D’Antoni has left and the games just are not quite as fulfilling without him.
2. Dallas Mavericks – This rivalry (I-35 rivalry for those in Texas) is a relatively young one that only truly formed when Mark Cuban took over the Mavericks. The two teams have met in the playoffs numerous times with the Spurs winning in 2001 and 2003 and the Mavs winning in 2006 and 2009. Like with the Suns, this rivalry has had classic finishes, suspensions and Cuban’s wild antics. Jason Terry has cemented his place on Spurs fans hate list after punching Michael Finley in the groin. I don’t think I need to say too much about Mark Cuban after all he has done, including ugly remarks about the Riverwalk, city of San Antonio and Spurs fans. The Mavericks also knocked the Spurs out of the 2006 playoffs with a memorable, and highly painful, game seven that will be remembered for Ginobili fouling Dirk Nowitzki for a three-point play. What pushes this rivalry past the Suns for me is that Cuban, Nowitzki and Terry, the three players I most associate with the rivalry, are still around.
1. Los Angeles Lakers – Maybe no rivalry has been as exciting over the past decade as this one. It started to get interesting in 1999 when the Spurs swept a Lakers team with Shaq and Kobe to close down the Great Western Forum. Phil Jackson then declared after the season that the Spurs title should come with an asterisk because it was a 50 game season, thus earning the hatred of all Spurs fans for eternity. The Lakers dispatched the Spurs in 2001 and 2002 before the Spurs defeated them in 2003, which many Spurs fans remember for Kobe and Derek Fisher crying afterwards. Of course 2004 brought my most painful Spurs memory – .4. The Lakers and Spurs have been the most dominant teams throughout the decade, and it’s only fitting that they have decided each other’s playoff fates so many times. The Lakers have been home to three of the most disliked individuals for Spurs fans – Kobe, Shaq and Jackson. Add those three to the painful losses and the Lakers are the biggest rival for me.
Ok Spurs fans, time for you to chime in. Did we leave any other team off the list? Please leave us your comments and go vote on the poll for best Spurs rival.