Robert Horry. The Queens. The punch. The elbow. Shrieks and cowbells. Most importantly, great basketball.
What once defined the Kings and Lakers’ rivalry is all but a memory and warm nostalgia.
By the early 2000s, there was no middle ground in California. Residents either pulled for the Kings or Lakers. Small market or big market. David or Goliath. Hardcore and casual fans alike were treated to four of these matches a season, and often times a few more in the playoffs.
That was a long time ago. YouTube was not invented, and Pluto was still a planet. The Kings-Lakers rivalry continued, but it could never match the intensity of the 2001 Western Conference Finals. Eventually both teams stumbled into bad luck the middle of the decade, and Los Angeles reloaded while Sacramento fell into obscurity. Their matches remained a hot ticket, yet the passion on and off the court subsided.
Today, the Kings and Lakers will play, and then rematch on Wednesday to close out their regular seasons. The teams are tied at 1-1 in this year’s series, and Los Angeles leads an overwhelming 90-36 since the NBA moved to Sacramento.
Kobe Bryant, professional tormenter of the Kings, and Gerald Wallace (Celtics) are the only active players left from the epic playoff battles from over 10 years ago. The 36-year-old Bryant will sit out with a rotator cuff injury. The rest of both teams’ rosters have little connection to the battles that once gripped the same hardwood floors.
“I don’t think it’s one to say rivals,” Jason Thompson told Cowbell Kingdom. “Both teams really haven’t (had the) type of relevance, with both having winning ways that they did back in the day so it’s unfair to kind of say it. I think for a fan’s perspective, it definitely is. It’s kind of like the Raiders and the 49ers. But we’re trying to get to that level that it used to be.”
The Kings and Lakers are now bottom dwellers in the Western Conference, a tragic irony of their once glorious past.
An even stranger quirk of fate is the fact that Derrick Williams, a Los Angeles native and Lakers fan as a child, is now a member of the purple and black.
“The environment, the cowbells, both teams playing their heart out,” Williams reflected to Cowbell Kingdom. “I think everybody was watching those games in the early 2000s. That was probably the biggest rivalry besides Lakers-Celtics.”
“I remember watching some of those games and the Lakers coming out on top,” he added. “A couple times, it might have been questionable, but at the same time, it was what it was. I think everybody loves it just for the fact that it was a great environment. I can’t really describe that type of rivalry because I still don’t think today’s game has a rivalry like that. 2015, I couldn’t tell you two teams that are like that right now. So it was definitely one of a kind at that point.”
Having spent some thought, Williams believes the solution to reviving the rivalry is not dependant on colorful player personalities like Shaquille O’Neal and Mike Bibby.
“I don’t think it’s like that anymore.” Williams said. “I think earlier in the 2000s or 90s you had teams with guys that were kind of wild at the games and that played that type of style. So I think nowadays it’s going to take great records. It’s going to take us playing well and them playing well and a little bit of playoff spots. So hopefully in the next year, not just our team, our organization but the Lakers can pick it back up as well. It’s good for basketball when you have both teams playing well.”
Kings fans may not want to hear it, but Williams has a point. Until then, the Kings and their young roster will treat everyone like rivals.
“(It’s) that whole Cali rivalry,” DeMarcus Cousins explained of the situation. “Us, Golden State and the Lakers, I think that they’ll always be there.”
Players and personnel come and go, but the bad blood boils on.