The NBA flourished in the 80s and 90s because of the intense rivalries throughout the league. This was a great era for the game as physical basketball ruled. The players disliked their opposing players, fans, and orginizations. This was no secret.
The league exploded in major markets like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami. Rivals were born and championships were earned. The blood, sweat, and tears of the 80-90s disappeared. The game of basketball would change in the 2000s and lose some of the heated rivalries we grew to love.
The New York Knicks added Carmelo Anthony on Monday ending the Melomania of the past few months. If you ask me the MANIA is just about to start. The NBA has awakened old rivals and added them to new rivalries currently ongoing in the NBA. With that being said I am going to list the top 5 NBA rivals of the 80-90-2000’s. Get ready.. NBA’s bad blood will return, creating an exciting new era in the NBA.
Greatest Rivalries of Past:
Honorable Mentions (NYK/BOS, CHI/DET, NYK/IND, DAL/PHO, LAL/PHO)
5. San Antonio Spurs/Dallas Mavericks
Everything is bigger in Texas including the HUGE rivalry between the instate Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. This rivalry is relatively new but still very fierce. Both of these teams have Dallas roots and share the state of Texas for their fan base. Since 2000 these 2 teams have played 5 times in the playoffs with the Spurs leading 3-2 in series play. This rivalry is one of the only true rivalries of the 2000’s. Key rivalry members: Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Mano Ginobili, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Michael Finley, Mark Cuban, Greg Popovich, Don Nelson, and Avery Johnson.
4. Miami Heat/New York Knicks
One of the fiercest rivalries in recent history, the Knicks–Heat rivalry was always a long drawn out playoff series. The bad blood spilled into fighting numerous times over the years. They met each other in 4 consecutive playoff series from 1997-2000 with each series playing the maximum allowed games. The Knicks-Heat rivalry was always a close physical game. Key rivalry players: Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Allan Houston, Jamal Mashburn, Larry Johnson, John Starks, Pat Riley, and Jeff Van Gundy.
3. Los Angeles Lakers/San Antonio Spurs
The Western Conference has been dominated by two teams since 1999. The Lakers and Spurs are those two teams. When you want to be the best you have to beat the best and that is how these two teams developed a true rivalry. Since 1999, these two franchises have a combined total of 9 ( YES NINE) Larry O’Brien trophies. The Spurs won the NBA finals in 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007. The Lakers won the NBA finals in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010. That is a whole lot of hardware between these two powerhouse franchises. From 1999-2004, these two played each other every season in the Western Conference playoffs with the winner winning the NBA championship. Key rivalry members: Kobe Bryant, Time Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Phil Jackon, and Greg Popovich.
2. Chicago Bulls/New York Knicks
This is my personal favorite rivalry of all. The Bulls and Knicks. Chicago and New York. The Big Apple and the Windy City. Jordan and Pippen. Ewing and Starks. Just replaying the games in the 90s gives me the chills. I will have to say I was fortunate enough to see a few of these classic games in person. The old Chicago stadium would roar to new levels when the Knicks game to town. Madison Square was always buzzing the minute Jordan stepped into the arena. Since 2000, the rivalry has fallen off due to both teams rebuilding their franchises. The one thing that has stayed is the power of both the Knicks and Bulls while rebuilding. New York and Chicago are two powerful cities and have dedicated sports fans. The 90s rivalry grew with bad blood year after year of playing the playoffs. The rivalry was in high gear from 1989-1996. In 1992 and 1994 we were witnesses to two Bulls-Knicks seven game series. We have had endless highlights from these games and numerous fights. The bad blood was won out with 6 NBA Championships for the Bulls and only 2 NBA Final appearances by the Knicks. Despite the Knicks not winning an NBA title or beating the Bulls in a series while Jordan was in the league, this rivalry was still considered the most contentious of the mid-1990s. Key rivalry memebers: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Charles Smith, BJ Armstrong, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Jeff Van Gundy.
1. Los Angeles Lakers/ Boston Celtics
This is hands down the greatest rivalry in NBA History. These teams are equivalent to Yankees-Red Sox or Tar Heels- Blue Devils for the NBA. These are the two most stories franchises in the league. The Celtics have 17 NBA Championships while the Lakers have 16. This was the IT rivalry of the 80s and has been reestablished in 2008, facing off twice in the NBA Finals since. This historical rivalry goes all the way back to 1959 when the Celtics swept the Lakers to win the championship. The Lakers and Celtics made 13 appearances in the finals combined between 1979-1989. The Celtics won 3 trophies while the Lakers took home 5 Larry O’Brien trophies. The height of the rivalry featured Magic vs Bird and even started the Beat LA and Beat Boston chants that still go on today. The two teams squared off in the 1984, 1985, and 1987 NBA Finals as well as the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals.Key rivalry members: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, and Phil Jackson.
All of these rivalries have left their stamp on the NBA history books. I look forward to the next great rivalries to start and bring a new jolt of energy into the sports world. The NBA is a better place with intense and physical basketball being played.