Hands up if you are looking forward to the matchups between the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat this season?
Yep, I am too.
As much as this is a budding rivalry, the seeds are those left over from the recent battles between the Heat and the Boston Celtics. And, if you’re so inclined, you can trace them back even further, to the Celtics’ past tussles with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There are a number of key players that have been carrying both a healthy respect and strong dislike for each other for a number of seasons, now. LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen are your starting five in this fluid disagreement, and the enmity between them has only become more interesting as some have opted to change allegiances.
Think back to the Celtics playoff battles with the Cavaliers, with Pierce and James going shot for shot: LeBron seemingly fighting alone, while Pierce – supported by Garnett and Allen – came out on top. The Celtics have also knocked off the Heat and Wade, who was obviously recruiting James (and Chris Bosh) when, following a playoff loss to Boston in 2010, he proclaimed, “it’s not going to be like this again.”
You know what happened from there: the Big Three joined forces in South Beach and won back-to-back titles; the second coming with – and arguably because of – Allen after he jumped ship from Boston (in the process exposing that he and Rajon Rondo weren’t exactly “besties” in the Celtics’ locker room); and then this summer, Pierce and Garnett themselves bolted to Brooklyn.
All of which brings us to where we are now, with James taking a veiled shot at Pierce and KG for putting Allen on blast when he left Boston for Miami.
Truth be told, the bickering and the Heat-Nets rivalry nearly kicked off a year earlier, because even before Boston and Miami met in the 2012 playoffs, the Celtics tried to trade Pierce to the Nets for Mehmet Okur’s expiring contract and a potential lottery pick (in that scenario Ray Allen was headed for Memphis).
Surely billionaire Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov would have slotted enough pieces around Pierce to take a run at the title, but his patience paid off as, in addition to the two future Hall of Famers, he landed Jason Terry, whose efforts alongside Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 are a big reason we’re not currently debating whether the Heat can win their fourth-straight title.
So, the new rivalry is really just all the old ingredients assembled in a different dish. But what makes it even juicier is the polarizing nature of many of the figures involved.
Subjectivity reigns supreme when it comes to James. Some will never allow him to live down “The Decision,” while others would say he didn’t do anything illegal or against the rules. He can either do nothing wrong or nothing right depending where you stand.
Adding a bit more spice to the pot is the fact that the Heat are two-time defending champions, which means James and Allen each have one more ring than Pierce and Garnett. Do you think it burns KG and Pierce that Allen has a ring thanks to their efforts? How ticked are they that Allen won a title with the enemy and played a huge role, hitting what will go down as one of the greatest clutch shots of all time in Game 6.
Obviously, this newfound rivalry between the Nets and the Heat is not the same as the Lakers-Celtics clashes of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Disdain hasn’t been passed through generations and may very well end with Pierce and KG’s respective retirements. But, it’s certainly the most intriguing of the upcoming NBA season.
I’ll be watching closely. And you know what, I bet many others will be as well.