Mar 31 2014

Introducing the NBA Rivalry Cup!

In March, I got to meet Alexi Lalas. Lalas is a soccer Hall-of-Famer, an Olympian, and a legend in Major League Soccer. He now serves as an analyst for ESPN after taking a turn in management in MLS.

I don’t know much about how soccer works. Every discussion I ever find myself in revolves around how soccer is “the beautiful game” (… it is) and how Americans don’t pay nearly as much attention to it as the rest of the world.(And how we choose to focus our attention on gridiron football, wasting time, bodies, and money. Lots and lots and lots of money.)

There is one thing that piqued my attention about MLS. The 19-team league has a schedule that features eleven rivalry cups. These are bragging rights hardware. I couldn’t be sure if it was a big deal or not. So who better to ask than Lalas?

“I think the rivalries are very important to MLS. Some are manufactured, but the best are created organically and then fostered by the league. It’s hard to force a rivalry on fans but MLS has seen a bunch pop up through geographic or historical reasons.” 

Point taken. It’s hard to get folks engaged in the six-month long NBA regular season. The good teams establish themselves in the heart of winter, the bad teams are accused of tanking as soon as the trade deadline passes (if not sooner), and the teams in the mediocre middle fake it until they make it at the end. The NBA’s divisions hold little significance to anybody in the league or outside of it. And while players like Kobe Bryant sheepishly mention the fact they never had any personal rivals, other players such as LeBron James take the thought of NBA rivalries one step further:


You know what, LeBron? You’re totally right. There are no rivalries in the NBA … worth taking seriously. In fact, the NBA regular season is barely worth taking seriously. Neither is the NBA All-Star Weekend (a completely sideshow that doubles as the league’s marquee weekend event), the first round of the playoffs (“Bucks in 6“), or the NBA Draft (seriously, this may be the saddest All-NBA rookie first team in league history). Hell, even LeBron managed to make a mockery of NBA free agency and the chances other teams would have to compete against Miami in one summer!

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So with all of this in mind, the NetworksUnited is pleased to bring to the office of Adam Silver: The NBA Rivalry Cup Series!

That’s right folks, the NBA Rivalry Cup Series. Basically, we are going to manufacture rivalries – some geographical, some historical, some just plain arcane. The winner of the teams’ season series shall determine the cup – however, the games that take place the Wednesday and Thursday before the All-Star Break are worth 50% more in the cup standings. I haven’t found a sponsor for what each rivalry cup will look like, or who they will be sponsored by (Silver is more interested in the latter, I’m sure). Don’t knock me on this; have you seen the Larry O’Brien trophy, given to the league’s champion?!

Pictured: Basket interference. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hallway Cup: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers

This one speaks for itself. The Clippers and the Lakers have shared the Staples Center ever since it opened in 1999. The Clippers moved to Southern California in 1978, and moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984. In other words, the Clippers made Los Angeles a two-team city in the NBA, and the Lakers have won half of their 16 titles in that time. The Clippers are just now starting to pay some serious rent – but you wouldn’t know that from listening to the radio in L.A.

Subway Cup: Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks

This rivalry goes all the way back to the Nets’ ABA formation and entry into the NBA. The New York Nets came from the ABA and were basically kicked out of the market by the Knicks, who successfully lobbied to keep the New York market to themselves. After 35 mostly painful years in New Jersey, the Nets are back where they belong, holding down Brooklyn and challenging the Knicks in their sorry division. We know where Spike Lee stands in the middle of this one.

NoCal Cup: Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings

Both of these Pacific Division teams are transplants from eastern cities; the Warriors originated in Philadelphia, while the Kings started as the Rochester (N.Y.) Royals. The Warriors moved to the Bay Area in 1962, and the Kings finally made it to California in 1985 after pitstops in Cincinnati, Omaha, and Kansas City.  This rivalry would be a bigger deal, except that these two teams have never made the playoffs in the same season.

Constitution Cup: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

These two cities have a major part in defining American history, and the same could be said for these two NBA franchises. Russell vs. Chamberlain, Bird vs. Dr. J, Pierce vs. Iverson. Both franchises haven’t been the same since the 1986 NBA Draft. The Sixers gave away Moses Malone and the first overall pick. The Celtics drafted Len Bias.

North American Cup: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Toronto Raptors

It’s clear where this rivalry stands. The Raptors are descendants of the Toronto Huskies of the 1940s and are the only NBA team left in Canada today. Their 1995 expansion partners moved out of Vancouver after six absolutely deplorable seasons there, leaving the city to riot over the Canucks’ heartbreaking losses.

Sunshine Cup: Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic

These two teams not only play in the same state – they came into the league a year apart from each other. I always feel bad for the Magic. They lose their big-time superstars (Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Dwight Howard) while the Heat seem to attract them (O’Neal, Chris Bosh, LeBron James).

Winter Cup: Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

When either of these franchises win a playoff series, it’s a cause for a celebration. Also, these two places are always cited for their unfavorable winter conditions anytime free agency, Carmelo Anthony, or Kevin Love comes up.

Emerald Disrespect Cup: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers

This would have been the Pacific Northwest Cup, but Seattle messed around and lost their NBA franchise.

Louisiana Purchase Cup: Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets vs. New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz

The Jazz originated in New Orleans in 1974, because that made sense. They kept the Jazz name when they moved to Utah in 1979, which is just hilarious. The Hornets originated in Charlotte in 1988 before moving to New Orleans in 2002. Charlotte got their team back in 2004, and after ten years of being the Bobcats, they get to be the Hornets again in 2014 after New Orleans dropped the name in favor of the Pelicans. The rivalry should be less complicated on the court.

Texas Triangle: Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

These teams have had iconic, Finals MVP-winning big men for most of the past quarter-century. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki, Houston had Hakeem Olajuwon, and San Antonio has Tim Duncan. That list doesn’t even include David Robinson and Yao Ming. They should have had a more formal rivalry by now.

Cup of 1968: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns

The Bucks and the Suns came into the NBA together in 1968, and while you may think this is a stretch rivalry, imagine what both teams would look like if the Suns had the right to draft Lew Alcindor number one overall in 1969. The Bucks drafted Alcindor and won a title in 1971. The Suns picked second in 1969 and drafted Neal Walk. The Suns are still looking for their first title.

Nightlife Cup: Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards

Neither of these Southern teams have made it to the Conference Finals since the NBA put the three-point line on the court in 1979. Players love to visit both of these cities though. And it usually has to do with what happens before and after the games. At least in this rivalry, one of these teams will win on the court too.

Rust Cup: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

These two Central Division teams both entered the NBA in the 1970s, both lost their only NBA Finals appearance, and both (as of now) are defined by one player (Reggie Miller, LeBron James).

Freeze Out Cup: Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons

Both of these teams changed the NBA from an offensive free-for-all in the 1980s to a drag-it-down, knock-’em-out, halfcourt slobberknocker going into the late 1980s/early 1990s. Rumor has it that the Bulls’ best player, Michael Jordan, was frozen out of the 1985 NBA All-Star Game by the Pistons’ best player, Isiah Thomas. And in turn, there’s a rumor that Thomas was frozen out of the 1992 Dream Team by Jordan. These teams have always been cold to each other even with Jordan and Thomas long gone.

Legacy Cup: Celtics vs. Lakers

2 teams, 33 championships. 1960s, 1980s, 2000s. This is  the NBA's most significant rivalry, even though both are terrible now! (Source:

2 teams, 33 championships. 1960s, 1980s, 2000s. This is the NBA’s most significant rivalry, even though both are terrible now! (Source:


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