NBA rivalries come and go as any fan of the Indiana Pacers is well aware. The ebb and flow of the disdain for any one team largely depends on the success of the home team along with the actors involved on the roster of said rival.
Geographic rivals are natural with more opportunities to interact with rogue members of opposing fan base. But strong, healthy rivalries germinate in the early rounds of the playoffs and eventually develop into something really fun after going through a series of heartbreak and hysteria over years of repeated best of seven playoff battles.
So which NBA team do you consider the biggest rival of the Indiana Pacers?
The New York Knicks immediately jump to mind thanks to the epic playoff wars in the 1990's. I mean, they even made a movie about the intensity of the rivalry at the time and that just covered the initial few years.
Reggie Miller yapping with John Starks. The Davis Boys trading blows with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. No blood, no foul, no excuses. Reggie's 25 in the fourth and eight points in nine seconds. Grandmama's phantom four-point play and Ewing's missed finger roll.
For me, this remains the team's biggest rivalry even though all of the parties of those great games are gone. Winning in the Garden is still meaningful. Shutting up fans at the Fieldhouse in one-size too small or drastically oversized Knicks jerseys is still a blast. A feeling I hope never fades.
The Pacers do have other rivals around the league. Check out the rest after the jump.
For obvious reasons both on and off the court, the Detroit Pistons have been strong rivals from the Central Division. But since both teams fell off and are now back on the rise, the rivalry has lost its juice. In fact, the young talent on that Detroit roster is fun to watch, not yet capable of working opponents into a lather with any Bad Boys antics.
The current Pacers team has a couple of rivalries with potential to spread strong roots thanks to consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Of course, the Chicago Bulls head the list as a natural, geographic rival lying dormant until the playoffs revived the intensity in 2011. Had the Pacers played the Bulls in the playoffs for a second year in a row last spring, the local rivalry would be far more intense.
The Pacers need to beat the Bulls and Derrick Rose to really make things take off, but all of the ingredients are there for a spectacular rival. Great players and emotional role players with a tendency to error on the side of physical play. Plus, the fans. Yes, Chicago has several times the Pacers' fan base and they enjoy making the short trip to Indy when tickets are available. Like their NYK counterparts, although wearing stained D-Rose jerseys hanging down their knees, shuttin' 'em up with W's is already a blast.
Looking ahead, I'd like to think the Miami Heat could develop into a vicious conference rival. Last season's insane playoff series certainly laid the ground work. The stars were strong and then the role players dialed things up a notch with Tyler Hansbrough, Lance Stephenson, Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman adding some drama. .
But the step from foil to rival requires the Pacers to break through and beat the Heat, a task that will be a bigger challenge this season, assuming the Heat will be healthy in May. But if the two teams meet, there's always a chance.
All of these rival matchups enhance the NBA experience. Anticipating tip off to a rival game makes for a great day. You can feel the electricity even watching on TV. In the Fieldhouse? Crazy fun. The losses are tough to take and the wins so sweet to savor. The ultimate way for fans to emotionally invest in their team.
Hopefully, some year soon, the Pacers will develop a rival in the Western Conference after a couple of intense matchups in the NBA Finals.