Friday, October 13, 2017

Enough Beef For All

By Jonathan Lowe

In the dictionary of sports, few words are more hallowed and uttered than "rivalry." It can develop over a matter of a few years and last more than a few decades. It pits the entities we love against those we love to hate. It's the epitome of tribalism and loyalty that permeates much of athletics. It's measured through numbers (victories) and emotions (regional and national import).

For most team sports, it's the collective that fuels these feelings of loathsome disgust. Where would the Los Angeles (Brooklyn) Dodgers be without the San Francisco (New York) Giants? What about Ohio State football without their arch nemesis from Michigan. And don't forget about the connection between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

The same does apply to basketball, especially in the college ranks. When you mention Duke/North Carolina, Kentucky/Louisville, or Syracuse/Georgetown, blood begins to boil for those respective parties. In the pros, however, there's a bit of a difference. By nature, basketball embraces the individual concept more than any other team endeavor. One-on-one? Yes, you could play that in most other sports, but this particular one keeps the truest spirit of the concept alive this side of boxing and tennis. Because of that individual ideal, I think it's easier to see "rivalries" kick up a notch between particular players.

The NBA of 2017-2018 will be marked by one big headline. "Will the Golden State Warriors lose the title?" That's right. We're not wondering if the Warriors can win their third championship in four seasons. Basketball junkies are trying to figure out if anyone can step up to Golden State and snatch the trophy away from them. We may all know about the predictability of NBA postseason participants, but even this is a stretch for ardent critics and fans of the pro game. There's no 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning ... no 2009 Arizona Cardinals ... no 2005 Chicago White Sox. So, the regular season doesn't exist, right? It's just a six-month slog before GSW kicks things into gear and shows all of us, right?

In terms of intrigue, there isn't much there when looking ahead to the new NBA campaign. It's the Warriors and everyone else. So, that's it for the post. I'm done for the month ... or am I?

While the parity associated with title contenders might be slim, there is a storyline that we could keep an eye on from now until the mid-April of 2018. It has to do with the focus up above, or, at least, some form of it. When you have teams, franchises, organizations go back and forth, rivalry is the term that's used. Filter that down to an individual level, and you have what is known as "beef." This word doesn't have as long of a sporting history as "rival," but it has developed a similar spirit and its own definition.

Now, beef has had its place in the game for a while. This summer, however, has given rise to some of the best prime rib, barbecoa, and brisket this side of the South Plains. To be honest, you could even trace it back to last October. Moving out of an offseason where Kevin Durant spurned Russell Westbrook and more in Oklahoma City, we were just getting to Halloween, where LeBron James couldn't help but troll Golden State with some choice holiday cookies. Throughout the season, the simmering New York Strip that was Carmelo Anthony versus Phil Jackson kept turning from raw to well-done. The rise of beef didn't really start, though, until after the Warriors lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.

Player moves started happening in a flurry at the beginning of the new league calendar, then tapered to a steady, impactful trickle afterwards. The loudest call for change appeared to come from former Pacers' star Paul George. His vocal intention to leave the team after the last year of his deal set events in motion that would land him out of the conference and away from the ire of Hoosier Central. He now teams up with the aforementioned Westbrook and Anthony to create an Oklahoma City core that could easily be called the "Shoulder Chip Trio." With the added firepower on the roster, the Thunder are hoping to bring a potentially brief and promisingly potent amount of beef to one City By the Bay.

Down to the south, Chris Paul decided to jettison the star power of Los Angeles for Houston and new backcourt partner James Harden. In one way, this actually settled some beef. For a while, Paul was said to be (if not by himself) at odds with Clippers teammate Blake Griffin. With some distance between the two, any ill will should subside. What does that mean for DeAndre Jordan, though? Paul was part of the crew (including Griffin) that actually locked out Dallas from obtaining the big man's services. Does some of the bad blood from Griffin transfer over?

The biggest beef of all, however, has developed between the top two contenders for the Eastern Conference crown. Not everything is rosy on teams with viable wishes for a title. As a collective, things work out. As individuals, egos can ultimately get in the way. When Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland, it became apparent that the egos had grown too big for Quicken Loans Arena, let alone the Cavs' locker room.

The fact that Irving wanted out of LBJ's shadow, plus the lack of info heading the King's way, exposed a bubbling resentment that finally boiled over. Now Irving has settled in with Boston, Cleveland's biggest threat. Meanwhile, rest assured that LeBron will be using this slight against his image to fuel what he hopes is his eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

Beef can be enraging. It can be upsetting. It can even be tragic. But, for this purpose, beef is all fun and games. It's all showmanship. It's all about rivalry. And it's possibly the best theme we've got going into the new NBA season.

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