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What Happened to Player Rivalries?

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[Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images]

What made the Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird games, and Michael Jordan verses Isiah Thomas matchups all the more interesting to watch was the mutual hatred and respect each player had for their counterpart. They shook hands at the beginning of games, and it was possible that they used those same hands in an on-court fist fight. The games were not solely interesting because of the potential quarrel, but the possibility was welcomed. It was just a part of the game. 

In today’s game, the hatred has died down. The players have banded together. The rivalries seem lost.

Reason #1: Players are being traded more frequently and signing to different teams in what seems like every off-season. No point hating someone you might be coworkers with in the near future, right? There has been the divide between the management of the NBA and the players, so it makes sense that the players play nice with each other, and stand with solidarity as a unit.

Reason #2: The NBA is tackling down more. While a hard foul might been overlooked in the past, they’re met with more suspensions and fines these days.

Reason #3: In the last three decades, professional athletes are being seen more as role models, especially given the widespread viral visibility of their private actions. Athletes have had to toe the line a bit more than their counterparts from the ’80s.

It’s not like fights were ever allowed, but there’s a lot more at stake now–to the point where athletes may be thinking twice about deepening rivalry relationships.

What are some other reasons you think player rivalries are gone?


  1. More than any other reason, AAU hoops are why rivalries have died down significantly. The players that make it to the NBA are elite and generally have been far before they arrived in the league. These guys play against each other dozens of times before they reach the professional ranks. That familiarity with another person and have known them since childhood erases some animosity that might otherwise be there. Difficult to hate Simone you’ve known since you were 12 years old.

  2. Everyone has sold out! In their early careers, guys like Magic, Bird, MJ, played for the love of the game. They weren’t worried about setting a record for the largest contract and they certainly conspiring to team up like the Avengers to try to top Michael Jordan. Guys back then were challenged by Michaels greatness in that they knew year in and year out they would have the fight of their lives trying to pry ONE away from him, whereas the guys today feel like they have no legitimate chance winning one unless they team up with other superstars, ultimately to try to do what MJ did. So all in all, it’s MJ’s fault LOLOL!!

  3. Haha! Wow, those are all really interesting points. Crazy how the NBA can change so much in less than 30 years.

  4. Most of the players now were friends before even coming into the NBA; playing in sponsored camps and through the varies AAU circuits. So they have a friendship bond before even being drafted. They also understand now that the NBA franchises now are more business than family. So why hate the next guy when they will be your teammate next week.