As I was re-watching Winning Time for the first time since it aired, I took notice that Reggie's and Starks' rivalry was one of legend. Yes, it was one that escalated to semi-"violent" measures, but the fact that two players could get so heated from some trash talk was inspiring. You don't see players doing this kind of thing anymore.
I understand that the league is stricter on players with technical and flagrant fouls these days. And players can't talk a little smack to each other without getting in the other's face and acting like a tough guy. Starks ignored Reggie's taunts for a while, before he finally 'snapped'. Nowadays, dudes get physical quickly and try to best each other in aggression.
The closest sliver of a player rivalry I've seen is Danny Granger and LeBron James. They've consistently gone back and forth in series, but that's mostly Danny Granger showing he won't back down. LBJ and Wade had somewhat of a rivalry, then they joined forces (lame as ****). Then you have LeBron and Kevin Durant, arguably the top two small forwards in the league, who not only battled in the locked-out offseason, but met in the recent NBA Finals. But there doesn't seem to be any kind of literal rivalry between the two.
Now I'm not saying players should get out on the court and act immaturely with other players. Playful jabs, a little shaking-up for the sake of hyping the team and such. Nothing violent, but everything usually tends to escalate to flagrantly fouling for the sake of "revenge".
Even team rivalries these days are lacking. Pistons-Pacers? I'm still not over it, these players should at least hold some kind of grudge. Pacers-Bulls? There was no pent-up aggression this season after we fought back in our first-in-a-while playoff appearance. Now, we're the team that beat the Magic without Dwight Howard, and gave the Heat a run for their money... briefly... and without Chris Bosh.
But in that sense, every team in the league is a rival of the Heat. Superteams moreso than others, but we did a lot without the help of multiple (or any) superstars. Even interstate teams aren't as rivaled as they could be. Miami-Orlando? Lakers-Clippers? Kings-Warriors? Knicks-Nets? I would imagine teams would fight harder, hold grudges, turn into different players when matching up against a rival such as those. But the storylines have gone missing. The only hype surrounding these games are those placed by the media (of course, where else will they come from?).
When Michael Jordan left the association to play in the league, it was apparent that the East was up for grabs. Back then, without Jordan dominating the game, the Knicks and Pacers were respective favorites to do some damage in the playoffs. This past season, the Sixers beat the Rose-less Bulls. The Pacers stumped the Howard-less Magic. Teams still had a chance to compete against former high-seed teams that were missing their stars, their MVPs, the players who MAKE the team. But it seems like these storylines weren't even as remotely prominent as Jordan's drama back in the day.
Nowadays, the biggest storylines are "Where is [superstar] going to decide to sign in 6 months?" or "[Superstar] declines to comment on firing of head coach and GM". They're pointless stories, about where the highest-paid players in basketball are going to go, or decide to go, or get traded. Not about how a seven-year rebuild for the Pacers led them to two back-to-back playoff appearances (getting better the latter year), and playing better than anyone (thus far) against the Heat. Not about how a young and built OKC team, led by an underage scoring title-holding MVP candidate, was the leading competitor against a purchased veteran team with three (count 'em, THREE) 'superstars', one of which is a reigning MVP and best-player-in-NBA candidate with no rings.
Gregg Popovich and the Spurs got all the attention they deserved; an incredible veteran franchise, built well, on a run for one last title before the ol' knees give out once and for all. Popovich deserved his Coach of the Year award.
Regardless of this, LeBron and the Heat, Kobe and the Lakers, superteams, trade and re-signing drama, the league, and the media that surrounds it, are truly focusing on the same four stories that they can re-pitch and re-tell and re-update us on, just because they think they're selling to and writing for the same four markets. Oh wait, then you have some unbelievable storyline that comes out of nowhere and turns a nobody into a multi-millionaire over one season (Jeremy Lin's debauchery). I'm not trying to imply he's a bad player, but not enough to be paid that much for what he does. But that's all it takes for a storyline to pop up: some mysterious Bermuda Triangle-esque phenomenon happens in New York City, and the whole world knows about it.
Even Gerald Green looked good playing for a team that would soon move to Brooklyn. Not to downsize him, either, because I love the guy. But it's unfortunate seeing that there are no prominent storylines, or player/team rivalries, that really stand out from the same stories that keep getting regurgitated. "Can LeBron carry his team?" "Will Kobe share the ball with Nash?" "Is Deron Williams wetting the bed because the Nets couldn't land Dwight?" "Has anyone seen Ben Wallace lately?" It's just ridiculous. I can't wait to see what "unknown underdog" will get thrown into the hype machine next season and get shot out like a cannon into a multi-million dollar guaranteed contract. I'd like to see James White benefit from the New York media. Or maybe Miles Plumlee will be raved as the "best pick to come out of the draft" due to his fixation on playing moderately similar to Blake Griffin, but being white.
I'm going to stop while I'm on the border of conspiracy theory, but I just have to finish by saying that the lack of substance in the media world when it comes to the NBA these days is just sickening. I generally have no problem with sports journalists, commentators, or analysts. But their Linability to be original and discover the true between-the-lines underdog stories;
...the tales of the More-Than-Corn Pacers, who were expected to be 5-6th in the East, but rose to the 3rd seed, and beat the Heat more times than anyone else before them (so to speak).
How about the Washington Wizards, who got considerably better this offseason, and could fight for the 7th seed in the East?
I would even listen to speculation of how the Bobcats are going to get turned around by the play of future-ROY Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
I would PAY to see a write-up about Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers that had not a single mention of the words "his father, Doc" or "unibrow".
No more articles about "Can LeBron repeat with D-Wade's help?", or "Howard follows Shaq's footsteps from Orlando to LA, also will start acting", or "Are the Boston Celtics on their last leg?", or "NASH, KOBE, DWIGHT: We don't even need a headline for this Hollywood Wet Dream!".
I can only hope that the Indiana Pacers draw some attention to themselves this season, so that people will start truly taking us seriously. Let's make some storylines. Let's get some rivalries started. Bynum vs. Hibbert for best center in the East. Something with substance. Something that hasn't been done before. Something real.