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There is no rivalry between the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat.
There is no rich history between the two franchises.
Celtics vs. Lakers it is not. History? Boston and L.A. have decades of it. Geography? They are the East vs. West. Bad blood? Five words: Kevin McHale clotheslines Kurt Rambis. Great players? Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Jerry West are only the beginning.
And when it really comes down to it, a big reason why the Celtics and Lakers have an intense dislike for one another, is because the other was the only thing standing between them and a championship.
This isn’t Bulls vs. Pistons. For three years, Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all-time, was humbled by the collective power of head coach Chuck Daly and the “Bad Boys.” The “Jordan Rules” tested the Bulls to their very core. It took everything Jordan had — from extreme conditioning and toughness, the triangle offense, and his evolution as a teammate, to make it to the Finals.
This isn’t even Heat vs. Knicks. That was just violent.
Orlando and Miami, up to this point, have never competed against each other for even a conference championship. Whenever the Heat were an elite team, the Magic were merely good and vice-versa. They have played for state of Florida bragging rights, and little else. Sure, they had a somewhat memorable first round series in the 1997 NBA Playoffs, thanks in large part to Penny Hardaway’s Herculean efforts in Games 3 and 4 (back-to-back 40 point games) to make what was a one-sided matchup into a competitive battle.
That’s it, though.
For the Magic and Heat, countless players have come and gone. As such, not many star players have had a chance to leave an indelible mark on the head-to-head series. It’s true that Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard have been the most consistent faces, in terms of in-their-prime superstar talent, between Orlando and Miami in recent years, but there’s never been a signature moment between them.
No, it’s not a rivalry.
But rivalries have to start somewhere, and if you had to guess where the NBA’s next great one was going to start … Miami, tonight, is as good a bet as there is. The ingredients are assembled:
For those that followed the NBA offseason closely and let’s be frank, it was hard not to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings around the league, the vitriol spewed by general manager Otis Smith, head coach Stan Van Gundy, and president Pat Riley stoked the fires quite a bit between the Magic and Heat.
Smith questioned LeBron James’ competitiveness, Van Gundy criticized the airing of “The Decision” and called Chris Bosh a lapdog (he would later apologize for his comments) for following Wade around while the free agency process was taking place. Riley fired back at Smith, saying that his remark about James was “absolutely stupid” but that was not all. Continuing on, Riley sent a subliminal diss directed towards the contract that Rashard Lewis received from Smith when he was a free agent in 2007. Naturally, Van Gundy responded to Riley’s comments, blasting him for making “moral judgments” and adding that his criticism of Smith’s remarks were “stupid.” Then it was made known that Van Gundy had not been in contact with Riley in over a year.
Got all that?
Wait, there’s more.
This isn’t the first time that the front offices for Orlando and Miami have butted heads.
There was some animosity between both franchise when Van Gundy chose to coach the Magic in 2007 and Riley demanded, and received, compensation to allow the transaction to go through, which strained the relationships of the two teams. Can’t forget about the storyline getting set up in the first place after Riley “replaced” Van Gundy in 2006, ultimately leading the Heat to their first and only championship. To this day, Van Gundy sticks with his story that he stepped down because he wanted to spend more time with his family before coaching again with Orlando. Yet it will be hard-pressed to find many people that believe Van Gundy left on his own accord. Although Van Gundy stayed on as a consultant during Miami’s title run, he didn’t accept the championship ring that was accorded to him after the fact.
Needless to say, there is a genuine dislike between the Magic and the Heat that has bubbled below the surface for years. Maybe not so much with the players, but definitely with the people that hold the strings.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Orlando and Miami reside in the same state, separated by a drive on Interstate 95. However, it’s something that gets overlooked. The best rivalries in the league are supported, somewhat, by a geographical link. Some might say, “what about the Heat and Knicks?” That was a link that could only be seen below the surface — many New York residents transplant to South Florida on a year-to-year basis and root for their home teams. Boston and Los Angeles had it. Chicago and Detroit had it.
Orlando and Miami have it. That link.
Great rivalries need great players.
By objective measures, whether it’s PER, statistical plus/minus, or WARP, three of the top five players in the NBA reside in Florida — James, Wade, and Howard. Not only that but there are All-Stars (Bosh, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, and Lewis, just to name a few) littered on both sides, and plenty of key role players with championship pedigrees.
That’s a lot of talent, and it should make for some aesthetically pleasing basketball.
The Magic and the Heat are elite teams. Together. Never before have Orlando and Miami both been contenders in the same season. Until now. Rest assured, it’s going to be a bloodbath. A slugfest. A war. The Heat have always been the Magic’s natural rival, but it means something now. These are two teams vying for a title in the same division, in the same conference, in the same state … and three of the top five players in the league are going to be starring.
By the time the playoffs kick into high gear, Lakers vs. Celtics may not be the most intense rivalry in the NBA, and it all starts tonight.