By Jeremy Clements
(St. Louis – June 3, 2010)
“I didn’t give a damn who we played,” he snapped. “Doesn’t matter to me.” Those words flew from the mouth of Lakers star Kobe Bryant a few days ago after he was asked for his thoughts on the Lakers/Celtics rivalry being renewed in this years NBA Finals. Granted, all Kobe cares about at this point is winning ring number 5, because he realizes that the number of rings he has will ultimately decide his legacy. However I think that that statement also sheds some light onto the status of rivalries in American sports today.
Now don’t think for a second that Kobe isn’t aware of what the rivalry means to his franchise. He’s been a part of that team for his entire career and so he knows about the Celtics and the rivalry between the franchises. But that statement shows that rivalries aren’t what motivate players today. It doesn’t matter if it’s Lakers/Celtics in basketball, Cardinals/Cubs in baseball or even Cowboys/Steelers in the NFL. Rivalries in sports are not the same today as they were back in the 80’s, 90’s or even before then.
The reason isn’t that hard to figure out. Rivalries in sports are not taken as serious today because of a transient landscape that exists with players. Today I’m an enemy, next week we have the same agent, a month from now we’ll shoot a commercial together and next year we’re teammates.
This idea goes even farther than the NBA Finals. A week or so ago some rumors about a “summit” between superstar free agents surfaced. The concept is simple, big names come together to figure out where they may go and maybe who would go where to give them the best chances of winning. Back when Magic and Bird played I bet you wouldn’t have seen that happen. They could have been friends off the court, but on the court they wanted to beat each other, prove who was best. No questions asked.
Fans Care More Than Players
I heard a story a week ago about someone’s child watching a Red Sox/Yankees game. The child watched a few of the players from the teams hugging during warm ups and then asked his parents “aren’t they supposed to hate each other?”
Hate may be a little extreme. Maybe back in the day that could have been true. But today most of the players have friends who play on other teams. So they don’t have a true hatred for the franchises. In fact, I would argue that the fans are the ones who really create the rivalry today. You rarely hear one team badmouth another, but you don’t have to look far on the internet to find a Cardinals fan trash talking a Cubs fan about their team’s habit of choking in the playoffs.
It’s sad but true. The sports world has changed and in today’s sports world the rivalries are kept alive by people who don’t really have a direct impact on the bragging rights.