A great rivalry will be talked about long after those included in them have hung up their jerseys. There’s a reason why many still talk about Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics from the 80s. There’s a reason why we will do the same for the likes of Nadal and Federer, and Messi and Ronaldo. It’s iconic. It’s why the photo of Messi and Ronaldo for Louis Vuitton came close to beating the record for the most-liked post on Instagram (Messi did however smash that egg’s record after winning the World Cup with a post that racked up over 73 million likes).
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It’s beyond just the sport, it’s a narrative of antagonism and equals meeting their match that entices—it’s a fictional story brought to life before our very own eyes. Nothing matches the thrill of seeing two sides with a long history meet once again. Who will win this time? Who has more wins against the other? These questions flood the mind as they wait in anticipation of the upcoming bout.
But as we are finite, so too are our sporting careers. One day, a much-awaited rematch could very well be their final encounter, a conclusion to their rivalry. But their legend does not stop there. A legacy passed onto others, stories and recordings of their battles inspire the next generation, making way for the creation of new athletes, and new greats who will create their own rivalries.
And speaking of inspiring the next generation, we are perhaps witnessing the birth of the NBA’s next great rivalry. An up-and-coming contender featuring the best among the league’s young talent, versus, an established dynasty spearheaded by future first-ballot hall of farmers, and two of the greatest shooters in basketball history, the budding rivalry between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies is one to watch.
Like all rivalries, it has to start somewhere. So where did this one even begin?
Even as the Golden State Warriors would go on to win the NBA championship last season against the Boston Celtics in six games, it would seem that there was already a storm brewing long before. Klay Thompson during the press conference after their victory was talking about his road to recovery following two career-threatening injuries, and his motivators for coming back strong. Perhaps setting the stage for the rivalry to come, he recounts a tweet by a Grizzlies player that stuck to his mind.
“There was this one player on the Grizzlies who tweeted ‘Strength in Numbers’ after they beat us in the regular season and it pissed me off so much. I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Freakin’ bum. I had to watch that. I was like ‘this freaking clown.’
“OK, OK, OK. Sorry, that memory just popped up.
“You’re going to mock us? Like, you ain’t never been there before, bruh. We’ve been there. We know what it takes. So to be here again, hold that.”
“I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Freakin’ bum.”
Klay’s been keeping receipts 🤣 pic.twitter.com/WJReCAVukK
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) June 17, 2022
If you’re wondering, the tweet came from the Grizzlies’ starting forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. Since Thompson’s frankly hilarious rant, the replies have been filled mostly with remarks making fun of Jackson for the way things turned out—they got bounced by the champs in the second round, talk about aging like milk.
Strength in numbers 👏🏾
— JJJ (@jarenjacksonjr) March 29, 2022
Rivalries, however, are not built on social media platforms but on the court itself. If you remember, on their way to their seventh franchise ring, and their fourth in eight years, they faced the Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs, finishing the job in six games. While not as close as a series as others, the duel was heated and mired with controversy.
After barely closing out the first game, surviving a missed game-winner by Morant, an integral part of the team’s system, Gary Paton II, suffered a fracture in his left elbow during the second game from a hard foul by opposing guard Dillon Brooks—many considered this to be excessive and dirty, warranting his ejection via flagrant 2. Stirring the pot even further, Morant injured his knee in the next game, effectively taking the team out of contention. He would not go out quietly though, crying foul and hinting that the events leading to him getting hurt were intentional—game officials however did review the footage, concluding that it was a normal basketball play, nothing more.
Going back to the Twitter drama and following Thompson’s revelation, a back-and-forth between the Warriors’ star forward Draymond Green and budding Grizzlies’ superstar Ja Morant would ensue, teasing a must-watch Christmas game between the two.
got a lot of real estate 😂 https://t.co/5JYqhn8Vw0
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 17, 2022
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) June 19, 2022
nah in da M. bring em to da trenches https://t.co/lYuPwkKnsH
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) June 19, 2022
The champs play at home Young! Christmas Day… LJ 🙏🏿🙏🏿 https://t.co/n5ji0xpu0j
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) June 19, 2022
With the NBA probably taking notice of the growing tension between the two teams and sensing the potential for views and publicity, they gave in to the clamor for a Christmas day matchup, giving everyone what they wished for.
That’s the power of your voice Young! Let’s goooo! Bring the fam to the crib for dinner after https://t.co/xs8GpKkQtE
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) August 13, 2022
Ahead of the incoming game, Morant also drew quite a bit of attention to himself. When asked about which teams he is worried about, he only mentions the Celtics in the Eastern Conference, saying “I’m fine in the West”.
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In an act of pretty much self-sabotage, the Grizzlies would go on to lose to the Warriors in their Christmas game matchup 123-109. Adding salt to the wound, the defending champs were without their top two scorers, Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins. It was an entertaining game, befitting of the holiday spot, with late-game back and forths, heated trash-talking, and not to mention, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’s intensity.
Draymond Green & Klay Thompson taunting Dillon Brooks
Klay: “Just some good ol’ fashion trash talk. I didn’t think it warranted a technical but I forgot about the taunting rule. It’s always fun to talk trash. We’ve been doing that since middle school.” pic.twitter.com/f6DCawbooU
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 26, 2022
While ecstatic about the victory, some members of the team would go on to downplay all the trash-talking and the tension, not viewing the Memphis team as a fellow rival.
Green shared, “I think the word rivalry is thrown around too loosely these days. A rivalry is the [Los Angeles] Lakers-[Boston] Celtics. A rivalry is us and the [Cleveland Cavaliers] through those 2015, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19 years. Those are rivalries.”
“[The Grizzlies are] a great, young team that has a very promising future, but they haven’t won enough yet to say it’s a rivalry. That’s no shot at them, it’s just — in order to be a rivalry, you’ve got to start hanging banners.”
Coach Steve Kerr also chimed in, saying, “It’s definitely picking up steam. But to really develop a rivalry, there’s got to be, I think multiple playoffs series.”
It may take a couple more years before this becomes recognized as an all-time rivalry. But for now, every matchup between these two is must-see TV.