July 2, 2008, marked the end of the Trail Blazers last pure rivalry. That is the date the Seattle Supersonics sold to the Professional Basketball Club out of Oklahoma City. Although Blazers/Sonics games were not the hotly contested match-ups they were a decade prior, there was new movement to reignite the feud. With Portland and Seattle receiving the number one and number two picks in the 2007 draft, earning them (in)arguably the two best players coming out of college, the rivalry was sure to be revived for the first time in years.
Blazers v. Sonics will never be considered one of the great sports rivalries of all time. It is not College football’s Ohio St. v. Michigan or Auburn v. Alabama, nor will it ever receive the attention of the holy-grail of enmity, Yankees v. Red Sox. It was not a match-up that fans would tune in for from coast to coast and then talk about at the water cooler the next day. But to us, the rivalry was indicative of the spirit we in Pacific Northwest posess and frankly we don’t need outsiders to validate our detestation of our neighbors. We knew that whether it was the Coliseum or the Rose Garden in Portland, the Kingdome, Key Arena or the Tacoma Dome in Washington, it was never a home game and it was always a home game. It was always a rowdy experience.
Right about now you are asking yourself "what about the lakers? I hate the lakers more than I ever hated the Sonics.” Believe me, friends, when I tell you there is not an entity on this planet that I abhor as much as the lakers. But, ask any laker’s “fan” and you will find the rivalry is very one sided. The last time the lakers circled a Portland game on their team calendar may have been back in the 1999-2000 season. Excuse me while I go cry into my pillow.
Before we begin the search for our next “Sonics” we should first define what a rival is and why it is not the Lakers.
Both teams should be involved. As I stated before, you cannot call it a rivalry if the other team can’t remember your name. You are not dating the prom queen just because you sat next to her once in the 7th grade. Trust me on this one. One of the truly great phenomena about sports rivalries is that no matter the difference in skill level between the teams during any given season, when you play your nemesis both squads bring their A game… every time. Every time Shawn Kemp Tomahawk dunked on the Blazers it felt personal and it probably was.
Proximity. You are not always rivals because you want to be, you are rivals because you have to be. The common thread between Blazers/Sonics and the great rivalries of all time is proximity. Proximity breeds animosity. All of the great rivalries are within a four-hour drive of each other. In distances of such convenience people feel free to travel back and forth with ease, one could move to Seattle from Portland without feeling like they are making a major life decision. Teams often play for pride within the region and that is no more true than teams that play in the Pacific Northwest. Which brings me to point number three…
Rivalries Transcend Sports. Sports allow us to highlight our differences as regions. Rivalries are about the People and the cities in which they inhabit. They are about the crossover of culture and who lays claim to its origins. The people of Boston will use several four letter words to explain to you how they are not anything like the people of New York, but, as someone that has lived in the region for almost ten years I can attest that they, in fact, are the same people. The same goes for the citizens of Alabama and the same goes for the people of Portland and Seattle.
Now that our neighborhood adversary is gone and we are the only game in town, how far are we willing to go to pick a new fight? Denver? Dallas? Many good rivalries have begun in the playoffs. On this dubious anniversary let's take the time to reflect on what a true rivalry means and while doing so let's look forward and choose, as a community, a new rival. Please let us know who you think it should be and why.