This week's SB Nation theme: rivalry day. While geography often plays a central role in the topic--you know, like that football game going on tomorrow--it's only one of the factors that helps create the added intensity and meaning typically associated with a rivalry.
So what makes for a good rivalry? And at this point do the Bucks really have one worth taking seriously?
The Annoying Neighbor Rival. Anyone who has sat through a Bucks/Bulls game at the Bradley Center knows that keeping your enemies close isn't a recipe for disliking them any less. What's interesting is how the dynamic has changed over the years. I can recall vocal Bulls' support at Bucks games going back to the first time I saw Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen back in the early '90s, and it seemed to continue, albeit at a reduced decibel level, even through the Bulls' lean years in the latter part of the decade. But I don't ever recall it being as pronounced as it has been over the past two seasons, with Bulls fans regularly drowning out the Milwaukee faithful in watching their team typically steamroll the smaller, inadequate Bucks. Whether it's watching Rose dismantle the Bucks down the stretch or drill a game-winner at the horn, there's been no shortage of ego-crushing blows dealt from Rose and company over the past two seasons. Heck, just writing about it depresses me.
Other than that the Bucks' geographical rivals are rather limited by the realities of Midwestern geography and the NBA's conference alignments. The Vikings might be convenient rivals as divisional foes of the Packers, but it's tough to get too riled up about a Timberwolves team that doesn't compete with the Bucks for a playoff spot and has historically been even worse than the Bucks over the past two decades.
The Pacers are a much better fit, and are close enough that Squad Six and Area 55 fans have made the trip both ways in recent years. That helps, though Indiana and Wisconsin have never felt like particularly rivalry-oriented as states despite their relative proximity. Detroit and Cleveland are bigger stretches; though both are divisional foes, they're not much more, and it's always harder to hate cities that are in such obvious decline.
The Playoff Series Rival. The almost-great Bucks teams of the '80s might reasonably point to the great Sixers and Celtics teams of the decade that perennially edged Don Nelson's men as primary rivals, though the Bucks' playoff appearances since then have been so irregular (and short) that there's been little opportunity to generate more than temporary disdain for their opponents. Sure, it was fun hating Josh Smith for his negative comments about Milwaukee nightlife back in 2010, but in the end the Hawks were a playoff opponent, not a true rival.
Which is all rather disheartening because most great rivalries take root in the postseason, or at a minimum with some hotly contested regular season games that actually, you know, mean something. We haven't had nearly enough of either in recent memory; some testy encounters with KG and the Celtics in early 2010 might be the most memorable in semi-recent history. And until we see more of that it's difficult to see how the Bucks can have a meaningful rivalry with anyone.
The Bad Blood Rival: There's nothing like a little friskiness to make a matchup more interesting, and on that front it's tough not to start with the Indiana Pacers. After the Bucks swept Indy in 10/11, the resurgent Pacers returned the favor last season and along with it cooked up a cauldron of bad blood, punctuated by Larry Sanders' awkward outburst late in the season in Indiana.
That wasn't the only moment between the two sides, though. The longer-running storyline dealt with a cryptic feud between former Duke and North Carolina rivals Mike Dunleavy Jr and Tyler Hansbrough, both of whom were on the business end of some hard fouls, including one by Dunleavy that broke Hansbrough's nose.
The Hate Everything They Stand For Rival: This is really the most unsatisfying type of rival because it's typically the most one-sided. Yet it's only natural for eternally suffering small market fans (ahem) to have a one-sided hatred of the big guys, isn't it? The Heat are an obvious target: their star trio obnoxiously orchestrated their arrival via free agency, they complain to the refs constantly, AND they just won a championship. Oh, and they have warm weather...year round. Ironically the Bucks actually won the first two meetings of the season between the teams a year ago, but something tells me that the Heat still didn't have all that strong feelings toward the Bucks.
Honorable mention here goes to the Knicks, because let's be honest: everybody hates New York teams. Though still outsiders to the NBA's current elite, the Knicks have long embodied the big-spending, free agent-tempting lifestyle of the big market team. And for that? Well...we hate them, too.
So with all that in mind, who gets your vote as the Bucks' biggest current rival?