With yesterday being rivalry day on SBNation, we put up a poll yesterday to decide who our "main" rival is. Now, this is a tricky subject for the Rockets because they've been in the Eastern Conference, the Midwest Division and now the Southwest Division. We could choose just about any team in the league and not have the encumbrance of "is that fair to call it a rival". But for the formative years of the Rockets, the ones we as Rockets fans have to hang our hats on until Daryl Morey can finally right this ship (and he will), the Rockets were in the Midwest division. During that time, the Mavericks sucked and recently got good, so they are out. The Spurs were really a group of pretty darn nice guys led by all-time NBA nice guy David Robinson and you may not like Parker or Ginobli, but they still are a group of nice hard working guys, so they are out as well.
Now, that really only leaves us with two teams to choose from and I'll eliminate one now: The Los Angeles Lakers are not our rival, they've never been our rival and likely never will be. Sure, the Rockets are the only team to stop the Lakers from reaching the finals in the 80s, and sure the Rockets had some epic playoff and regular season battles, but the Lakers and Celtics are the leagues rivals, the fans rivals, not the Rockets rivals. Which scourge of the earth does that leave us with you ask?
The Utah Jazz, aka the worst named team in the league. Anyone that watched Rockets basketball from the 80s, 90s and 00s should be able to clearly pick them out of the NBA police rivalry lineup.
What makes the Jazz our rival? Well, first off don't ask dumb questions and second off, I'll tell you. But first, let's dive into what makes a rival. First, you have to have a close overall record, or at least a close one over a period of time. Second, you have to face that team when everything is on the line. In the NBA that means the playoffs. And that's why the Celtics and Lakers have the only cross conference rivalry. Third, you have to not like something about the other team. It could be their fans, their longtime coach, or the players on the team. It CANNOT be based on the fact that they always beat you. In fact, that cannot be part of the equation at all or it's not a rivalry, it's just a team you hate. That's why the Longhorn's primary rivalry is not the Aggies and is the Sooners. It is why the Aggies consider the Longhorns their rivals, but to be a true rivalry it has to be a two way street. The only caveat to the two way rivalry is when a team hates you and eventually you get so fed up with their BS that you hate them equally back. And since you don't have another natural rival, they become the one: See Alabama and Auburn.Now that we have that settled, let's get into it. Seriously, on what planet does it make sense that they stole a team from New Orleans and kept that name? Why are their fans so scary, is it the Nazi vibe they give off?* There are not a lot of rivalries that can keep up at the same intensity after changing divisions but this one has. Unfortunately both teams have not been as good recently, with the Jazz, painfully, clearly being the better team as of late. But where did the rivalry start, and how has it gotten so ingrained?
Over the course of their time playing each other, the Jazz own the all-time record of 103-84 over the Rockets and 18-21 in the playoffs. Even worse, they've beaten us in 5 out of 7 series. And I know I said it can't be based off of only record, and it's not, it's based on how close those series usually were, going to a second to last, or final game in the series before we blew it. And that overall record is skewed by a few really bad Rockets teams including 0-6 one year. We had a 2-1 edge on them and then lost on our own court in the Western Conference Finals in a series that made no sense for the Rockets to lose. The Jazz just beat us to the point of wilting; they had McGrady's number in the fourth quarters, turning him from a driving, scoring machine into a jump shooting baby. Some of those Rockets teams had runs in them, but the Jazz, who could just about never get out of that next round, took it out of them. It was a really hard pill to swallow.
That brings us to the fans. And let's get this straight, one on one most Jazz fans seem like good people. They are typically nice and cordial. I even went on a radio show with one of the guys from the Jazz blog in Los Angeles and the guy couldn't believe how nice we were to each other. I had no intention of being nice, but I couldn't be mean to the guy, he was just too calm. Probably because he knew they were going to win, but that's not the point. The point is, when you get all these nice guys and gals in their arena something happens. I genuinely think that referees there are scared for their lives. I've seen calls that are mind boggling for the home team. They are the only team in the league with a bigger home court advantage than the Lakers. And the Lakers only have that advantage because David Stern pays the refs for it. The Jazz have that advantage because their fans seem like they might kill you if you don't make the call the way they see it. I've seen Yao Ming foul a guy he wasn't within five feet of. I've seen Hakeem Olajuwon tossed from a game where he was the one that got elbowed in the face. It's crazy I tell you. I'm not going to make any Mormon jokes because, well, that's not the right thing to do. But SOMETHING is in the air up there. Seriously, look at these two!
But the crux of the Rockets and Jazz rivalry has to be these two jackasses:
And might as well add in Jerry Sloan. Oh, and don't think those losses to them in the playoffs weren't lessened in my heart by that picture's caption. I hate you all. Here is what I wrote when we first started this blog:
Jerry Sloan, I should probably have old man river number one on this list because he's the tie that binds. The grumpy old fart only seems to know how to yell at people, I wonder if when his wife brings home 2% milk instead of vitamin D if she has to sit on the couch and get a lecture so she "learns"?
Karl Malone, Lee couldn't hate you more Karl, and yet you are still only number two on Lee's list. Karla, your incessant whining after you bowled someone over on a "pick and roll" and didn't get a foul called your way makes Lee realize you earned that nickname. And I put pick and roll in quotes because that pick was really Malone running into someone and as that person fell over from the non-called offensive foul continuing to run and then scoring on a hideous shot. It sickens me deep in my bowels how many moving picks he got away with. And Yao has stopped moving, so I don't even want to hear that.
John Stockton, oh Johnny boy, you served as the impetus for my hate. I wish I could Scott Tenorman you three times a week and then have you drawn and quartered for three days and then double up on Sunday. I can't even get away from you in March Madness because every time Gonzaga gets mentioned I have to hear about how you went there. You aren't in the top 400 NCAA players of all time yet your name gets mentioned what seems like every 8 seconds in the tourney. There is no way on earth that shorty shorts should own the all-time assists record. If a quarter of those moving picks were called you wouldn't be in the top 10."
For further reading, I did this as one of the first pieces after moving to SBNation. When the Rockets still had the all time series and playoff series edge: http://www.thedreamshake.com/2007/11/why-i-hate-utah-jazz.html
* Ok, Nazi was over the line, but come on, don't act like you haven't thought it.