Word on the Street

Revenge Game (ri-venj’ gam) noun. A game in which a particular player or team has the opportunity to seek retribution for an injustice – whether real or imagined – that was committed against them by another player or team.

Usage example:The Dallas Mavericks won their revenge game against the Golden State Warriors last night.”

Word trivia: The NBA season lasts a long time, and most players have a hard time maintaining their competitive fire over the course of the 82-game grind. That’s why revenge games are so important: They can get a player’s juices flowing like nothing else. The player’s sought-after revenge can be in response to any number of things. Maybe the other team won the last regular season meeting or knocked his team out of the playoffs the previous year. Maybe that team traded the player or tried to lowball him in salary negotiations, which prompted him to sign with another team. Or maybe an opposing player or coach just badmouthed him to the press. Here are some of the most commen revenge game themes:

1. The “See what you lost” game: Whenever someone leaves a team – whether by trade or through free agency – that player can’t wait to get a shot at his former team. Putting up big numbers and/or coming away with a win serves as proof that the team was wrong, even foolish, to let him go. When the Lakers traded Shaq to the Heat, Shaq had two straight “See what you lost” seasons, the second of which culminated in a championship, and the Lakers are still trying to recover. ‘Nuff said.

2. The “See what you left behind” game: Every team wants to believe they were right to trade a player or let him walk. So they want to shut that guy down and/or beat his team to prove that point. When Horace Grant left the Bulls in ’94, he really wanted to stick it to his former team. Sure enough, Grant’s Orlando Magic won the regular season series against the Bulls 3-1 and then defeated Chicago in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-2. Of course, the Bulls swept the Magic out of the playoffs the next season, then Shaq bolted for L.A., and Grant and Penny Hardaway were beset by injuries …but for that one season, Grant got a little payback.

3. The “Playoff payback” game: No team wants to be eliminated from the playoffs, so it becomes very important to come back the next season and beat the team that knocked you out as often as possible. And if by some miracle of fate you get matched up against them in the playoffs the next year, well, turning the tables on them would be Nirvana.

4. The “I hate you, you hate me, let’s do this” game: Some players and/or teams just hate each other, and that hatred bubbles over whenever they meet. The Celtics and 76ers despised each other in the early to mid-80s, and that hatred led to fights between Larry Bird and Marc Iavaroni and later Bird and Dr. J. The 80s Celtics and Lakers didn’t get along very well either; just ask Kurt Rambis, who got clotheslined by Kevin McHale, or Michael Cooper, who got hipchecked into the crowd by Bird, or Cedric Maxwell, who got slammed into a basket support by James Worthy, etc. Ditto with the 80s Celtics and Pistons: Bill Laimbeer clotheslined Bird to the ground, Bird threw a ball at Laimbeer’s face, and Robert Parish once beat Laimbeer to the ground. Man, when you look back on the things that happened, the 80s Celtics sure look like a bunch of dicks.

Sadly, David Stern has managed to neuter most of today’s players – leading to ridiculous occurences such as players getting suspended for standing up off their bench – so we aren’t treated to wonderful canned hatred of yesteryear. But as long as we have the Ron Artests and Stephen Jacksons of the world, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see the random scuffle break out every now and then.

5. The “Don’t tug on Superman’s cape” game: Never embarrass a superstar. They don’t like that. On March 20, 1993, the Washington Bullets’ LaBradford Smith scored 37 points against a strangely defenseless Michael Jordan. Jordan was furious (even though the Bulls won) and vows to score 37 in the first half the next time he’s matched up against Smith (which, as fate would have it, was the very next night). Jordan came close: He scored 36 in the first half — and 47 in the game – as the Bulls blew out the Bullets.

That’s a great story, but I like this one better. It’s from Jack McCallum‘s book Unfinished Business. Prior to a February 15, 1991 game against the Boston Celtics, the Lakers’ Vlade Divac called L.A.’s previous game against Boston an “exhibition” and further suggested that the Celtics couldn’t compete with the Lakers. When informed of Divac’s less-than-favorable opinions, Robert Parish simply said, “Well, fuck Vlade Divac.” Then, as McCallum put it, the Chief went out and did just that, scoring 21 points in the first quarter and sending Divac straight to the bench. Parish finished with 29 points (13-16), 10 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in a 98-85 Celtics win.

6. The “You dirty rotten bastard” game: Every once in a while, a player or team screws another player or team over so badly that they can never, ever be forgiven. Like when Vince Carter was sandbagging so the Raptors would trade him, then transformed back into an All-Star literally overnight after he became a Net. The Heat/Lakers games had the “You dirty rotten bastard” vibe after we all found out that Kobe Bryant told police that Shaq paid off his mistresses. Sadly, Shaq and Kobe buried the hatchet last season and are all buddy-buddy again.

Classic revenge games: There are too many revenge games to list them individually. But here are some classic revenge matchups (otherwise known as rivalries) that have driven the NBA over the years: Celtics vs. 76ers (60s, 80s), Celtics vs. Lakers (60s, 80s), Celtics vs. Bucks (70s, 80s), Celtics vs. Pistons (80s), Lakers vs. Knicks (70s), Lakers vs. Pistons (80s), Lakers vs. Kings (00s), Bulls vs. Pistons (80s, 90s), Bulls vs. Knicks (90s), Bulls vs. Pacers (90s), Pacers vs. Knicks (90s), Knicks vs. Heat (90s), Heat vs. Lakers (00s), Suns vs. Lakers (00s).

Other revenge-oriented reading: Refer to Bill Simmons’ Vengeance Scale.

“I will break you.”

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Labels: Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) / Horace GrantAnfernee Hardaway (Penny) / Marc Iavaroni / Larry Bird / Julius Erving (Dr. J) / Kurt Rambis / Michael Cooper / Kevin McHale / Cedric Maxwell / James Worthy / Bill Laimbeer / Robert Parish (The Chief) / Stephen Jackson / Ron ArtestLaBradford Smith / Michael Jordan / Vince Carter / Vlade Divac / Kobe Bryant / David SternWashington Bullets / Toronto Raptors / New Jersey Nets / Detroit Pistons /  Boston Celtics / Philadelphia 76ers / Chicago Bulls / Milwaukee Bucks / New York Knicks / Sacramento Kings / Phoenix Suns / Indiana Pacers / Orlando Magic / Los Angeles Lakers / Miami Heat / Dallas Mavericks / Golden State Warriors /1994 NBA Eastern Conference Finals / NBA Playoffs / NBA Championship / NBA All-StarNBA / Word on the Street

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