I grew up a Philadelphia 76ers fan. The franchise had a rich tradition of winning and Julius Erving (Dr. J) was, and still is, my favorite athlete. There was not much to hate in my young life — outside of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Those teams — Philly’s most respected rivals — often stood in the way of my Sixers winning the N.B.A. championship. These three have battled each other in big regular season games and also in the playoffs for decades. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell transitioned into Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. The greatest of wins came from these events but also the most heartbreaking of losses. I actually wept when Magic Johnson and the Lakers defeated the Sixers in the 1980 N.B.A. Finals.
Because of free agency and the reality that franchises can’t stay great forever, rivalries can fizzle out. When I interviewed Miami Heat guard Ray Allen in 2008 (he was with the Celtics at the time), he spoke of the current indifference between the Sixers and the Celtics.