"It's not a rivalry. We beat them every year. Oh my God. I don't care if they beat us tonight. I like (Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof). I hope they enjoy this.”
Those were Kobe Bryant’s words in his postgame interview last night, after the Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 100-91 in their 2011-12 home opener.
On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with Bryant. Even after last night’s loss, the Lakers have won 16 of the last 21 meetings – including a stretch of eight straight victories – and haven’t even split the season-series with the Kings since the 2005-06 season.
But while the 2002 Western Conference Finals may seem like a lifetime ago to Bryant, who has since won three championships, two scoring titles, and an MVP award, it takes more to wipe away a decade-old battle for supremacy, which includes far too many unforgettable moments and painful defeats, than a recent stint of regular season dominance.
Robert Horry’s dagger and Mike Bibby subsequent game-winner are only a small fraction of what transpired in a wildly entertaining duel between the two Pacific Division foes. From Doug Christie’s uppercut on Rick Fox’s jaw in a 2002 exhibition contest, to Bryant's alleged room-service food poisoning, to the times Shaquille O'Neal referred to the team as the "Queens" and Phil Jackson called the state capital a "cow town," the memories for Kings fans are there for the taking. Let’s not forget the fact that the Kings actually lit giant Lakers jerseys on fire at half-court before Games 3 and 4 in the 2000 Playoffs (both wins), quite literally igniting the rivalry.
In recent years, the Bryant-led Lakers have remained among the league’s elite teams, while the majority of yesteryear’s Kings are either retired or nearing the ends of their respective careers in other cities. Yet, facing the Lakers will never be just another game after all of the emotions, bad blood, and not to mention, conspiracy theories that have unfolded.