Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Hawks and Celtics and whether they are rivals. You can find this topic of conversation at just about every level ranging from mainstream media such as ESPN all the way to the common fan. Even the NBA ran one of their 'NBA Happens' promos before the first meeting earlier in the season between Boston and Atlanta. In my opinion, this topic has become a great debate though its importance varies depending on which side you belong to.
So, are the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks a rivalry? In my opinion they are and I'll provide some examples and data as to why I believe such, and I readily admit that I am coming from the Atlanta side of the match-up. From most of what I have read, those that think this isn't a rivalry are prominently Boston fans, although recently some Atlanta fans are buying into the Boston reasons for why this isn't a rivalry.
The biggest reason provided as to why this isn't a rivalry is because "Atlanta doesn't win, so how could it be a rivalry?" Doesn't win what, ever? If recently, is it the last two years? Five? Ten? Are we talking about regular season or just playoffs, or both? Well, in almost every single case, the blanket statement that Atlanta doesn't win is completely false. Sure, anyone can selectively pick certain stretches where it's one-sided for either the Hawks or the Celtics, but at no point could you simply state that over the 50+ years of both franchises that it has never been a rivalry. That statement alone represents ignorance and arrogance, in my opinion.
The all time record between the two is 126-212 (regular season) in favor of the Celtics. I think we can all agree that with 17 championships, the Celtics have had better teams more often than the Hawks. I think we can also agree that the Hawks do indeed 'win'. So how about more recently? Yes, the Hawks are 0-2 this year against Boston and went 0-3 in the regular season last year as well. But we also won three very important games last year that, no matter how much people want to discount them, counted. So even within the last year the Hawks 'win'.
Let's look at the ten years before the KG deal, 96-97 to 06-07, to get a larger sample size of the series. Head-to-head, the series went 21-19 in favor of the Hawks. I'm starting to wonder what people consider to be a 'win'.
Another reason that people have used as for why this isn't a rivalry is that the Hawks haven't been good for the last decade. Well, that's interesting because looking at the numbers neither has Boston. Over that same ten year period from above, the Hawks have a combined record of 355-515 (40.8%) and Boston is 372-498 (42.7%). Wow, a whopping two whole point’s better.
Knowing the numbers behind the history of these two teams, when those points are used it comes across to me as being condescending, as if just because Boston had a miracle season and won the championship last year, that nothing that ever took place before even matters. Mainstream media types, local media, and fans of Boston are all of a sudden too good to remember where they came from. They get a couple of all-stars, win the big one, and now they are living in the Hamptons pretending that's where they came from, like they have been there the whole time.
So, what makes this a rivalry then? I clearly am not one who believes that a rivalry requires the two teams to split wins. To me, it's more about the intensity of the games played, of both the players and the fans. It's about how those games are played from beginning to end, and how close those games are each and every time they are played. It's about the history between the two participants and it's about the future games yet to be played. Sure, if you didn't really follow the NBA and your local team won the championship and you then decided you would start following the local team, then yeah, I suppose you wouldn't see the rivalry that may have existed ten years ago, or twenty, or thirty. Maybe you didn't even see last year’s games. But to anyone who watched those epic 'Nique-Bird matches, watched how many times those two teams went up against each other in the playoffs, or saw those seven games last year in the playoffs, then I would think you know it's a rivalry.
Or, maybe it's just me. Either way, we get another shot at Boston later in the year. GO HAWKS!