Los Angeles Lakers

Ice Cube identifies what's needed to spark Warriors-Lakers rivalry

NBC Universal, Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO – For much of the last dozen years, the Warriors had two legitimate rivals. Both were easy to identify and just as easy for much of the planet to ignore.

Nothing against the Cleveland Cavaliers (2015 through 2018) or the Los Angeles Clippers (2012-2017), but neither had the global reach to engage fans from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Only a Warriors-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry could do that. The Lakers long have had a massive and vocal fan base, and the Warriors now have enough followers to compete. Among the global popularity of NBA teams, they rank Nos. 1 and 2 – and the order is variable based on data.

What’s needed to solidify a Warriors-Lakers rivalry? There is, according to one devoted LA fan, a simple answer.

“I think all the rivalry stuff will happen if we meet in the Western Conference finals,” Ice Cube, the rapper, actor and co-founder of the Big3 basketball league, said as a guest on NBC Sports Bay Area’s “Dubs Talk” podcast.

“Right now, it's just the teams respect each other and want to beat each other.”

No argument here. There is plenty of juice when the teams meet, but no hint of menace in the air, as there was during the Warriors-Clippers games. Technical fouls expected and given. Ejections were on the table, as were postgame confrontations in the hallway of the downtown LA building then known as Staples Center, now Crypto.com Arena.

There is something gentlemanly about the way the Warriors and Lakers compete. Maybe that is traces of Golden State’s Stephen Curry and LA’s LeBron James, two of the three 30-somethings (along with Kevin Durant) that have spent most of the past dozen years sharing the unofficial title of the NBA’s best player. Curry and James are, by nature, men of professional conduct.

Then, too, the relationship between Draymond Green and LeBron has much less vitriol now than it did when James was with the Cavaliers.

Still, the Lakers were the last team to oust the Warriors from the NBA playoffs, sending them home in six games in the 2023 Western Conference semifinals. This was despite Golden State finishing one game higher in the standings to earn homecourt advantage.

“First round, second round, that's pillow fighting, know what I mean?” Cube said. “When you’re going for the Finals, that's when it really gets serious.”

What is notable at any game in LA, including the ’23 playoff series, is the sizable contingent of Warriors fans at Crypto. They are at least as vocal as Lakers fans that once upon a time showed up at Oracle and now swoop into Chase Center.

During the most intense seasons of Golden State’s rivalries with the Cavaliers and Clippers, support was far greater for the Warriors on the road than it was for either Cleveland or LA at Oracle Arena.

There was a time when Lakers fans were much louder in Oakland than Warriors fans were in LA. That has changed. Dub Nation remains louder at Clippers games in LA – tickets are easier to obtain – but they can be heard during Lakers game.

Not that Cube has noticed. Or maybe he chooses not to acknowledge it.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “Do you mean as [loud] as we get up here?”

Well, yes.

“Well, it hasn't really been the same since it's called the Crypto arena,” Cube said. “So, I guess that kind of stuff happens.”

Cube did not take the bait. Because there is no discernable animosity between the Warriors and Lakers. To the contrary, he seems to appreciate what the Warriors have built over the last 10 years.

“It's cool to see another California team you know take it to the top, especially when the Lakers can't do it,” he said. “I've rooted for the Warriors, when the Lakers were no longer in the playoffs, to win the championship. It's been all love. We love the Bay.”

Yeah, a Warriors-Lakers Western Conference finals would crank up the flame. A smorgasbord for each fan base. Enough trash being talked to fill the Pacific Ocean.

If only, with Curry 36 and James 39, with their teams finishing outside the top five in the West the past two seasons, that reality didn’t seem so far away.

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