Of course, sports hate is a construction. No one really hates anyone, but it's useful terminology for the proceedings.
At least, that's something I understand now as an adult (Sort of). But it wasn't always the case. As a young man coming of age with a rugged Knicks teams of the mid-90's, if there was one team I truly hated it was the Indiana Pacers. You had a begrudging respect for the Bulls, a team so gifted it was hard not to be awed by them. But not the Pacers. One did not respect the Pacers, they merely loathed them.
I can recall hearing that Reggie Miller's house burned down and only being upset that he wasn't in it. With the hindsight of adulthood, I'm obviously very glad no one was hurt, but at the time it just seemed like a missed opportunity. And New York rightly saved its worst venom for Miller, an almost comic-book level villain. A tooth pick of a man, a sharp shooter of the highest order and with a personality seemingly ordained by the almighty to get under the collective skin of one giant metropolis. I think I'd rather have my wife leave me for my best friend, watch him raise my daughter and live in my home than ever lose another playoff game to Reggie Miller. I think.
And yet, for me, no one was more reviled then Rik Smits. I shudder just typing his name. A 7'4" puddle of mayonnaise with an awkwardly effective game, a pencil mustache and a habit of making things just tough enough for Patrick Ewing to send you vomiting into your soup. Even that name, Smits. Say it a few times and tell me it doesn't make you unhappy. "Hello ... Smits." "I'd like you to meet my friend... Smits." "Oh good ... Smits is here."
All of which is to say that it feels appropriate to find the Pacers standing here once again in our way. Yeah, the names and faces will be different, but one guesses that hating the Pacers will fit as comfortably as a pair of old shoes. It's in the blood.
So, hello Pacers. Looking forward to hating you again.