Rivalries carry sports to new realms of fandom because people inevitably have to choose a side. In the social media world we live in, it’s tough to be Switzerland and remain neutral. These rivalries can be real or fictitious. In eras past, for example, we had Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird or Michael Jordan vs. the Pistons. Right now, we have the Cavaliers vs. the Warriors.
Fictitious rivalries can often take on a life of their own and become exponentially more entertaining than the real ones. Dion Waiters, who once believed he was a better player than his once teammate Kyrie Irving, vs. anyone or anything is a prime example. As the NBA playoffs drudge on to the inevitable matchup of Cleveland against Golden State, the narrative can sometimes grow to become exhausting.
However, with a little over a month left until the NBA Draft, a fresh, budding rivalry has ascended to the surface. After the draft lottery in particular, the cards have fallen perfectly for it to flourish. Markelle Fultz pitted against Lonzo Ball has legs and if two storied franchises cooperate, it only adds fuel to the fire. The Celtics have the first overall draft pick next month and Fultz is the heavy favorite to be selected. The Lakers were lucky in the draft lottery earning the second overall pick and many think Ball is their guy.
How are two 19-year-olds who haven’t played a single minute in the NBA already bickering over who is best? Well, one side has a no reservations when it comes to speaking his mind and the other has chosen to be passive-aggressive and utilize the art of subtlety and cunningness.
Both played in the Pac-12 this past season as freshman. Fultz for Washington, who struggled mightily going 9-22 on the season, which led to the firing of head coach Lorenzo Romar. Ball suited up for UCLA and led them to a 31-5 record before losing in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky. Clearly Ball and UCLA had the better season as a whole and Ball’s arrival certainly keyed their run back to NCAA prominence.
So began the back and forth.
Shortly after UCLA’s loss in the NCAA tournament, Fultz tweeted this:
Any guarantee this is about UCLA losing? I mean, he might not own up to it if asked, but I hope one day he is asked and his response is something like, “yeah man, that was hilarious” in reference to Ball having a rough time against fellow top prospect De’Aaron Fox in their loss. Ball finished the game with 10 points (4-of-10), 8 assists and 4 turnovers while Fox piled it on with 39 points (13-of-20) and 4 assists.
Just four days later, Ball had an appearance on ESPN 710 LA where he had no qualms about who the better player is: “Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him.” All of these guys have supreme confidence in their abilities so really this is no slight to Fultz. It’s just Ball being honest. He continued: “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him”.
Consistent with his nuanced tweets, Fultz responded:
Fultz has been one of the more active NBA prospects on Twitter all season long, so these tweets are don’t really stand out among the rest, but the timing is certainly peculiar.
All had been quiet for a few months until lottery night when the Ball family reacted to the Lakers landing the second pick, and in true form had to throw another jab at Fultz. We have heard a plethora of wild declarations from Ball’s father — also known as he who must not be named — and he just could not help himself on this night. He’s ranting about being a genius and says, “Boston gone take their Markelle Fultz, he’s a good player. I think he fits best with Boston. You can’t bring him to L.A. He ain’t ready for this. Only one person ready for this, it’s that Ball boy.”
As of now, this is fun. It’s light-hearted and really there’s been no disdain for the other party. However, we know the storied history between the Celtics and Lakers and that could change everything. Danny Ainge and the Celtics have rebuilt their franchise quicker than most anticipated and now they are in the Eastern Conference Finals. Win or lose, they have the first pick come June’s draft. The Lakers have missed the playoffs four straight seasons and have not won more than 27 games in any of those years.
To date, Fultz has been stoic and relatively quiet, but Ball’s brashness can only be taken for so long. Once Fultz decides to turn on the switch, the war of words will get interesting. Pitting them against each other in Celtics green and Lakerland purple and gold makes the feud that much more intriguing.
Things change by the minute leading up to the NBA Draft every season, so who knows if Ball holds on to be selected by the Lakers. Maybe Ainge even goes insane one night and trades the first overall pick. Nonetheless, all indications are Fultz will be in Boston and if Magic Johnson wants to make amends with basketball Twitter for dealing with his horrendous tweets for all these years, he will make sure to select “that Ball boy.”
Fans want this kind of trash-talking between players. We all know it happens on the court, but once it meanders into interviews and pre or post-game pressers than it takes on a life of its own. We crave the Dion Waiters, the Draymond Greens and the Brodies of the world. These young bucks are new to the game, but have already gotten a head start on the art of seduction, as they woo their future adoring fans into simply wanting more before they have really given us anything.