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The Toronto Raptors' Greatest All-Time NBA Rivals

Could Hump and the Nets take their mini-rivalry with the Raptors to another level this season?
Could Hump and the Nets take their mini-rivalry with the Raptors to another level this season?

Could it be the Grizzlies? The 76ers? The Pistons?

RaptorsHQ lists their top picks for the Toronto Raptors' greatest all-time rivals...

The topic this week is NBA Rivalry.

As we noted in Tuesday's poll question, there indeed some classic rivalries that exist in the NBA, but it's hard to immediately think of one when it comes to our Toronto Raptors.

Yep, there have been some nice playoff battles, and even some lingering regular season grudges against various opponents, but we're not talking Lakers-Celtics here.

We're probably not even talking Heat vs. Mavericks or Thunder.

The reality is that rivalries are born of success and well, success has been something that this Raptors' franchise, now entering its 19th season, has had very little of.

Sure, another four seasons of missed playoffs and struggles for a top lottery pick with the Bobcats might birth a rivalry, but when we think of classic rivals - Duke vs UNC, Green Bay vs Chicago, Habs vs Leafs - it's usually because these teams play key games at elite levels, and on repeated occasions.

So with that criteria in mind, who are the Raptors' top rivals?

Using the poll responses provided by you folks as a guide, here are the HQ's top four:

4. The Boston Celtics. The Philadelphia 76ers may have captured slightly more of the third-place vote, but in my books, Boston gets the edge. It's not that there have been epic playoff battles between the two, or ESPN classics between the clubs, but there's just some burning hatred there between fan-bases. Everyone remembers this of course:

And between the Garbo injury (which there's no way I'm linking to, too painful to watch), and some of the absolute demolitions the Dinos have suffered at the hands of the C's, there just seems to be that extra bit of dislike in the air every time these clubs meet.

And besides being divisional rivals, it's also interesting to note that the teams always seem to be on polar opposite sides of the win column.

When the Raptors won 55 per cent of their matches between 1999 and 2002, the Celtics won about 37 per cent. The shoe of late has been on the other foot, with Boston dominating Toronto, and regularly being in consideration for the NBA Finals, but with the KG-Pierce-Allen era nearing an end (Allen's already gone), and Toronto beginning to add exciting young talent, we could see the roles reverse once more.

Or...more like, we're hoping that's the case.

3. The New York Knicks. With 27 per cent of the vote, the New York Knicks actually won our Tuesday poll, being chosen as the Raps greatest rivals. And if this were ten years ago, I'd definitely agree. The two clubs met in back-to-back playoff series in 1999-2000, and 2000-2001, and while the Knicks took the first, the Raps got the ultimate revenge in the second, moving on to the Eastern Conference semis.

This classic Alvin Williams shot (start at the 1:07 mark) remains etched in my mind:

But of late?

It's hard to say there's much there in terms of bad blood, and while the Raps have had limited success since these playoff series', the Knicks have been even worse, proving to be the model franchise in terms of "how not to run an NBA team."

Maybe things intensify a bit this season with the Raps off-season additions, but I can't put NYC at the top of this historical list.

2. The New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. To me, this is actually the Raptors' greatest all-time NBA rival.

While I realize that's a bit like saying that ketchup goes best with Kraft Dinner, this is the one team that stands out in terms of rivalries, and was the runner-up to the Knicks in our poll.

Divisional rivals, geographic proximity, Vince Carter trade beneficiaries, and of course, playoff foes:

Yep, the Nets offer a bit of it all, and with both clubs looking to compete for a playoff spot this year thanks to off-season additions, we could see this "rivalry" continue.

New Jersey/Brooklyn also gets bonus rivalry points for giving us their bad players (Antoine Wright, Hassan Adams) and breathing new life into former declining Raptors (Vince Carter, Kris Humphries.)

However they're still not our number one choice. That honour goes to...

1. No one. As many of our readers commented, this club simply doesn't have an epic foe. Some readers on Twitter even noted that the Toronto Maple Leafs or Blue Jays should grab top spot as indeed, it's these clubs that the Dinos are constantly in the biggest power-struggle with - a power-struggle for fan eyeballs.

It's a similar situation to the Milwaukee Bucks in that in absence of long-standing success, we're left to sift through some divisional and geographic foes, and some clubs that the Raps have tangled with, mostly unsuccessfully, in the early stages of the playoffs. Some of the early contenders like the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies no longer make sense, and while yes, we picked the Nets as the top NBA option, it's not like I'm circling November 3 on my calendar.

Really, this exercise simply showed us that at the core of creating rivalries, on-court success is needed and it's just something Toronto hasn't had much of in its brief history.

Let's hope this upcoming season is a step back in the right direction.