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Rivalry

When there are underlying reasons for simmering emotions, it takes little to get holders past the boiling point. Take the Pelicans and the Suns, who had to be broken up at the end of the match the other day. The hosts were already well on their way to victory when top dog Zion Williamson saw fit to unleash a vicious 360-degree windmill dunk in garbage time, triggering a kerfuffle at the buzzer. The delight of the near-capacity crowd at the Smoothie Center was accompanied by derision from the 2021-22 season runners-up, who deemed the act “unsportsmanlike.”

In the presser, Williamson admitted that he “got carried away a little bit.” That said, he did not deny that he went for the spectacular slam as payback for the Suns’ elimination of the Pelicans in the first round of the immediate past playoffs. Never mind that he missed all of the previous campaign due to knee and foot injuries. “I was in that locker room when my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home last year. That’s a tough moment to be a part of.” Imagine, then, how much harder it was to take for his teammates who suited up.

Dynamic reserve Jose Alvarado was among those with a long memory, and not simply because he was clocked by Suns veteran Chris Paul in each of the final two contests of the Pelicans’ one-and-done postseason series. In any case, he continued to use the setback as motivation; even as he nursed a rib contusion heading into the set-to, for instance, he was bent on burning rubber. “I wasn’t sitting out,” he contended. “Not [that I] care about anybody else, but if that person plays, I’m playing.”

Needless to say, the incident figures to add color to today’s rematch. No one could have predicted ahead of time that the back-to-back set between the Pelicans and Suns would wind up being must-watch theater, but it’s fair to argue that a rivalry has been born. Whether Williamson broke an unwritten rule is subject to debate. What’s clear is that, from here on, any meeting between them will seem like the Larry O’Brien Trophy is up for grabs.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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