OAKLAND – There is no rivalry between the Warriors and Lakers and, despite the geographical proximity, there never has been. The Lakers have been too good, for too long, too often treating the Warriors like the tiniest of speed bumps.
Thankfully, though, a window of hope has opened.
That's the power and presence of one man, LeBron James, wearing a Lakers jersey.
LeBron's status double trumps the post-Kobe versions of the Lakers, who barely belonged on the floor with the New Warriors. The teammates that will follow LeBron into Oracle Arena for a Christmas Day matchup with the Warriors surely know he is bigger than they, the biggest star in the game, perhaps in American sport.
LeBron also is the most compelling rival these Warriors have ever known. Each time they have walked up the mountain, he stood between them and the top.
"We've seen him a lot over the last four years," Stephen Curry says, peeking ahead to Christmas Day. "It'll be a fun atmosphere. We've played him and his team on Christmas the last four years, including this year."
LeBron's former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, confronted the Warriors in each of the last four NBA Finals and each of the last three Christmases. LeBron prevailed only once on Christmas and once in The Finals, both times with indispensible assistance from Kyrie Irving.
The Cavs kept coming back, because LeBron kept bringing them back, pushing them past every Eastern Conference pretender, every postseason, for another chance to take down the Warriors.
This is why LeBron will be a Warriors rival for as long as he plays, which at this rate will be until 2044. It won't matter much which team he represents, or who his teammates might be. Insofar as the Warriors have seen him and he has seen them on the biggest of stages, the history is too rich for those memories to fade.
Every exchanged glimpse will have an undercurrent of electricity that comes only because they've engaged when the stakes were highest.
Now that LeBron has left the Eastern Conference not only for the West but also for the Lakers, whose glorious past is one the Warriors hope to equal, if not surpass, he puts a twist on the rivalry. It is intrastate, and four times each season.
"The whole Bay Area (vs.) Southern California vibe is kind of reignited a little bit," Curry says. "So it should be fun."
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The Giants-Dodgers baseball rivalry began in New York and moved to California. The 49ers-Rams rivalry, once very much alive, has been diluted by the years and lack of simultaneous excellence. Yet there always is civic pride at stake, along with it an undercurrent of hostility born of familiarity.
Please, NBA gods, give us that with the Warriors and LeBron's Lakers.
The Warriors don't know if LeBron will stand between them and a fourth championship parade in five seasons. They do know if he somehow does, and prevails, it will add weight to the argument of them falling short of a dynasty.
The Lakers, as currently constituted, are not championship material. They're too young in too many places. There is zero postseason experience among the likes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, but there is plenty of promise.
Which is why there's a chance we could be onto something special if not this season then next.
"It's obviously going to be a tough challenge," Draymond Green says of the Christmas Day game. "They're playing well. They've got a lot of guys playing well. Kuz has really stepped his game up. Lonzo is playing well. They just got BI back in the lineup. And, obviously, Bron is Bron."
Bron is Bron. Always Bron. That's what it comes back to, eh Draymond?
"I really don't give a damn about him being in a Laker uniform," Green says. "That really don't matter to me. That's the team he's on and that's who we face."
To put a finer point on it, LeBron is the man the Warriors know all to well and also the man they will face.
OK. Let's get it started. LeBron turns 34 on Sunday. Let's get it started before his greatness diminishes and let it heat up beyond this season, as the Lakers are expected to reload next summer. Warriors-Lakers would be good for the NBA.
If it starts now, think of how good it might be next season.