When Dwyane Wade was asked prior to tonight's game between the Celtics and Miami Heat whether Boston was his most hated NBA team, his answer was instantaneous. He didn't think, he didn't pause to clear his throat, he didn't even breathe. His response was an unflinching, unblinking, unmistakable "yes."
But it wasn't because of any kind of personal animosity against Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce or anyone else. Rather, this was about history.
"Playoffs," Wade said. "Battles. I don't have this history with other teams like I have with the Celtics. Seems like every year we've been booked to play them in the playoffs in some way -- first round, second round, Eastern Conference finals. Doesn't matter where it's been -- games are always tough."
Wade's right. These two teams met in the first round in 2010 for the last series of the pre-LeBron James era; Boston won that one in five. The two teams met again the following year, in round two; this time the Heat won in five. Then in 2012, the Heat won a thrilling Eastern Conference finals, coming from behind to win Games 6 and 7.
Three series, 17 games. Nine wins and eight losses for Wade and the Heat. This rivalry has seen an epic 46-point Wade game, the Rajon Rondo "elbow game" of 2011 and LeBron's complete evisceration of the C's in Game 6 last spring. It's seen technicals, ejections, late-game heroics and countless boos from crowds both in the Hub and down in South Beach.
Wade says that through it all, he's developed a healthy level of respect for the Celtics.
"There's a respect, no doubt about it," he said. "I respect those guys, and I'm sure they respect us as well. But there's respect when you see those guys later. When you play those guys, there's a dislike there.
"I like Doc Rivers," Wade added with a smile. "He's a Marquette guy. But I like him after the games, not before."