When it comes to the rivalry between the London Lightning and Windsor Express it might be best to take the advice of the rap group Public Enemy — “Don’t believe the hype.”
They’re the two most West teams in the Central Division. The Mississauga Power and Brampton A’s are even closer to London and are just off the highway, but the Express/Lightning clash is dubbed the 401 Rivalry.
Windsor has quietly snuck up on London in its two years in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC). In the Express’ 2012-13 inaugural season they compiled a 3-5 record against the Lightning. The following season Windsor pulled ahead with a 5-3 record.
Things seemed to hit up even further when the two teams clashed for a seven-game conference championship involving former London centre DeAndre Thomas throwing a Lightning ball into the stands and the antagonizing Kevin Loiselle giving the middle finger to the Budweiser Gardens crowd.
To top it all off the Express won the NBLC championship, taking a crown belonging to the Lightning the two seasons prior.
The rivalry took another jab in the Nov. 1 season opener at Budweiser Gardens with the Lightning and Express going to overtime before settling on a 99-97 score for the home team.
With everything being said, a fan would think the 24 games London and Windsor have battled it out would lead to a perfect storm for Nov. 1 — this would be Flavor Flav’s cue, but we’ll let Lightning swingman Maurice Bolden take it instead.
“It’s the past. You can’t think of the past, you have to move forward and worry about the future,” Bolden said.
He might be right. London only has four players who were with the team at some point last year and that’s a big turnover of people without baggage and animosity from previous seasons.
Windsor, though, has seven players returning from last year.
Truth be told, there probably isn’t a team in the NBLC the Lightning shouldn’t be rivals with.
It showed in the Lightning’s lone preseason game against the Mississauga Power on Oct. 26 when the teams almost came to blows in the final minute. Things can get touchy when players are trying to show coach why they deserve floor time when the game matters, but they tend to get touchier when the games actually count.
“Every game is a rivalry if you ask me,” Bolden said. “We’re trying to win, we’re trying to win a championship and teams are trying to win the same thing. If (fans and media) want to call it a rivalry then that’s what it is.”
This is the first year the Lightning are going into a season not being the defending champs, so the target on their back might be a little smaller. Still, teams and players certainly have reasons to want to get back at the Lightning.
There’s no reason to think the Moncton Miracles and Island Storm (then the Summerside Storm) would like to get back at the Lightning for taking away their chances of winning an NBLC title when they met London in the championships.
The Brampton A’s have DeAnthony Bowden, a player London didn’t think was good enough to have on their roster so they shuffled him into their front office. He has a lot to prove he still has the talents despite taking a year off.
The Saint John Mill Rats have former London guards Raheem Singleton and Dane Smith, neither of who saw much floor time with the Lightning but will be showing their old team why they deserved some by pouring in points against them.
There doesn’t seem to be much conflict with the Halifax Rainmen, but the Lightning are only one game into the season so there’s plenty of time to get into trouble.
“It’s a new season, everybody is 0-0 and chasing the same goal,” said Lightning forward Elvin Mims. “Not too many people really know a lot about our guys that we have. We have a new coach and there’s going to be a whole different look, both sides of the ball.”
The Lightning travel to Mississauga on Nov. 8 to play the Power before coming back home to face the A’s on Nov. 9.