If I told you that one day the NBA’s most entertaining rivalry would be a crosstown battle between the orange-and-blue and the Nets, way back when during a period where East Rutherford’s favorite sons were toiling away in the NBA cellar at 12-70, you’d have probably laughed in my face in hysterics. The prospect of the beloved New York Knicks being challenged in their own town? And by an also-ran none the less? Impossible.
And yet, here we are.
How did this happen? A decade-plus of futility and mismanagement at the Garden, for starters. The Knicks could do no wrong in New York for the longest time, mainly because hey, who else were basketball fans in the tri-state area going to root for? Even while the New Jersey Nets were going to the NBA Finals and becoming an Eastern Conference postseason staple, let’s face it: As long as they played in the Garden State, the Nets didn’t matter.
A new owner, a new building, a new city and a new roster made all the difference.
We saw it last season. The Brooklyn Nets may not have quite gotten to contention level in 2013, but the players fed into this rivalry more than anyone thought possible. Brooklyn played some of their most inspired basketball of the season in their four meetings with the New York Knicks and Mike Woodson‘s bunch returned the favor in each game; two of which went to the final possession, while a third went into overtime.
Adding fuel to the fire was Brooklyn’s addition of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the 2013-14 season. Boston’s favorite sons were two of New York’s most disliked players; and adding that level of talent may have finally put the city up for grabs and put the grossly incompetent New York Knicks’ front office on notice.
Pierce’s contempt for the Knicks is more evident than ever now that he is nearby. “My dislike for the Knicks is more now because it’s right across the river,” Pierce said on the “Michael Kay Show” on ESPN Radio. The river he refers to is, of course, the East River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn. “It’s going to be what it was, but now on steroids,” Pierce said. “This is a city battle. We’re going to divide that city now. Before this was the Knicks’ town, but now that I’m here we’re going to call it Nets … Nets Village. It’s going to go from Knicks Town to Nets Village. It’s our time.” Later in an interview with Complex Magazine, “The Truth” was asked if he hated the Knicks: “With a passion. Let’s start it up right now. Let’s start the beef. It’s no secret that me and New York got history. It’s no secret. This is no secret. It’s already known.”
The best way for a New York Knick to show disinterest would be to stay away from comments like that. But that just isn’t the way of this roster. Raymond Felton couldn’t wait to put in his 2 cents. “Paul Pierce said the Nets are gonna take over the city,” quipped Felton when told of Pierce’s remarks. “It’s hard for you to take over the city when we’ve got ‘New York’ on our chest and you’ve got ‘Brooklyn’ on yours. It’s been this way since long before he started playing.” Strong words from a middling point guard. Never one to shy away from media controversy, J. R. Smith chimed in his piece as well.“The Nets weren’t good,” Smith said, referring to the 2012-13 variation of the Brooklyn Nets. “Now they’re still not good.”
The Knickerbockers can deny all they want and that they will. But all that does is prove to fans and media that yes, indeed, the New York Knicks will be looking over their shoulder this season. And if they aren’t careful, the Brooklyn Nets may take over the city.