By Mark Falanga
As the Barclays Center horn sounded at the end of the game on November 26, it signaled two things. The first is that the Brooklyn Nets beat the New York Knicks, 96-89 in overtime. The second is that a heated rivalry was sparked in Big Apple basketball.
The New York Times described the scene as similar to what you would see at a typical Mets versus Yankees game: friendly but fierce at the same time. The popularity of this event was evident simply by looking at the ticket prices being scalped on the street (as much as $300 for nosebleed seats). Even t-shirts were on sale that highlighted this game. Clearly New York has found its next great rivalry, but how “new” is it really?
Image courtesy of Landry Heaton.
New York is an unusual market in terms of local sports rivalries. In each of the four major sports, New York City has, at the very least, two of each team. In baseball, it’s the Mets and Yankees. The NHL has the Rangers and Islanders, while in the NFL it’s the Jets and Giants.
In basketball, The Nets actually started playing in New York in 1967 when they joined the new American Basketball Association (ABA,) but this league was separate from the Knicks until 1976, when the NBA and ABA merged, and the Knicks versus Nets rivalry began immediately. The New York Times reported that the Knicks tried to block the Nets’ move into New Jersey for fear that it would cannibalize their fan base. The move went ahead as planned with the Nets being forced to pay the Knicks $4.8 million as compensation for the territorial invasion. This drastically ate into their payroll funds, which forced them to trade their star player, Julius Erving.
All the cards seemed to be in place for a great rivalry, except for one thing — both teams were terrible. It goes without saying that for a rivalry to truly be intense, both teams need to play in important games, and the only way for that to happen is if both teams are good. Some would argue that the “greatest rivalry in sports,” the Yankees and the Red Sox, just wasn’t the same this past season. A quick look at the standings this year would tell you why.
The Knicks were the first to emerge from the doldrums of the NBA in the early 1990s due to their all-star center, Patrick Ewing, who would lead them to the NBA Finals twice, once in 1994 and one in 1998, respectively. However, after he was traded following the 1999-2000 season, the Knicks entered a long period of poor play.
Ironically, it was at this time that the Nets became strong contenders for the NBA championship. At the time they had one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd (who, even more ironically, currently plays for the Knicks). He led them to the finals in consecutive years 2001 and 2002, but sadly, never won the championship. Kidd was then traded in 2008 and the team, like the Knicks, remained irrelevant for many years. In fact, in 2009, the Nets set the all-time record for worst start to a season with an absurd 0-18 record.
Oddly enough, it was during this season that the Nets caught the eye of Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov. He and a team of investors, including Jay-Z, would purchase the Nets with Prokorov gaining an 80 percent stake in the team. The New York Times stated that his reason to buy the team was to move them from a tepid fan base in New Jersey to a brand new arena in Brooklyn, the $1 billion Barclays Center.
So now that the teams are again joined in the same city, will things get intense? Fuggedaboudit! A quick look at the standings shows that the teams are atop the Atlantic Division, with the Knicks holding a slight two game advantage. While the season is still only a few months old, and it’s a long way from the championship in June, it seems promising that this rivalry will heat up. They face off three more times this season and judging by the ticket prices for their next game in Brooklyn on December 11, New Yorkers have proven that they can’t wait to see who wins this year.