Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the highly-anticipated, and once
canceled, first matchup of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks in Brooklyn,
no one could have left the Barclays Center disappointed.
The Nets won the game, but the energy in the recently-constructed arena was
more reminiscent of a college game than an NBA one.
"It was a great atmosphere," said Tyson Chandler, who had a career-high 28
points and battled Nets' center Brook Lopez damn near to the death.
Chants of "de-fense" could be heard in a crowd split almost 50-50 between
Knicks and Nets fans. There was actually booing, and not for the home team
when they under performed. There was booing of the opposition for the simple
reason they weren't the team you were rooting for.
"Every time some sort of Knick contingency started to cheer, our fans got
louder," said Nets coach Avery Johnson. "It was a nice feeling."
It certainly was.
In sports, rivalries are tried, but few materialize. The problem often stems
from the fact that these rivalries are not organic, rather manufactured and
propped up by the media, desperate for something to remind us all of the days
of Celtics/Lakers, or Wilt/Russell.
The fact is those rivalries haven't existed for a long time. There's no great
reason for that, other than maybe free agency doesn't breed loyalty to a team
by players any longer.
Rivalries can be built from genuine dislike. Michael Jordan's Bulls hated
Isiah Thomas' Piston and the feeling was incredibly mutual.
Nowadays, NBA players compete together since they were kids. Whether it's
basketball academies, or AAU, or college, or even pros who team up for their
country in the Olympics, the NBA has become a friendship league. If you need
proof, remember how the Miami Heat came together, or Chris Paul's toast at
Carmelo Anthony's wedding.
An absence of hatred is not something to be celebrated. It's just that it's
cost us some quality rivalries in basketball.
The Bulls/Pistons animus also had to do with accomplishment. For years, those
Pistons teams beat on the Bulls and eliminated them from the playoffs. Once
the Bulls got over the hump that was Detroit, the rivalry may have ended.
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics have that vibe going to some degree. Miami
needed to get by the Celts to finally make it, but that back and forth has
more to do with guys like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo annoying Heat players.
For the Brooklyn, and previous New Jersey, Nets, they are clearly the younger
brother in this scenario. The Knicks have been the establishment in the New
York area for years, but now, the Nets are in Brooklyn.
It helps that the Nets improved as a team in the offseason. Competition breeds
rivalry more than anything and the Nets needed to do something.
General Manager Billy King traded for Deron Williams and banked on being able
to re-sign him. He did, then King brought on Joe Johnson and his burdensome
contract, then tried for Dwight Howard. King tired of waiting so he re-signed
Lopez and Kris Humphries and now they are winning and will only get better
once Williams and Johnson figure out how to play together.
The Knicks, under the guidance of head coach Mike Woodson and Anthony's MVP
run, are the class in the Atlantic Division. That just helps this spirited
affair even more to have big brother still on top. And it doesn't hurt to have
agitators like Rasheed Wallace, J.R. Smith and Chandler in the mix.
And the action on the court Monday night was sensational. Chandler and Lopez
should've just dropped the gloves and it looked like Gerald Wallace would need
oxygen after chasing Anthony around the Barclays Center. All Anthony did was
play 50 minutes in the overtime loss.
The statistics and final outcome are well and good, but the tenacity this game
was played with was spectacular. Nothing can get a crowd in a frenzy quicker
than hard-fought basketball.
But at the heart of this emerging conflict is what makes for such compelling
drama. It's as simple as geography.
Twenty minutes on a subway will get you from where the Knicks play to the
where the Nets play. If you grew up in one of those areas, be it Manhattan or
Brooklyn, you support that team. Actually, Brooklynites may not have had any
option but to support the Knicks until this season.
Two Los Angeles teams are in the NBA, but L.A. people don't care about
neighborhoods the way New Yorkers do.
Florida and Texas both have multiple teams, but they are far away from each
These two NBA teams are separated by 20 minutes, but that always entertaining
ride on public transit spans so many different sub-sects of New York. Nothing
is more personal than where you and your family were raised.
This rivalry still needs time. The Nets have been in Brooklyn for about six
weeks and one game hardly makes a rivalry. What will help is if both teams
continue to sit atop the Atlantic Division standings.
The next bout in this series is in Brooklyn on Dec. 11, but the final two are
in Manhattan. Maybe some Brooklyn fans should try and get into the Garden.
That would stir the pot a little more.
This rivalry combines all of the factors needed for a great battle. The
geography, the talent, the perceived strength of one over the other and even
some disdain. (I'm telling you, Chandler and Lopez were smashing into each
other on the post and round one went to Chandler.)
When you hear naysayers say their piece about the NBA, almost all invariably
say they like the college game better. "There's more hustle," or "the kids
My advice would be for those people to watch the Knicks and Nets from Monday
night. Tell me you couldn't get into that and tell me that budding rivalry
wasn't great theater.
Theater still belongs to Manhattan.
The Sports Network