Rivalry – ri·val·ry, noun, competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.
Last July, from the moment Brooklyn Nyets owner Mikhail Dmitrievitch Prokhorov agreed to import most of the Boston Celtics former core, tri-state area hoops fans have been arguing over which local NBA franchise now reigns supreme. But when it comes to the New York Knicks and their boroughed foes, it’s fair to ask if a rivalry even exists here.
The teams’ owners sure seem to believe there is a rivalry. Territory-encroaching billboards, complaints to the league office, Commissioner-brokered summits; this one’s got it all. The New York sports media seems intent on pushing Knicks v. Nets as a rivalry. After all, coverage is big business. Interest equals eyeballs and ears, and eyeballs and ears equal revenue, and revenue equals even more coverage. Heck, even the teams’ respective players have been unabashed in their public sniping of one another.
But really, what does artificially created acrimony between franchises and their players really mean in the grand scheme of things? Not much, I’d argue.
The reality is that New York and Brooklyn have enjoyed winning seasons in the same year just six measly times in the 37 seasons that both organizations have been in the league. The two teams have faced each other a scant three times in the playoffs, both series ending in sweeps – the Nets in 2004 and the Knicks in 1983. (New Jersey won just one game in a best-of-five series during the 1994 playoffs.)
Historically, there just isn’t much to go on here. The franchises have rarely been good at the same time, and outside of Tim Thomas once calling Kenyon Martin a fugazy, it’s been ebbs and flows in relation to which team has been better.
Conversely, what made – and still makes today – Knicks-Heat, Knicks-Bulls and Knicks-Pacers so compelling was the relative continuity of those teams’ cores and organizational philosophies. These franchises developed relationships, as it were, and they became inexorably linked by the intensity of their on-court battles, many of which occurred in the playoffs.
Now, in New York, we do not have the games to rely upon in staking our claims of Brooklyn or New York loyalty; instead we are inundated with an incessant barrage of WHO-WILL-OWN-THE-CITY?!-TUNE-IN-TO-FIND-OUT marketing ploys.
Lest you I’m off the geocentric mark, look no farther than Los Angeles, where two teams share the same arena, yet if there exists a rivalry, it’s a budding one, at best. Sure, the Clippers have been downtrodden for so long that it has never made sense to match them up against the Lakers. And yes, the presence of Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has no doubt changed things, but it is going to take time. The Clippers are not going to replicate Lakers v. Celtics simply because they occupy the same real estate.
Real rivalries develop organically once teams and their respective fans experience a legitimate creation of narrative between them. Will there be vitriol in the Garden once Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce show up wearing black and white for the first time? No doubt. Will there be interest when J.R. Smith matches up against Jason Terry in Brooklyn? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that Knicks v. Nets is a rivalry.
Let’s all take a step back and allow things to take their natural course.
The Nets are all-in with veteran players. They’re hopelessly over the cap, they’ve jettisoned draft picks from here until eternity, and should they fail to achieve their championship aspirations, some truly dark days will lie ahead. The Knicks have cast their lot with a flawed roster, and though they are once again relevant and competitive, there is a distinct possibility that a complete reboot will transpire after next season.
If a rivalry is defined as competing for the same objective or for superiority in the same field, then that must mean that every single NBA team is a rival of every other NBA team. Only that isn’t the case. Rivalries are forged when past competition portends even greater competition going forward. Quite simply, we don’t have a noteworthy past between the Knicks and Nets, and no amount of bickering between the owners, sniping between the players or mind-numbing sports radio debates will change that.
Not yet, anyway.