A lot of press has been made since our big Russian friend bought the Nets and started putting up billboards around New York challenging Knicks supremacy. Frankly, everything the Nets have done so far has been good for basketball in New York and especially for that franchise, even when they've struck out. To be in the LeBron conversation was probably enough for the Brooklyn-bound Nets, and then there was the big Deron gamble and the courtship of D12, which has apparently been mutual. In and of itself, all of those moves are enough to fan the flames of a Knicks/Nets rivalry, but there is a dark side....
As a kid of the 1970's all my Marvel comics featured Spalding ads on the back cover. Ricky Barry and Julius Erving were NBAers at that point, although to me Dr. J was still a red, white and blue ball bouncing New York Net. Despite the merger, I really didn't catch the fact that Dr. J could be anything other than a New York ballplayer. I didn't really know from the Knicks until the Bernard King era kicked off at MSG. I mean, I knew the Knicks were a team and I knew they'd won the NBA title when I was in diapers, but as an elementary school kid it was the ABA Erving that was firmly planted in my psyche as a symbol of the basketball universe.
As soon as I discovered Bernard King, and then Patrick Ewing, the Nets ceased to exist. I don't mean that I abandoned them or that I learned to hate them, but rather that they weren't a part of the picture. The only reason I'd been aware of the Nets in the first place is that there was an afro-wearing slam dunker in tight american flag shorts on posters all over the place and on the back of my comic books. Once I got into basketball, I got into basketball and the Nets just weren't relevant to me. It pretty much stayed that way until my early years as a college undergrad in North Jersey, when I started to go to the Meadowlands to see games. Nets tickets were cheap (you could practically sit court side for $75) and I could get tickets to the end of the Bird, McHale, Parish years and the budding Jordan, Pippen, Grant Bulls among others. Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, Sam Bowie, Mookie Blaylock, Chris Morris....basically the Washington Generals to me.
I don't write any of that to disparage the Nets. I was envious during the Jason Kidd years, when we were all learning to endure the misery of a lost generation at the Garden. They put together a great team and gave their fans something to be proud of. I didn't enjoy it, but I respected it. Fast forward to today. Prokhorov has his Brooklyn arena, his roster of very good players, and the attention of the New York (and national) media. He's going to be on a blitz, throwing red meat to all the tabloid hacks at our local papers and at ESPN so they can write, blog, tweet, and yap about which club is better the Knicks or the Nets. The Nets have clearly coached their players to engage in the conversations, hence the Joe Johnson comments recently about being the better team and the business about the Nets having the best backcourt in the NBA.
It started a while ago, but it's going to escalate. It will work its way into the comments section of every Knicks and Nets blog in creation, and certainly we should expect to see it here once the games mean something. I don't generally have a problem with it, but I also don't like to have my strings pulled by NBA PR folks or the hacks in the local and national media, whose business it is to pit fans against one another for profit. We're going to do it anyway. We're going to banter and posture and have too many beers over the nonsense narratives that drive our sports obsessions. The artificial conflation of a natural phenomenon signals a loss of perspective, however, and that's what I dread in all of this.
The Yankees/Mets Subway Series in 2000 was probably the highlight of my sports life...or at least one of them. (I can say that more easily because I'm a lifelong Yankees fan.) That year represented a sort of Golden Age in New York sports, as fast as the modern environment changes. Dueling chants on subway trains, on a daily basis..."Let's Go Yankees!! Let's Go Mets"...mark my memory of the daily commute during that time and everyone was proud to be a New Yorker. The animosity was trumped by the friendly competitiveness that went along with New York being the center of the entire baseball universe. There's no reason Knicks/Nets can't be the same...except for the pesky little tweaking that's sure to make it ugly before it ever has a chance.
Basically, I'm writing this post as a plea to the smart fans here at P&T to avoid getting sucked into the "he said, he said" game that's heating up in the media. It's fake. It's BS corporate strategy designed to drive website hits, ESPN viewership, tabloid readership and the rest. We're "gonna get some on us" because it'll be everywhere this year, but make sure to ask yourself before getting into it with the Knicks/Nets chatter, "Why do I care, and why does it upset me that Person X is saying the things they're saying?" An honest introspection ought to tell you that it's not organic for the most part. Keep it cool. Keep it real. Keep it positive. Go Knicks.