My brother will turn 19 this December. In the last month, he began his first semester of college, started working his first job at a local supermarket and has even started driving all on his own. Despite some rocky high school years that every teenager goes through, I’m proud of my little bro and the steps he’s taken toward a successful future.
Now… at no point in that opening paragraph did you read that he also requires me, his big brother, needing to experience some sort of failure for his success to happen, did you?
What is it about a rivalry between siblings that makes victory taste that much sweeter and defeat feel that much worse. We’ve seen this throughout history. Steph vs. Seth. Peyton vs. Eli. Serena vs. Venus. George vs. Jeb. Cain vs. Abel. There’s just something about a competition featuring two people that grew up just down the hall from each other that makes things that much more interesting.
Here in New York, we’ve officially reached the point where the “rivalry” between our two basketball teams, while lacking actual competitiveness to this point, is definitely becoming just as intriguing.
First, a brief history lesson. Let’s set the record straight for any NBA fans who live outside the tri-state area. In the words of Kevin Durant Tuesday on Twitter, New York is a “Knicks town.” I don’t even say that arrogantly. Almost as an indictment, no matter how many consecutive losing seasons the Knicks have, this city is just a five-game winning streak away from planning a parade in July.
That’s not even a shot against the Nets. I actually quite admire how they went from a punchline two years ago when their tanking helped rebuild the Celtics to a legitimate playoff contender and free agent destination. Like I said earlier, I’m proud of my little bro and the steps he’s taken toward a successful future.
That lack of animosity is tough to explain to anyone that didn’t grow up a Knicks fan in the 90s — who thought of the Heat or the Pacers or the Celtics as their biggest rival way before they even thought about the Nets. Just like all the younger players Durant mentioned that don’t remember when the Knicks were good, we had no recollection of Dr. J or the ABA dynasty that played in Nassau county. To most of us, they were the team in New Jersey that played in the parking lot of Giants stadium.
There hasn’t even been a real cause for animosity other than geography. The two franchises have only played each other in the playoffs twice, both ending in sweeps (one by the Knicks, one by the Nets). In the 42 seasons since the Nets joined the NBA, they’ve both made the playoffs in the same season just eight times.
However, on July 1, 2019, little brother delivered the first substantial blow. A fan base that has waited decades to see a free agent the caliber of Kevin Durant choose their city finally saw it happen… but he chose the other team. Knicks fans have lost in free agency before, but never this close to home. Durant’s decision to join Brooklyn not only balanced the powers of the NBA, but finally added the passion necessary for this cross-town rivalry to have legitimacy.
On Tuesday, Kevin Durant went on Hot 97′s “Ebro in the Morning.” Those of you who didn’t hear it live probably got this alert on your phone from Bleacher Report:
“Kevin Durant Thinks the Knicks Aren’t Cool Right Now.”
Before even opening Twitter, I knew I was headed toward a timeline engulfed in flames like Troy walking back into the room with pizza from the “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of Community (Ed. note: One of the best episodes of TV ever). What in full context could actually be perceived as an honest answer to Ebro’s question ignited both fan bases, who have been launching spears at each other across boroughs all summer.
So, what exactly does all of this mean? Let’s break this headline down part-by-part.
When I heard Durant’s comments for the first time, three thoughts crossed my mind:
- I actually don’t disagree with his overall point that younger players probably don’t remember when the Knicks were perennial contenders.
- He took WAY too long to say his own team when he was coming up with franchises that he considered “cool” right now.
- This is just the first of many public media appearances if he’s going to be on the sidelines all season in the media capital of the world, isn’t it?
One of the more mysterious superstars in NBA history, Durant has always operated against the typical NBA superstars’ expected behavior. During the press tour for his biography on the former MVP — KD: Kevin Durant’s Relentless Pursuit to Be the Greatest — Marcus Thompson of The Athletic concluded that Durant might just always be interested in “the contrarian side of things for the sake of conversation.” Realizing this, maybe everyone forecasting his arrival in New York should have probably seen the Nets decision coming. I also believed the hype and reporting from every single credible insider, including Thompson, that Durant would end up a Knick this summer. We became so conditioned to read into every single tea leaf, whether legitimate or completely consequential, that gave us a glimmer of confirmation that this dream would become a reality.
Well, our reality became this: he went someplace else. This means that any comments from the Nets’ All-Star going forward need to just be that. Tuesday morning, someone new to the city that apparently loves to stir the pot for the sake of conversation gave his honest opinion on a franchise that only recently became his cross-town rival. What he or Spencer Dinwiddie or Kenny Smith or Andrew Yang or anyone in Brooklyn says about the Knicks doesn’t actually matter, nor will it have any real effect on what happens to them this season.
“…Thinks the Knicks Aren’t Cool…”
I mean… sure? Don’t know exactly what we’re defining as “cool” here. I can understand most of the criticism against the Knicks based on their track record in the Dolan era, but I’m now supposed to believe Durant didn’t choose the Knicks because he thought the Nets were the “cooler” option? That’s definitely a new one.
Does “cool” mean “more popular?” Well that can’t be it. Despite a largely futile product on the court, the Knicks are still one of the most coveted tickets in the league. They’ve finished top-10 in attendance every year this century, despite just four winning seasons. The Nets, on the other hand, have gone from 16th to 30th in attendance over the seven years since they moved to Brooklyn.
Does “cool” mean “more valuable?” Well that’s an easy one. As recently as February, Forbes had the Knicks estimated worth at $4 billion, making them the most valuable NBA team for the fourth straight year. The Nets were just sold to billionaire Joe Tsai for just over $2.3 billion.
Does “cool” mean “more bankable?” Well that I can refute first hand. Outside of this blog-boy bubble, I worked at a very popular sporting goods store for the better part of 10 years. During my retail career, I saw both sides of the last decade of basketball in this city play out from a commercial perspective.
From the Knicks side, any time anything the slightest bit relevant happened, the entire licensed apparel section saw a boost in sales. The Melo era. The rise of Porzingis. Linsanity. No matter how small or short-lived their success was, the Knicks were always good for business.
On the other side – and I promise I say this without any bias or Knicks fan ignorance involved – you know the one question I never heard? “Can you point me in the direction of your Brooklyn Nets stuff?” When we would go through inventory every year, we’d always find items that never sold and now were available for a significant discount (shout-out to the 2015 World Series ball that cost $1.99 sitting on the shelf across from me right now). One year, we found multiple official Nets jerseys of Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with a significant markdown now attached to them. I’m sure this season the Nets will see a boost in sales at my old job. Maybe even a significant profit next season when Durant returns. But from personal experience, if the Nets are “cool,” it definitely hasn’t translated into dollars and cents to this point.
StubHub’s top 10 In-Demand ticket sales:— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 8, 2019
More successful in the last year? Yes. More competent in the last couple of years? Sure. More likely to win a playoff series sooner? 100 percent. But how exactly did potentially more success translate into more points in this made up popularity contest?
Well, that actually leads to the very last part of this headline…
Here is the beauty of sports. Winning fixes everything. The main reason, it seems, that Durant choose the Nets over the Knicks is that they were further along in their rebuild and ready to contend for a championship sooner.
Never mind that a year earlier, they were in the draft lottery for the third straight season without control over their first-round pick. One D’Angelo-Russell-led trip to the playoffs — that’s all it took. Winning will always be the most effective cause of amnesia, no matter how strong the narrative — and there are examples everywhere.
It took just one season of 39 wins to turn the Kings from a laughingstock that wasted Demarcus Cousins (and looked ready to be the next franchise to surrender a top-five pick to the Celtics) into one of the up-and-coming teams with a talented backcourt and promising future.
It took the Hawks just a few months of competitive play, led by Trae Young and John Collins, for them to go from the team that passed on Luka Doncic to one that has started receiving, as Zach Lowe put it, “pesky 8-seed buzz.”
Even locally, we saw it first-hand during baseball season. It took a miraculous 15-1 stretch in early August for the New York Mets to go from an underachieving team with a lame duck manager and a front office that got fleeced in the Cano/Diaz trade to, for a brief moment, one of the most dangerous potential playoff teams with a Manager of the Year candidate (yes, that really happened).
In the words of the late, great Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “just win baby!” That is the magic elixir that will cause all the jokes and memes and power forward references to disappear, and for this franchise to no longer be the go-to punchline of NBA Twitter and the national media at large. It doesn’t even have to be a championship or a playoff appearance. Something as simple as 35 wins could start to change minds and begin a new narrative that this team might actually be trending toward winning.
The Knicks and Nets play each other in Brooklyn’s home opener on Friday, October 25 in the Barclays Center. What is now looking like must-see TV and pretty hot ticket on the secondary market, in all reality is a meaningless game in October. Kevin Durant won’t play. Both teams have a lot of new pieces that will require weeks to develop chemistry. Still, if the Knicks pull off an upset on little brother’s home court, see how quickly this market will jump to all types of irrational conclusions. Even if just for a news cycle, say it with me now… Winning. Cures. Everything.
I don’t think Durant meant much by his comments. I also don’t know if he was bored and wanted to stir the pot while his teammates are over in China. What I do know is that, regardless of which side of this sibling rivalry you reside, we’re being set up over the next few years for what could end up being the most exciting seasons of basketball this city has ever seen. If you ask me, I think that’s pretty cool.