The Nets Vs. The Knicks: The Basketball War for New York Love


While I was on the F train to Prospect Park, I noticed a structure in the distance as the subway came above ground around Carroll Gardens. It was a futuristic building of epic proportions; a huge MSG-like structure in the middle of Atlantic Avenue. For a second, I wondered what the hell this building was until I realized where I was: Downtown Brooklyn.

This was the soon-to-be home of the mega-concert for Jay-Z and the European EDM spectacle, Sensation White. But, more importantly, the Barclays Center in the distance would soon host Brooklyn’s first national sports team since the Dodgers: the Nets.
During my lifetime, I have never seen a new addition to my sports team inventory. The last major shake-up of athletic things (for me, at least) was when John Rocker of the Atlanta Braves started a war against the Mets and the rest of New York. Maybe Linsanity as a close second. But, now,  almost too coincidentally in regards to the happenings in the outer borough, Brooklyn is being graced with a sports team – the only missing cog in the quasi-Renaissance of the area.
That means we will have two basketball teams playing with only a river in between them. Who cares about the Yankees/Mets rivalry? The Nets/Knicks is shaping up to be even more tenuous and the season hasn’t even started yet.

What’s interesting, first, about this war for our respect is the concentration on boroughs. This makes the Nets/Knicks showdown stand out from that of the Yankees/Mets: although it is definitely a Bronx versus Queens relationship, respectively, the teams still are just the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. We’re fighting each other as New Yorkers, not as denizens of a certain locale.

So for rivalry beginners, here’s a quick note: the New York Knicks are no longer to be called the “New York” Knicks; with the Nets having a borough in their name, localization here is key. Now, they are the Manhattan Knicks. At a pep rally outside of the Brooklyn Borough Hall yesterday, Marty Markowitz, the Borough President of Brooklyn, told us you why:

“For any Brooklynites still rooting for the Manhattan Knicks, as of November I’m giving you fair warning… it’s treason to support the outer borough’s team over our Brooklyn Nets. Besides, when it comes down to it, we all know the Brooklyn Nets will shut down the Manhattan Knicks the first time they play each other.”
Notice the term drops there: “the Manhattan Knicks,” “treason,” “Brooklynites.” Regardless of Markowitz’s prediction based on stats that do not exist yet (the Nets have never played a game yet…), it is evident that the tone of his statement is incendiary and anxious. He wants a rivalry; he wants to prove why the borough he oversees is better than the one with filled with Manhattanites with their hoity-toity Park Avenue and their flashy Empire State Building. He continued the insults with a shot at Madison Square Garden:
“Now that the Barclays Center is in town, the national basketball spotlight is focused on Brooklyn’s big stage and Madison Square Garden just doesn’t have that same sparkle anymore… so move over Manhattan – enough air balls. You had your chance.”
Harsh. Now, let’s look at the teams’ remarks. The GM, Billy King, has called these guys the best backcourt in the NBA already  – that includes Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brooke Lopez. The first two, King argued, are better as a duo than Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. In other words, they’re so good that they don’t even have to play a game together to prove that they are the best in the league. Another result of the rivalry: extremely high expectations.
When asked who the best basketball team in New York is, Joe Johnson shrugged off the question and simply said, “The Nets. Definitely the Nets.” It is strange, however, that it is the newcomer calling the shots here: one would think that the Knicks franchise would start the borough feud with its younger Brooklyn brother. The underdog here, somehow, has become the one with the loudest voice. We’ll just see how loud that dog can bark come October.