It will be both tempting and risky for the New York Knicks and their fans to be drawn into an impassioned rivalry with the Brooklyn Nets—as if the rivalries the team already has with the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls aren’t enough.
Despite sharing the same metropolitan area and division for nearly 40 years, no good old-fashioned hatred ever materialized between New York and New Jersey.
For one thing, in all of that time, the two teams met in the playoffs on just three occasions for a total of 10 games.
And even when the Nets were good, it registered a big yawn from the people of New York, Connecticut, a sizeable chunk of New Jersey and most of the nation’s populace at large.
When New Jersey made it to the Finals two years in a row, it was more surreal than gripping. The 2003 Spurs-Nets Finals were the second-least watched since Nielsen started keeping track. And even the Lakers couldn’t boost the ratings of the 2002 Finals.
Hate a team like that? That would be like picking on Charlie Brown.
Timing also dampened any fire between the locals. When the Nets had their big Jason Kidd-led playoff runs between 2001-02 and 2006-07, the Isiah Thomas Knicks never breached the .500 mark and made the postseason once.
When Patrick Ewing took New York to 13 playoff seasons in a row, dealing with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and also reaching the Finals twice in the '90s, New Jersey boasted four first-round exits.
It’s hard to build a rivalry on such a weak competitive foundation, regardless of home court proximity.
But now things are different. Both teams are quite good. In fact, this is potentially the best both teams have ever been at the same time.
So the kindling is there to start a little fire.
Now, too, the Nets are literally in the Knicks’ backyard, as the Barclays Center sits atop the same transit system that serves the Garden and millions of New York and Long Island NBA fans. This will assure a more consistently packed house for the Nets and help usher in a grassroots rivalry.
Comments from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have attempted to draw attention away from the Knicks, and there will surely be some more brotherly jostling between the two teams for media attention and back-page space in 2012-13.
Even NBA commissioner David Stern is stoking the flame.
According to NJ.com, Stern “is one native New Yorker who is eagerly anticipating a rivalry between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks.”
In May, Stern told the media that he is “hoping for more sparks, a few verbal, some buildup…I think that we are going to have a great rivalry.”
That would be great, right?
Be careful what you wish for.
The Brooklyn Nets could start building a new, more contentious history with an opening night win against big brother, a sweep of the season series or by playing spoiler and bouncing the Knicks from the playoffs.
What Knick fan wants any of that?
New York will be much better off if its relationship with Brooklyn continues along the same bland New Jersey path it has had in the past—at least for a little while longer. Better to not be distracted or caught up in extracurriculars that could lead to loss of focus, flagrant fouls, fighting, suspensions or even costly injuries.
The Knicks have plenty of other rivalries to motivate them. I’d rather see four boring Knicks knockouts (or three out of four) in this backyard brawl than energy-depleting, hotly contested matchups.
All passion aside, the latter scenario will leave Knicks fans pining for the good old days when the Nets were a laughingstock.
Besides, this is a Knicks town, and everybody knows it. Paying too much attention to Brooklyn in its first year in the city would give the Nets a little too much street cred too soon. They need to earn it over time.
With regard to 2012-13 and the next few years, though, if there were one thing I could impart to the New York Knicks about the Brooklyn Nets, it would simply be:
“Be wise. Just keep your eyes on the prize.”