The Brooklyn Nets are one of the few teams with the talent and experience necessary to challenge the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. However, the Nets' greatest rival in the 2013-14 season will be the team on the other side of the East River, the New York Knicks.
The Nets and Knicks share a city, a division and the same goals: winning the Atlantic Division and the NBA championship.
They will have to go through each other to accomplish both while fighting for the hearts and minds of millions of basketball-crazed New Yorkers.
The recent career change of Jason Kidd adds intrigue to the matchup. Kidd started 48 games for the Knicks last season before hanging up his jersey and accepting a head coaching position with the Nets. He knows the tendencies of the Knicks' players and how to get under their skin.
There was never much animosity between the two franchises when the Nets played in New Jersey. The teams were rarely good at the same time, and with a lack of public transportation from the Meadowlands to Manhattan, the Nets were viewed as a New Jersey team without any legitimate claim to New York City.
The relationship between the franchises changed when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Nets in 2009 and the NBA announced that the team would move to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season.
Prokhorov stated from the outset that he intended to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans and has been tweaking Knicks owner James Dolan ever since.
Dolan was furious when the Nets posted a 225'x95' billboard that read "the blueprint for greatness" with a picture of Prokhorov and then-minority-owner Jay-Z on a building overlooking Madison Square Garden. Then the 6'7'' Prokhorov referred to Dolan as "that little man" during an interview with New York.
The relationship between Prokhorov and Dolan grew so contentious that NBA commissioner David Stern ordered a sit-down between the two owners this summer in order to ease the tension.
Nets and Knicks players have engaged in verbal sparring of their own over the past couple of months. Paul Pierce stoked the flames after being traded from Boston to Brooklyn in July.
“The rivalry is going to go to a new level,” Pierce told Michael Kay on ESPN radio (h/t the New York Daily News) in August. “It’s time for the Nets to start running this city,” he added.
Raymond Felton was the first Knick to respond when speaking with Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
Raymond Felton chuckled when asked about Paul Pierce saying BK will run city. "They'll never run the city, we have New York on our chests."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) August 18, 2013
J.R. Smith indicated to Begley that there would be consequences for Pierce's words.
J.R. Smith on Paul Pierce saying the Nets will run NY: "Just know that his words have consequences & he's going to have to pay for them."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) August 31, 2013
As Pierce recognized, much of the animosity between the two teams originated in Boston and traveled with Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn when the three were traded to the Nets.
When Pierce was asked by Angel Diaz of Complex Sports if he hates the Knicks, the 10-time All-Star was unambiguous in his reply. "With a passion," said Pierce. "Let's start it up right now. Let's start the beef. It's no secret that me and New York got history. It's no secret. This is no secret. It's already known."
No player has broken the hearts of Knicks fan over the last decade more than Pierce. The small forward has saved some of his best performances for Madison Square Garden and nailed a slew of back-breaking shots to beat the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony was so infuriated by something Garnett said to him during the Celtics' 102-96 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7th that he approached the Celtics' locker room after the game and waited for Garnett outside the team bus.
Smith was suspended for Game 4 of the first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Knicks for violently elbowing Terry in the jaw during Game 3.
Of course, Pierce and K.G. also bring a history with LeBron James and the Heat to Brooklyn.
James' Cleveland Cavaliers compiled the NBA's best record in 2009-10, but were dismissed by the Celtics in six games in the second round of the playoffs. Two years earlier, Boston knocked Cleveland out of the playoffs in seven games.
James, Wade and Bosh formed their own Big Three for the purpose of dethroning Boston's Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen in the East. LeBron finally got the best of the Celtics in 2011 when his Heat took just five games to beat Pierce and company in the second round of the playoffs.
Boston bounced back and pushed Miami to the brink of elimination the following year, taking a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference Finals matchup before Miami pulled out the next two games en route to its Big Three’s first championship together.
Four playoff matchups in five years created an intense rivalry between the Celtics and Heat, particularly with Pierce—one of the few players at LeBron's position capable of matching him bucket for bucket—and Garnett—the team's inspirational leader. The animosity heightened when Allen switched sides during the summer of 2012.
However, Garnett and Pierce are just two players on the Nets' roster and no longer the best players on their team. The rest of the Nets will have to experience the rivalries with the Knicks and Heat for themselves.
Surpassing the Heat may be the Nets' ultimate goal, but they will likely have to win the Atlantic Division first. To do that, they must beat the Knicks.
Pierce, Smith and Prokhorov’s comments have been mere tabloid fodder, though the animosity between the two sides should bubble over on the court this season. From the Subway Series to classic battles between the Islanders and Rangers, there is nothing like a New York intra-city rivalry.