5 Ways to Improve the New York Knicks-Brooklyn Nets Rivalry
On Monday, the Brooklyn Nets throttled the New York Knicks 103-80 in a faceoff between New York City's two basketball teams. It was a vindictive victory for the Nets, who had lost badly in the season's first all-New York matchup in December.
But beyond local bragging rights, there was little attention paid to the result. With the abundance of more interesting narratives unfolding around the NBA, there's not much reason to concentrate on a game between two sub-.500 teams—even if they do share a metropolitan area.
So what needs to happen to spice up the competition between the Knicks and Nets?
Here are five conditions that would reinvigorate this currently tepid rivalry, complete with relevant examples from across the sports world.
The basic building block of any decent rivalry is a high level of play. The sharing of a division alone is not enough to sustain animosity between two franchises.
At the moment, neither the Knicks nor the Nets are playing good enough basketball for their matchups to draw general interest from basketball fans. The Nets have turned around their season in recent weeks and finally may be gelling under first-year head coach Jason Kidd.
But they still have a mediocre 18-22 record, made even less impressive since they play in the subpar Eastern Conference. They need to maintain their turnaround to be acknowledged as true threats to the two preeminent teams in the East: the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks, on the other hand, inspire even less hope. They are 15-27 and in the middle of a five-game losing streak that deflated any and all positive vibes from a recent five-game winning streak.
Unfortunately, both teams are focusing on making up for past miscalculations, such as overpaying aging players or foolishly trading away draft picks. It may be a while before either is playing quality basketball.
Until then, this rivalry will be severely limited.
Modern Example: Seattle Seahawks (15-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (14-5)
The Knicks have held up their end of the bargain in this respect. Carmelo Anthony is their leading scorer almost every night, the unquestioned face of the franchise and the player with the ball on offense in the final minutes of close games—perhaps to a fault.
It's less clear who Carmelo's equivalent on the Nets would be.
Point guard Deron Williams was supposed to be the keystone of the franchise, but since the Nets relocated to Brooklyn, he has battled several injuries, clashed with Kidd and fallen from the ranks of the league's elite point guards.
At the moment, Joe Johnson is the best candidate. With Brook Lopez out for the season, Johnson is their go-to scorer and has proven himself capable of making tough shots with games on the line.
However, his average of 16.3 points per game is almost nine whole points below his career peak and he doesn't appear to possess the alpha-dog mentality or marketable personality that is undeniable in an NBA superstar.
For this crosstown rivalry to rise to greater heights, the two teams need to feature players that spark that "Who would you rather have?" discussion on the subway.
Modern Example: New England Patriots' Tom Brady vs. Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning
A Playoff Series
Regular-season games are fun, but in the scheme of an 82-game season, one night of basketball doesn't hold that much weight.
The playoffs, obviously, feature much more important games, which is why rivalries only reach their full potential when they are reignited in the postseason.
It would be preferred if the two teams could play a competitive series, maybe even one that stretched to the full seven games. In 2004, when the teams met in the first round, Jason Kidd led the Nets to a convincing sweep of the overmatched Knicks.
Since both teams will have enough trouble just reaching the NBA's postseason, dreaming about a playoff series—even if it proves uncompetitive—is all that fans can really do at this moment.
Modern Example: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Front Office Competition
Two teams fighting for the same top free agent or one player spurning his former team to join its nemesis always serves as good kindling for a rivalry. It adds a little bit more flavor to the matchups, especially when players return for the first time to their former home courts.
In the present, we might have to wait a couple of seasons before we have such a situation. Both franchises are focused on slashing their payrolls at the moment, not poaching the other team's overpriced players.
Plus, if Carmelo Anthony decides to leave the Knicks this summer, it's very unlikely that he'd flee to a work-in-progress team like the Nets.
As for the other big-name free agents heading into this summer, many seem likely to re-sign with their current teams—Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, to name two—and neither the Nets nor the Knicks are very appealing relocation options at the moment.
Fans may have to wait until the following summer of 2015 for a major bidding war between the teams. All-Star talent like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love might be looking for bigger markets to play in, which either New York City team easily provides.
Perhaps then we'll see the type of front office tug of war that adds another element to a rivalry.
Modern Example: New York Yankees signing former Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury
Growth of the Barclays Center
The whole concept of a struggle for cultural superiority is not a requisite for a good sports rivalry. There has been plenty of hostility between professional franchises that had nothing to do with the areas they represented.
But the budding Knicks-Nets rivalry is one that cannot be definitively disentangled from the battle for borough supremacy going on between Brooklyn and Manhattan—and their respective arenas.
Madison Square Garden still reigns as the city's preeminent site for basketball, having earned its nickname as "The World's Most Famous Arena." Once deemed the "Mecca of Basketball" by Michael Jordan, the arena is still the bigger draw for courtside celebrities and nationally televised games.
MSG also remains a "career-defining concert hall," as noted by the New York Times' James C. McKinley Jr., and a staple of musical entertainment in New York City.
However, the Barclays Center, with its chic all-black interior indicative of its intentions to eclipse MSG, has already made a name for itself in its year-and-a-half of operation. It is the home of a team currently better than the Garden's Knicks, is the future home of the New York Islanders and routinely sells out for concerts by A-list artists.
It was even the site of Miley Cyrus' twerking fiasco at last year's MTV Video Music Awards, the most talked-about pop culture moment of the past year.
The Knicks and Nets are in a rare situation where their on-court competition mirrors a societal dynamic within their shared city.
As the Barclays Center's reputation continues to expand out of the shadow of MSG—an established giant of entertainment—the rivalry between New York's two basketball teams will grow in both magnitude and complexity.
Modern Example: Chicago Cubs (North Side) vs. Chicago White Sox (South Side)