For the start of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets settled into their new home, Barclays Center, in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. They were armed with literal street cred with BK’s own Jay-Z as part-owner of the Nets. And, if we want to be real, they even threw the first salvo by having the below billboard painted on the side of a building near Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks.
This was a statement move two years (summer of 2010) before officially playing Brooklyn Nets basketball in New York by the incoming little brother on big brother’s turf and base of operations, literally. Imagine leaving the job or going out to lunch as a Knicks employee and seeing that billboard when you exited the confines of MSG. Maybe it mattered to them, maybe it didn’t. It certainly made James Dolan catch feelings as he contacted both David Stern and Adam Silver about the advertisement being outside of his window and how it was “intimidating” and hurt employee morale.
Part of me doesn’t believe that Dolan truly felt this way because, let’s be serious, this is the New York Knicks. They’re valued as the number one franchise in the NBA in terms of dollars, valued at $5.42 billion, and at the end of the day, especially in New York, money speaks the loudest.
As Brett Yormark, then CEO of the Nets at the time said: “That billboard is the anchor to an aggressive marketing platform for key transit hubs from Manhattan to Newark. It’s a pretty aggressive campaign around free agency. It’s one of the biggest advertising spaces in the city. What better place to make a statement.” Yormark went on to say, “If [the Knicks are] upset, they’re upset, but I can’t suspect they really are. They don’t think about us.”
Italicization in the last sentence in Yormark’s quote by me. While I do think he was being sarcastic when he said that, it does have a level of truth in it. I’m Queens born, Queens bred, and when I pass, I’ll be Queens dead, so I know the power of the Knicks and their fanbase. Growing up, I was a die-hard Knicks fan… until they traded Patrick Ewing to the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000.
Logically, it made sense to pass the baton to Allan Houston in terms of being the face of the franchise, and Latrell Sprewell the hands of the franchise. Okay, bad joke about Spree. Honestly, you could understand the trade in your head, but not in your heart. I mean, it’s Patrick Ewing!
Even at age 37, he averaged 15.0 points (third on the team), 9.7 rebounds (first), 1.4 blocks (second) while shooting 46.6% from the floor and 73.1% from the charity stripe his last Knicks season. He even had an above-average 16.9 PER! And then you let him fizzle out his last two years in the league with the Sonics and Orlando Magic? You couldn’t have come to some sort of agreement so that he played his whole career as a Knick? C’mon now… but now I’m catching feelings.
Anyway, full disclosure, I’m a Brooklyn Nets fan now. I took the Nets fan test, and I got all 10 correct, so I’m good. I was a “free agent” fan until 2008-09 when the previous college basketball season, I became a big fan of Stanford’s Brook Lopez. Digging post players must say something about my old school sensibilities, right? It’s funny how both Ewing and Lopez eventually became shooters as their careers progressed.
In any case, I told myself that I’d follow whichever team drafted him. I was ready, ironically, to be a Sonics/soon-to-be Thunder fan, who were picking fourth in the 2008 NBA Draft. The consensus top three were Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and OJ Mayo, and most had Bropez going fourth overall. Well, he fell to 10th to the New Jersey Nets, so Nets it was!
Cool (to me, anyway) side note: I was able to get my son in as an honorary ball boy for a game versus the Knicks (go figure, and thank you, Ben Couch!) and he got to be on the court at the same time as Lopez when he was warming up with assistant coach, Popeye Jones, before the game. I’ll never forget that look of awe on my kid’s face. It must have been the same look of awe I had when we came through the back of the Prudential Center at the same time as Walt “Clyde” Frazier! I hope my staring didn’t seem like I was lurking and irking!
All of that is to say that I understand the Nets perspective as well. I’ve been in both of the waters of the Nets and Knicks fanhood, swimming in the non-title waters. The Nets have been waived and shrugged away, brushed off shoulders, and not even thought of. Yormark was right, no matter the true sentiment in his statement. The Nets, while in Jersey, weren’t the little brother or even a stepbrother; they were like a cousin everyone in the family avoided at events. Not even a cool drunk uncle.
But, that was before the Nets added BK to its name.
Ever since the Nets crossed the Hudson and East Rivers, there has been a slow build-up of a more tangible and visceral rivalry. Knicks fans have an entitlement about them, which has been bred into the fanbase over decades of prominence in the city. It’s hard to blame them for it, but it’s not as bulletproof as the New York Yankees’ because of obvious reasons, of which there are at least 27 of them.
So, could the Nets actually take over the New York City area? Is that what they’re even aiming to do? I’d posit the Nets want to go wider, beyond the boundaries of the boroughs, which has been seen in their presence in Asia, for example, even before Taiwanese-born Joe Tsai took over as owner/governor of the team. My educated guess has them wanting to have a more global appeal.
Certainly, the additions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, whom the Knicks erroneously touted/hinted as coming to them in the 2020 offseason, as well as this season’s trade for James Harden have leveled up the Nets’ clout in the metro area. Can we assume they’re winning now? I wouldn’t. The hardcore voices aren’t there yet for the Nets. During their recent match-up, there were more shouts of support for the men in blue and orange as opposed to the black and white, in the Nets own building! It was striking enough that Harden acknowledged the noise.
Now, I’ve been anecdotal, sentimental, and assuming to some degree here, so let’s put that sort of thing aside and look at the results from the time the Nets started to grow in Brooklyn to now. It’s all about the cold hard truth, right? The reality of living in this concrete jungle. What have you done, not what will you do? It’s all about show and prove. So, let’s check on how it’s been going down…
Overall Record: Nets – 303-382; 0.442% | Knicks – 258-421; 0.379%
Head-to-Head: Nets – 18 wins | Knicks – 16 wins
Playoff Appearances: Nets – 5 | Knicks – 1
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.