Knicks vs. Nets rivalry raises bar
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK — How big is New York versus New York? Just ask the guy who runs the place.
“If we were to have a World Series between the Yankees and the Mets, or a Super Bowl between the Jets and the Giants, or an NBA championship between these two great teams, No. 1, New York City is so big, and the people here come from every part of the world and from every part of America,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
“And it would be the best thing that ever happened to all of those leagues.”
The Knicks and Brooklyn Nets can’t play for the NBA title, but competing to be best in the Big Apple is pressure enough.
Bloomberg was speaking at a recent press conference to announce that the Knicks and Nets would jointly host the 2015 All-Star weekend. Officials from both clubs and the league took part, all assuring that the teams get along well and look forward to working together.
Sure, maybe for one weekend. Don’t expect them to play nice now. Not with two good teams sharing one passionate city.
It may be a Knicks town, but the Nets think it’s their time.
“Now you’ve got New York Knicks, who won the Atlantic last year, then you have us coming in here talking about winning the division, winning the East, winning the championship,” Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce said. “So you’ve got two New York teams talking about trying to obtain the same thing. So obviously it’s going to cause some type of friction between the two, which is good for the NBA, which is good for the city.”
Not to mention for ratings — all four meetings are on national TV, two on ESPN and two on TNT. And certainly for headlines — the trash talk among players such as Pierce, Jason Terry, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton handed local papers plenty of NBA coverage during the usual dead days of August and September.
Imagine what it will be like when they play in December, or twice in April — perhaps with a division title or home-court advantage in a playoff series on the line.
“I think people are making more of it than it really has to be. It’s only four games out of the year. But it’s going to be heated. I didn’t get to play in one last year but I’m looking forward to it,” said the Knicks’ Kenyon Martin, who played for the Nets along with Jason Kidd when they dominated the Knicks a decade ago.
But it was never really a rivalry back then — or at any point when the Nets were in New Jersey. They simply weren’t close enough on a map or in the standings to build what they have now, and nobody knows it better than Kidd, who played for the Knicks last season and is now coaching the Nets.
“When I was on the other side, we always measured ourselves against the Knicks and now that we’re both on the same side of the river, it is a very competitive and healthy rivalry,” he said. “And hopefully we can win a couple more games than they do, but it’s fun for the city to have both teams here.”
Kidd seems comfortable again in his role as Knicks tormentor. When he saw Anthony at a Sept. 11 charity event, he teased his former teammate about his impending free agency and taunted him about how the Nets would defend him.
“He’s already working,” Anthony said.
Throw in noted Knicks adversaries like Pierce and Terry — who was dropped by an elbow from Smith during last season’s Knicks-Celtics playoff series — and the Nets suddenly have plenty of guys who would want to beat the New Yorkers no matter what uniform they had on.
The fact they’re in the same city just makes them want it that much more.
“It’s going to be fun,” Pierce said. “I think those type of things are fun for the sport, New York-Brooklyn. I think the only thing that separates us is the bridge and the thing that is going to make this rivalry I think a little more competitive is because both teams are contenders.”
It was only 2½ years ago when they seemed further apart than ever. The Nets were playing in a half-empty building in Newark and narrowly missed the worst record in NBA history while losing 70 games in 2009-10.
Meanwhile, the Knicks had signed Amare Stoudemire, were on their way back to the playoffs, and when they beat out the Nets to acquire Carmelo Anthony in February 2011, seemed positioned to hog the local spotlight for themselves for years to come.
Things change around here in a New York minute.
Not only did the Nets trade for Deron Williams days later, but they kept up with the splashy transactions. They got Joe Johnson last summer, then pulled off the blockbuster with Boston to acquire Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Terry.
The Knicks held off the Nets for the Atlantic Division title last season, though the Nets are widely predicted to take it this time. The only thing the Knicks know for sure they aren’t losing is their place in the New York basketball pecking order.
“It’s still a Knicks city, that’s not going to change. It’s not ever going to change,” said the Knicks’ Metta World Peace, who grew up in the Queensbridge section of Queens. “There are so many Knick fans in Brooklyn.”
But there’s now plenty of Brooklyn black and white popping up in Manhattan, too. From Yankees-Dodgers to Rangers-Islanders, New York loves its rivalries, and there’s a new one heating up now.
“They are nothing but good and fun for the fans, great for business, and I think they push the teams that are involved with them to even greater heights athletically,” Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said. “So it’s a good thing, and I expect that that will continue to go on.”
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