Originally written on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 10/19/14
November 26th, 2012. A night that, even for its status as a technically unimportant midseason game, will live forever in Brooklyn Nets history. It was the night that the chant of “Brook-lyn” actually meant something. It was the night that a real rivalry started. It was a new start for a franchise that so desperately needed one. The New Jersey Nets were a punch line. Of all the “second” teams in New York sports, they were by far and away the least successful. They had a history comprised of mostly lottery picks, with the only claim to fame being the first team from the East since the NBA-ABA merger to lose back-to-back finals. The tone was set for the team’s lack of success in Jersey when they were forced to trade Julius Erving when they joined the NBA, because they needed to save money to pay a fee to the Knicks to let them play in the same area. From that point on, there was certainly no question who “big brother” and “little brother” were. When the Nets became a powerhouse in the East in the early 2000’s, they very rarely sold out the then-Continental Airlines Arena, even for playoff games. In the New York tabloids, the Knicks caught more headlines for being bad (and anti-semetic, looking at you, Charlie Ward) than their tri-state counterparts did for being a 50-win team for three straight years once Jason Kidd arrived in town. Not even a most lopsided first-round sweep the Nets bestowed upon the Knickerbockers in 2004 could do anything to change the mood in the Big Apple as to who “their team” was. And how could it? The Nets still lacked enough star power and flash to attract enough fans to fill their own arena. Why should they have expected any fans to defect? When the Nets began to trade off all their key players from the “glory days”, the one thing that gave their own fans hope for the future was Brooklyn. When Mikhail Prokhorov became the owner of the team, it only created more optimism that one day, as Prokhorov famously declared, “we will turn Knick fan into Net fan.” Maybe that promise was a tad much, but it was a more confident statement than any that had previously been made from the Nets front office. The Russian’s guarantee that the franchise would win a title by 2015 was scoffed at, but certainly gave Nets fans something to look towards, even during seasons like 2009-2010, in which the team won a total of 12 games following a record-setting 0-18 start. There were certainly reasons to believe that Brooklyn wouldn’t work. The Nets striking out on the 2010 free agent class, something NBA insiders found as surprising. Carmelo Anthony doing everything in his power to avoid coming to New Jersey. Dwight Howard begging to be sent to the Nets, only to then sign his ETO, and eventually land in LA. But last night’s 96-89 win in overtime against the Knicks came in spite of all those pitfalls, and sent a message to the rest of the league. Yes, it was just one game. The Knicks were missing Jason Kidd and Amar’e Stoudemire, this is true. Those are just mere footnotes though. The first Knicks-Nets game in Brooklyn has been a game highly anticipated for years by Nets Nation. For years, the Knicks-Nets rivalry has been forced more than anything, due solely to the team’s proximity to each other. For once, and for the first time since the Nets joined the NBA, the teams appear to be equal. Last night was the 168th matchup between the Atlantic Division rivals, and the first in which both teams had winning percentages of over .600. No one can argue that having two teams in New York that can both make deep playoff runs is a bad thing for the NBA, and that appears to be the case in 2012-2013. The first 13 games in Brooklyn Net history have gone better than I think Prokhorov or Avery Johnson or Deron Williams could have imagined. The Barclays Center appears to provide a real home-court advantage, as Brooklyn has started out 7-1 at home, and are the best defensive team in the league in terms of opponents points per game, something no one expected. The good news for the Nets is that there is still room for improvement. Joe Johnson has just begun to look like the player the Nets thought they were getting when they made the deal with Atlanta. MarShon Brooks has had his minutes limited because of injuries, but is on the road to being fully healthy. Gerald Wallace has missed a handful of games due to injury, but can be arguably the most important player on the team, as was demonstrated with his defense against Carmelo Anthony in the 4th quarter and OT last night. Brook Lopez has a renewed aggressiveness offensively (he is leading scoring center in the league) and defensively as well, an area in which the Stanford product has been greatly criticized (4th in the league in blocks per game). The bench, which is comprised mostly of career backups and 75-year old Jerry Stackhouse, has been nothing if not solid and reliable as a relief corps for the starting five. Let the record show that on the morning of November 27th, 2012, the Brooklyn Nets were in first place in the Atlantic Conference. Clearly, that fact could change in a matter of days. But the significance of last night’s home win over the Manhattan Knicks can not be ignored. Brooklyn is officially a team, and a brand, to be reckoned with. For once, the Knicks fans did not out-number the Nets fans at a Nets home game. For once, the Nets have a swagger they have so desperately needed since joining the NBA. Does this mean that Prokhorov’s prediction of a title in the next three years will come true? No, of course not. The Nets, and Knicks for that matter, would have a very difficult time getting past Miami in the East. For Brooklyn to even be able to entertain that thought, which they certainly can after the display of last night’s playoff-type atmosphere, is remarkable given the last six years of this franchise’s history. After the final buzzer had sounded in overtime, Jay-Z tweeted “The city is under new management.” Within a few years, if not months, that very well might be true. Nets 96, Knicks 89 in overtime. A score that will live in Brooklyn basketball lore. -Appel
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