For 35 years, the all-time series between the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets were lackluster at best. The three playoff series’ that they had weren’t exactly classics, the most recent ending in a sweep of the Knicks by the Nets when Jason Kidd and Vince Carter were just running over guys like Stephon Marbury, and an Alan Houston at the end of his career. Now, after a move to Brooklyn by the Nets, this series has certainly been spiced up. This afternoon marked the first time in the history of the franchises that they’ve played each other while both being at least 8 games over .500, and was the first time that both teams sported records that good at the same time since 1998. But it’s not only the numbers. In just a few short months, this has become a fierce rivalry between bitter opponents.
So how does a series that was so bad for so many years, all of a sudden become a must-watch every time these two teams are on the court together? Sure, players were talking during the offseason. A Net says New York is their town now, a Knick says they’re the only team with “New York” across their chest. But that’s just talk. Talking doesn’t start a rivalry by any means. But right from the first game, you could see that these two teams were going to battle each other to the bitter end. The physicality, the pushing and shoving, the wrestling inside, all of that has helped make these players less and less fond of each other every time they meet. I’m not sure if it’s just an illusion, but it seems that the refs let these teams go at it, which they have every time they’ve played each other thus far since the Nets’ move to Brooklyn. The guys on these teams are hard-nose. Guys like Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, Reggie Evans, Gerald Wallace — these are guys that fight for each and every possesion, which this year has meant fighting each other.
Although it’s not just how the games are played, but also how they’ve played out. The first game this year ended with an overtime victory for the Nets, after the teams battled each other, physically and mentally, the entire game and then some. After the same roughness in game two, the Knicks were able to pull it out after a big three at the end by Jason Kidd against his former team. The Knicks did a better job in game three, and came away with a 14 point win. Monday afternoon, the refs let these guys play again, and it came down to the very end once more as J.R. Smith barely missed the game tying 3-pointer as time expired for the Knicks, giving Brooklyn the victory and tying the season series at 2 games a piece.
But even while the players have been going at each other all year and these games have been exciting if not captivating, it’s not just the guys on the court that bring a rivalry to life. The fans in New York have been amazing this year, as they are every year, and have taken the battle between these teams off the court. The electricity in both buildings this year was phenomenal. Back and forth chants all game, ferocious screams every time each team makes a shot. Just totally electric. The fans have been into this battle for New York, something which never could have happened if the Nets had stayed in New Jersey.
All those years that the Nets were in Jersey, they had a home crowd that would be at least half if not mostly Knick fans for every game against the Knicks. It just sounded like a slightly quieter version of Madison Square Garden in Nassau Coliseum. But not the Nets not only have whatever fans they had in New Jersey, but have probably more than doubled their amount of supporters after a move to New York. These are local fans that never rooted for a team before the Nets moved in next door. These are fans that come from the Jay-Z followers to root for a team with Hova behind it. These are fans that looked at this Nets roster and said, “Hey, there’s a few all-star caliber players on this team I’ll check ‘em out”. But whoever they are, they’re there, and they’re rooting hard for the Brooklyn Nets. Knicks fans may be the best in the entire league, but when you add another side to the war, it becomes a more fair fight. And it has.
Just this year alone, the Knicks/Nets “series” has grown into something so much more, and that means a rivalry. The games between these teams have been passionate, hard-fought, gritty, and downright exhilarating. While these teams won’t meet again in the regular season this year, ending the season series tied at 2 games each, it is possible that they will see each other again in the post season. They both definitely seem to be headed to the playoffs, and if they were to meet, that would be a fun one to watch, the say the least.
But for now we have the future to look forward to. Whether it be in the playoffs next year, or back at it in the regular season next year, this new rivalry between the Knicks and Nets has been taken to new heights, and the sky’s the limit. They’ll both most likely be great teams for at least a few years to come, and it will be exciting to see how this rivalry plays out. For now, it’s quickly becoming one of the best in the NBA.