The New York Knicks have consistently held court as the city’s basketball royalty. With an illustrious history full of some of the game’s greatest players, they have reigned supreme from their throne in Madison Square Garden in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, playing host to the likes of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing and Carmelo Anthony.
For a long time, the Knicks’ legendary status seemed untouchable, especially by the lowly New Jersey Nets, now Brooklyn Nets, who spent most of their three-decade history wandering the hinterlands west of the Hudson at the bottom of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Fast forward to 2013. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov moved the Nets from Newark, N.J. to nouveau-hip Brooklyn.
With an influx of money from their wealthy owner, the Nets have made waves since the team acquired high-profile veteran forwards Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce and Garnett now play alongside established point guard Deron Williams and a supporting cast of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — a championship-caliber team in the making.
The Nets have not come this close to rivaling the Knicks for New York basketball supremacy since Jason Kidd arrived in the summer of 2001.
The newly minted Brooklynites now inhabiting Barclays Center seem to sense this special opportunity to shock the world and shift control of the city’s basketball scene across the East River. Upon arriving in Brooklyn after a 15-year stay with the Boston Celtics, Pierce remarked that “it’s time for the Nets to start running this city,” firing the first shots of an escalating crosstown rivalry.
When Knicks guard J.R. Smith dismissed Pierce as a “bitter person” and reminded fans of the name written across the front of the Knicks’ jersey. Pierce was asked about this comment by the media and could only cheekily respond, “who?”
This kind of sparring between the Knicks and the Nets is something almost entirely new to the city’s basketball culture. The Nets have been a mere afterthought for most of their existence, save for two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. The Nets have otherwise been absent from the playoffs recently and have a history of little fan support.
Now things feel different. The Knicks haven’t seen championship glory since 1973, leaving many fans restless and disillusioned after front office failures and problem players sullied the franchise’s good name in the decade after the successes of the Ewing-led teams of the 1990s. Moreover, the feeling pervades that the Knicks remain a club for Manhattan rather than for all boroughs. Brooklyn, without a professional sports team since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958, finally has a team to call its own.
Although the Knicks command a massive amount of fans, the seeds of homegrown support for the Nets are already being sown on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. With a reloaded roster and newfound support, the Nets appear ready to show the Knicks that they’re not alone in the city anymore.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 print edition. Charles Surette is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.