It is clearly early going in the NBA season, but one look at the standings and we see the Knicks (15-5) atop of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, with the Nets (11-8) in second place. Both teams have been playing well enough to gain attention of the locals, even those who are not big basketball fans. It used to be quiet around here when the Knicks played the Nets (having a lot to do with the Nets being almost forgotten over in New Jersey), but now the city is abuzz with the new rivalry between its two basketball teams.
My father made a comment that looking at the standings reminded him of the good old baseball days when the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers played in the same division and maintained a healthy (but heated) rivalry. Looking at the newspaper the teams were listed as New York and Brooklyn, and the truth is that hasn’t been possible to see around here since 1957. The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets clearly are the city’s teams and the fans are excited about them again.
Long ago I used to be a Nets fan. As a kid my father took me to the games in the old Island Garden, a small and intimate arena in West Hempstead where you really felt right on top of the court. My heroes were Rick Barry, Bill Melchionni, and Julius Erving (the great Dr. J who played all too briefly for the team). As a Queens boy I enjoyed the idea that the team was in a rival league (ABA) to Manhattan’s NBA Knicks, using that red, white, and blue basketball, and had a player (Dr. J) who grew up on Long Island. When the Nets won the title in 1974, I was ecstatic. However, my joy was to be short lived as the inevitable ABA-NBA merger would send Dr. J packing.
When the team left for New Jersey after the 1977 season, I knew I could never root for it again (little did I know my Jets would soon follow a similar path). I switched allegiance to the Knicks and have been a fan ever since. Now, being a Knicks fan all these years has had its ups and downs, but even though the Nets are back in New York, I feel no inclination to change hats again; however, I do like the idea of a home team in Brooklyn, and Barclays Center is not far from Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place where Ebbets Field used to stand.
We have excitement again about two professional sports teams that are legitimately New York teams – unlike the Jets and Giants. The rivalry is starting to get cooking, though the Nets have stumbled in their last four games and the Knicks are starting to look less than invincible. In a year when the NHL has without question disappeared off the radar, it is nice to have basketball games that matter again to get us through the winter after the last football snap.
Perhaps in the spring we will have a race for a division title by New York and Brooklyn teams, and that has as sweet a sound to it for New York fans than anything they have heard in a long time.
Photo Credits: bleacherreport.com and ebony.com