Here's a million-dollar question: Can Mets Syndrome exist in a city in which the big time glamor team might as well already be the New York Mets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...205257-The_Amazins.html)? The current coexistence of the New York Knicks (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...he_New_York_Groove.html) in New York City with the recently-moved Brooklyn Nets argues that it can. (Now that I think of it, so do the Chicago White Sox (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...m_You_Know_the_One.html) and Chicago Cubs, for that matter.) The New York Knicks are one of the NBA's big city teams, and they have an enormous fanbase which stretches across the country. Bandwagon fans hopping aboard just because they're The New York Team, however, may be surprised to find out that, while they've won several Conference Championships, the Knicks have only been NBA Champions twice in their existence (1970, 1973), both times in one single unquestionably great era of their years. Patrick Ewing's era was a constant case of close-but-no-cigar.
While the Knickerbockers may be the NBA's current equivalent to New York City's beloved baseball underdogs, they're still the upscale, classic team which will soon be considered the Evil Empire to the hip, cool rebel team, the Brooklyn Nets, if those aren't already their designated roles. The viewpoint of this may be one of those points where mileage is going to vary depending on who you ask. The Brooklyn Nets have led the vast majority of their years officially being called the New Jersey Nets and hanging out in East Rutherford, which many consider part of the New York City metropolitan area despite it being in a whole other state. (The NHL's New Jersey Devils have a similar situation.) Some fans seem to be up in arms over the fact that the Nets have moved their base to New York City and dropped the Jersey moniker. Others point out that it was just a move across the New York City area, so what's the difference? After all, the New York Jets (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ne...he_New_Jersey_Jets.html) and New York Giants (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ne...at_Giants_They_Are.html) are both considered New York City teams, even though they play in the Meadowlands, just outside of East Rutherford.
The Nets are an odd kind of nomad. They've always kind of bounced around, going all the way back to their formation in 1967. All that bouncing was within the greater New York City area, if not a hair on the outside of it. Forever being the rebel team in the rebel league, the Nets were created as part of the American Basketball Association. Their original owner, trucking magnate Arthur Brown, apparently has a real, honest passion for sports; he was viewed as an ideal candidate to run The New York Team in the ABA because he had experience running a grab bag of teams from the Amateur Athletic Union. The team was originally called the New York Americans, and Brown intended them to play at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan. The trouble was that playing in Manhattan would have meant the poor, poor Knicks would have had to compete for part of a split fanbase, and what chance would they have stood, being an established champion that basketball fans already knew and loved? Yeah, somehow they were calling the Armory's shots, and they got the Armory to send the Americans packing. Brown scrambled to find a good replacement venue, which proved to be difficult when he was always turned down by one of two answers: One - we're booked solid. Two - we really don't want to piss off the Knicks.
Opening day was getting closer, so Brown finally hanged his head, swallowed his pride, and settled for the Teaneck Armory in Teaneck, New Jersey. It wasn't the last time the Knicks butted in on the Nets' affairs.
The Americans did decently enough in their first season, going 36-42 and tying the Kentucky Colonels for the final playoff spot in the ABA. The following season, the Teaneck Armory suddenly developed the same problem as a few venues which had turned down the Americans: Overbooking. So the Americans again found themselves scrambling for a replacement, eventually finding one at the Long Island Arena in Commack, New York. Unfortunately, even though it was the only place available at the last second, the first time the Americans showed up at the Long Island Armory with their opponents, the Colonels, the place was so unusable for basketball that the Colonels refused to play. League commissioner George Mikan decided that, since the Americans had failed to provide a usable play space, the game should be forfeited to the Colonels by a score of 2-0. The floor had several missing bolts and boards, and one player even claimed that when he pressed down on one side of the floor, the other came up, like in those cartoons! There were no basket supports or pads for the backboards, one basket was higher than the other, and the whole place was affected by condensation from a hockey game the previous night.
I don't know when or if those problems were fixed, but the Americans had little choice but to stay for their second-ever year, especially considering the fact that their plan to move to Newark failed. They also changed their name; keeping in line with a sort of tradition started by New York City's other two rebel teams, the Mets and Jets, the name Nets was chosen in part because it rhymed with the other two. It was also symbolic of basketball. So the team was now the New York Nets, and they drew half their audience from a year earlier and won all of 17 games. 23 players were shuffled on and off the roster. Given all that shit, you can't blame Brown for selling the team to Roy Boe after that year. Boe wanted a star, and he won the rights to UCLA dominator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (still known as Lew Alcindor then) in a secret ABA draft. Kareem wanted to play there too. He was a native, after all, but after going over his options for a month, he went to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks because the Nets' bid was too low, and he said he would only consider one offer from each team. The team didn't dwell on it. They had bigger things to worry about, like their move to Island Garden in West Hempstead, New York.
In the 1970 season, the Nets made the playoffs for the first time and attendance shot up threefold. In the offseason, Boe finally got the star he so badly wanted in Rick Barry after he traded their first-round draft pick to the Virginia Squires. In the 1972 season, they made the ABA Finals for the first time, but ran smack into the Indiana Pacers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use..._in_Middle_America.html), who beat them in six games. Barry left after that year - he was considered a big ass, so players were probably glad to see him go - and the following year was a disappointment. In the 1973 offseason, the Nets picked up a player from the Squires in Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J. That put them over the top, and the Nets won 55 games and beat the Utah Stars in the 1974 ABA Finals. They continued winning over the following two seasons, and in 1976, they won the ABA Championship again; it was the last ABA Championship before the merger took hold.
The New York Nets were one of four teams to survive the merger, along with the Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs. Coming off a Championship and armed with Dr. J and newly-acquired Nate Archibald, the Nets were armed and dangerous. The Knicks, faced with a direct competitor, decided they were a bit TOO armed and dangerous. And since the ABA forced the NBA into the merger it didn't want, the league took special pains to remind the castoffs of their place at the back of the line. The Nets were forced to give the Knicks $4.8 million, just like that, as an invasion fee. They also had to fork over $3.2 million to the NBA itself as an entry fee. That left the team devastated in more than one way. Boe had promised a considerable pay raise for Dr. J which he now couldn't produce. So when the Philadelphia 76ers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...25-A_True_Original.html) came along with $3 million of cold, hard cash for the rights to Dr. J, Boe didn't have a choice. He sold his franchise guy for an NBA berth. As if to put an exclamation point on everything, Archibald broke his foot in January, and the 1977 season was officially a lost cause. The Nets finished at 22-60, the worst record in the league. The only notable thing they did that year was field a starting lineup comprised entirely of southpaws, the only team to ever hold that distinction.
For the 1978 season, due to low attendance and an increasingly bad financial picture, Boe decided to move the team back to New Jersey. The Knicks once again stepped in and threw a major hissy fit about territorial infringement. The Nets finally grew a backbone and sued the Knicks, claiming violation of anti-trust laws. The NBA and the state of New Jersey both intervened, and the lawsuit was settled when the Nets once again had to pay another $4 million to the crybabies from the senior league so they would quit their bitching. The Nets officially became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and played at the Rutgers Athletic Center while they waited for the Meadowlands Sports Complex to be built in East Rutherford.
In 1981, the Nets finally moved to their home proper in East Rutherford and reeled off four consecutive winning seasons. From 1981 to 1983, they were coached by Larry Brown, and in the 1983 season, he was leading the Nets to their best year since they joined the NBA when, during the last month of the season, he decided to leave to coach at the University of Kansas. (He tends to do that.) He was suspended for the rest of the season by the NBA after making the agreement. Even so, in the 1984 season, Darryl Dawkins, Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, and Michael Ray Richardson led the team to the playoffs, where they beat the defending champion 76ers. They followed with another playoff appearance, but lost to the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs. It started a downward spiral.
In the 1986 season, Richardson was banned for life after failing his third drug test and Dawkins injured his back. The team made the seventh seed that year. The following year, Dawkins suffered another back injury when he slipped in his bathtub, and this time his career was over. Birdsong only played seven games, having incurred a shin fracture. Injuries and bad drafts began plaguing the Nets; with the third pick of the 1987 draft, the Nets took Dennis Hopson over Kevin Johnson, Reggie Miller, and Scottie Pippen. By 1990 the Nets were the worst team in the league. They won just 17 games that year, while Knicks fans were flying on a euphoric high watching Patrick Ewing lead the Knicks back to the NBA's elite.
Things got better during the 90's. The Nets drafted Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, then traded with the Portland Trail Blazers for Drazen Petrovic. Chuck Daly was hired to coach and, despite a few more injuries, the Nets began to improve. In the 1993 offseason, Petrovic was sadly killed in a car crash, and his number was retired. The Nets continued to improve, though, and in 1994 they made the playoffs only to get beat by the fucking Knicks, of all teams.
Another down era followed, as the Nets struggled through the rest of the 90's. Even worse was the NBA going through a serious image problem in the 90's. People began looking at NBA players as the poster children of selfish, immature athletes, and in 1995, Derrick Coleman was given given a Sports Illustrated cover when his team embodied the entire image. Jayson Williams played for them during this era. Williams wrote a book called Loose Balls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Lo..._and_Also_Sporadic.html) about life in the NBA. I reviewed the book at the link I provided there, and point out a few problems I have with this guy: First, Williams wrote that he wanted to be financially secure before he started playing to win. He said that while writing that he felt like he reached financial security. Unfortunately, his belief is nullified a lot by the fact that his teams were just plain bad. Also, Williams wrote about guns and alcohol and his constant misuse of both with irreverence and humor, like it was fun and amusing for him to endanger people. A few years later, Williams achieved notoriety when he shot and killed a limo driver while drunk. The jury decided he wasn't guilty of the worst charges. Usually I feel bad for players for suffer career-ending injuries; with Williams, I can't help but look at his tibia break as karmic retribution for both the past and future. Yeah, the Nets were the poster child for the league's bad image.
In dire need of a makeover, the team traded their first pick from the 2001 draft to the Houston Rockets for a bunch of younger, solid players. The day after, they traded Stephen Marbury and Johnny Newman to the Phoenix Suns for their star player, Jason Kidd. That move kicked off the greatest period of success the team had since the ABA. Kidd is arguably the greatest Net, and he was everything the Nets had lacked since the old days: A true court general who could not only play the hell out of the sport, but make his teammates better while doing so. With the Knicks losing Ewing and the greatness they experienced with him in the 90's and starting to reel, Kidd got in at the best time possible. Over the course of two Conference Championships (2002, 2003), it was now the cross-river Mickey Mouse team getting the attention from their older, more celebrated peers. For the first time, the New Jersey Nets were the model basketball team of the New York City/New Jersey metro area. They did lose both of their visits to the Finals - the first to the Los Angeles Lakers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...5-Walking_on_Water.html) and the second to the San Antonio Spurs - but the Conference Championships meant everything to the forgotten Nets, as they finally made the statement they had been wanting to make to the Knicks since the ABA: You elitists are no better than us, and you WILL fucking respect us!
Over the millennium, while the Knicks lurched from one embarrassment to the next and reeled, the Nets were fielding competitive teams with exciting players like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Clifford Robinson, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Vince Carter. In the 2004 playoffs, they met the Knicks in the first round, and swept them. Although they didn't reach those heights again for the rest of the decade, they were plenty good, and with the Knicks now playing the NBA's dead team walking, they were winning scores of new fans and getting more attention than ever before.
Kidd left in 2008 and finally won his long-coveted ring in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. They gradually got worse. At first they were just bad, but respectably so. But in 2010, they became just the fifth NBA team to ever lose 70 games in a single season. To counter the badness, the Nets hired Avery Johnson to coach and courted the three big free agent prizes: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, but they all went to the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html). They were also the subject of trade rumors about Carmelo Anthony, who eventually would up going to the Knicks. A week after losing that, though, the Nets made a surprise trade for Deron Williams with the Utah Jazz.
In the meantime, the team owner reached a deal that would bring the team back to New York City for the 2013 season. Or, more specifically, Brooklyn. That's one of the places rapper/part owner Jay-Z glorifies in a lot of his songs. The move actually started during the Conference Championship era, when real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the team with the specific purpose of taking it to a newly-built arena in Brooklyn. In 2010, the team was moved to the Prudential Center in Newark solely to wait for their new home, the Barclay's Center, to finish, you know, being built. On April 30, 2012, the move became official. The team was moving back to New York City and becoming the Brooklyn Nets. The team's new black and white colors and bold typeface fonts are meant to evoke images of the old New York City Subway rollsigns. With the team reloading on court with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, having a new home in a borough of New York City which is very popular and a draw for players, a deal with YES which enables people all across New York state to watch them, and merchandise sales going up dramatically, things are looking up for the newly-minted Brooklyn Nets.
Now, the Nets truly embody the cool, rebel alternative. I mean no offense to New Jersey, but it doesn't carry the big time name of New York City or Brooklyn, so now the Nets might be able to attract better free agents. Of course the Knicks, being the Knicks, are bitching again, this time taking it out in an ad campaign which says the Nets might try to walk and talk like the Knicks, but they'll never be the Knicks. One of the Nets' owners responded by saying he wants his team to be more like the Lakers - you know, GOOD.
As far as rivalries go, the New York Knicks. Considering the way the Knickerbockers have pushed and shoved the Nets from the very beginning and the fact that they overshadow the Nets in a lot of ways, nothing else is going to ever fucking matter. What's the point of the Nets' very existence? Beat the shit out of the Knicks. As long as that gets done, I'm sure most fans will be perfectly content.
The Nets and Knicks are a few of Conference Championships apart, but they have the same number of titles. It's true the Knicks have titles in the NBA and the Nets's happened in the ABA, but the ABA had talent on the same level as the senior league. The Knicks don't have the bragging rights they and their fans all seem to think they do. The Knicks have two titles and eight Conference Championships. Counting the ABA, the Nets have two titles and five Conference Championships. Not a big difference. The Knicks have had more noteworthy players. The Nets don't lack for greats themselves; among their retired numbers are Buck Williams, Drazen Petrovic, and Dr. J. The Nets have fielded some of the biggest names in the league, including Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Buck Williams, and Stephen Marbury. Those are only a few of the players who have played All-Star basketball for the Nets.
A true Brooklyn/New York City rivalry hasn't existed since the old baseball days, when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...ers_of_Los_Angeles.html) fought wars over territorial bragging rights in baseball. Now between past and future, it looks like one is starting up again. And with the storied Knicks apparently doing everything they can to concede while the Nets are reloading, this is looking like the beginning of a great rivalry which will accompany one great basketball legacy with the Knicks and another which is emerging and finding itself. I haven't quite made up my mind which side I'm on yet. I love a good story, and the Knicks have more of those, but I also want the chance to grow with a team I saw the arrival of, even if it was by move. Plus, the schoolmate I mentioned in my 76ers review briefly played for the Nets, which means there's now a New York team he played for. No matter what happens or where my loyalties are going to ultimately side, one thing is true: The Brooklyn Nets are going to be huge, and they're going to repeatedly exchange a lot of heated blows with their city rivals.