Yesterday, on his day off no less, the Times' Howard Beck — the terrific beat guy who switched from covering the Knicks to the Nets this offseason — spent much of his afternoon retweeting fan trash talk between Nets fans and Knicks fans. It was a nice little warm-up for tonight's We-Don't-Have-a-Name-for-This-Series-Yet kickoff of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks showdown, but we're still not sure we quite believe it. We can't wait for tonight's 7 p.m. game at Barclays Center — delayed from the initial November 1 start — but we are still not quite convinced this is a "rivalry." You have to earn that distinction.
That's to say: This is the first ever game between these two franchises, and it's not like the Knicks–New Jersey Nets had much of a rivalry. (Except when Deron Williams was mad at all the attention Jeremy Lin was getting.) Obviously, being in Brooklyn amps this up, as does the fact that the Nets are only one game behind the Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division. (It also doesn't hurt that Joe Johnson is getting into the spirit of things, and Carmelo Anthony is pretending he grew up in Brooklyn again.)
But you don't get to just create a rivalry. Rivalries need histories, bad blood, grudges, and pain. They also need two rabid fanbases, and that's something that, as much fun as the Nets have been (and as good as they've been), just doesn't exist just yet. They got in the spirit a little bit yesterday in Brooklyn by starting a "Beat the Knicks" chant at the end of their win over Portland. But the Brooklyn Nets have existed for twelve games. At this early point, they and their fans are a reaction to the Knicks rather than a legitimate rival. That doesn't mean their team isn't better; it very well might be. It just means that rivalries aren't invented just because there's a new arena and a ton of corporate sponsors, or because someone bought a billboard a few years ago. Nets fans are real, but they're new and hesitant: This just isn't a real thing yet. The Nets will get there; they have too much going for them not to. But pretending this is a thing, already, is more hype than reality.
It's going to be fun, though, particularly if both these teams continue to play well. It's tough to come up with a better start than a battle for early season Atlantic Division supremacy. It'll certainly be roaring in there tonight, and any game that features Reggie Evans and Rasheed Wallace on opposite sides of the court seems primed for some sort of chippy, bad-blood-inducing moment. But we don't need to rush toward Rivalry Mode with the Nets and Knicks just yet. Let them play some games first. Let them work up the hate. Then, when it happens, when it gets there, it will be that much more satisfying ... and that much more fevered. This could be something great someday. Let's work our way up to it. Let it begin tonight.