The Rangers and the Devils have so much history that even with the NHL locked out, you imagine their players tossing their gloves and throwing haymakers wherever they may meet, maybe in a supermarket or something. The Giants and the Dodgers are such fierce antagonists that they actually moved across the country together so they could despise each other out there. The Yankees and the Mets get fewer chances to duke it out, but their mutual antipathy is still weapons-grade. New York is an old sports town and in every major league a two-franchise one, and a consequence is that its teams and their fans have lots of practice in loathing the other guys.
Which is why it felt a bit forced when the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets finally took the court last week and everyone was so intent on calling it “a rivalry.” Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, displaying typical restraint, accused any Brooklynite still cheering for the Knicks of treason. Senator Chuck Schumer was afraid to say whose side he was on. (He said he’d “let my heart be my guide.”) “knicks nets in war for nyc,” screamed the Post. You would think these teams had been at each other’s throats for decades rather than, you know, playing their first game against each other ever.
That game, which the Nets ended up winning in overtime, offered plenty of drama, but it was no Sox-Yanks. It was one franchise with decades of being woven into the city’s DNA and a recent decade of a seemingly willful desire to antagonize its fans against … an extremely well-put-together marketing campaign. You could see this in the makeup of the Barclays crowd, which was split roughly equally for each side. That made for a thrilling game to witness, each big shot garnering a loud roar, but the hosts had only knocked the ratio down from the 75-25 of Knicks-Nets games in New Jersey. When the Nets play in MSG, it won’t feel much different than a visit from the Celtics or even the 76ers.
This is not meant to be an insult to Nets fans, including the four, maybe five, who came over from Jersey (and have been actively ignored by the Brooklyn ownership). It’s just that most of them are new to this. They are essentially the fan base of an expansion franchise, figuring it out as they go, and it’s no wonder they were almost taken over by the visiting Knicks supporters; the orange-and-blue have far more experience at this: at screaming, at losing, at all of it. Even though the Nets won, and seem to be a better team than anyone realized, this is a Knicks town, no matter how much better the food is at Barclays than at the Garden. (And it’s a lot better.) A rivalry is not something that can be made from scratch; it must be forged through repeated exposure.
The good news is: A real rivalry is surely in the making. The Nets and the Knicks are both good this year and could even face each other in the playoffs, where fights and vitriol are all but guaranteed. But let’s not force things. Have patience. The hatred will come.