Brooklynites faced a major dilemma this year when the Nets crossed the Hudson River and relocated downtown in New York City’s most populous borough, near the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic. Playing their home games in the brand-new, splendiferous Barclays Center, the Nets are minutes from the team that has owned Big Apple hearts since 1946.
The New York Knicks, one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, have the history, memories, championships and Madison Square Garden, aka the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” But they don’t wear “Brooklyn” on their chests. That gives the Nets a prime opportunity to siphon allegiance among the proud residents and natives who have lacked such specificity in a rooting interest since the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles in 1958.
Will they make a distinction between two teams that, ultimately, represent New York City? Which team should they root for in border skirmishes, a la the Lakers-Clippers annual grudge matches?
And, finally, would the presence of All-Star center Dwight Howard make the Nets even more loathsome than the Miami Heat?
That last question probably has NBA commissioner David Stern all atwitter, flush with anticipation as he pleads silently within himself, “Yes, yes, please be yes!” As evidenced by the Heat’s TV ratings, road attendance, media coverage and ability to spark fiery debates, “hate” pays a heap of bills.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers long ago proved how well the formula works, boosted by outsized stars and multiple championship runs. (There are exceptions: The Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan, which essentially inoculated them from malevolence, while the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan were simply too boring to generate much emotion.)
But adding the disenchanted Howard to a mix that already includes All-Star point guard Deron Williams, All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and versatile swingman Gerald Wallace would move Brooklyn into rarefied air as a “super team.” The Nets instantly would become playoff contenders and arguably the Eastern Conference’s biggest threat to Miami.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and minority partner Jay-Z couldn’t hope for a better housewarming gift for their state-of-the-art, $1 billion arena. They helped the Nets retain relevancy by re-signing Williams when it appeared he might be lured by his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
With Howard, the Nets wouldn’t just upstage the Knicks. They’d upend the league. And though the Knicks, small-market fans and proponents of parity would disagree, the move would be a blessing for the NBA.
It would create dramatic tension within the nation’s biggest media market and spread among the conference powers in Chicago, Boston and Indiana. It would raise Brooklyn to the status of Public Enemy No. 1A, positioned right behind Miami if not side by side. And it would give Stern maximum bang as Howard’s dreadful soap opera comes to a close.
You certainly could question Orlando’s wisdom if it trades Howard to Brooklyn, creating a team that the Magic would have little chance of beating for several years. The same can be said for any Eastern Conference team that opts to partner with Orlando and Brooklyn in sending Howard to the Nets.
Maybe that’s why Cleveland reportedly is a potential participant; sound judgment isn’t the Cavaliers’ strong suit.
The Knicks haven’t been the best-run franchise, either, relegated to an NBA afterthought for more than a decade. They made a splash the past two years by signing Amar’e Stoudemire, trading for Carmelo Anthony and discovering Jeremy Lin. But serious questions remain about the team’s ability to contend.