The lowly Brooklyn Nets, a strong contender for worst franchise in NBA history, have done the unthinkable. In a town dominated for decades by the (for some reason) legendary New York Knicks, The Nets, formerly of New Jersey and before that Long Island, have stolen the spotlight from the losers at Madison Square Garden. By signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they elevated themselves to the top tier of the NBA. And the Knicks are still trash.
For Brooklyn fans, such as myself, it’s hard to describe how glorious and mirthful this is. A friend said to me yesterday, “You have to feel a little bad for the Knicks fans, right?” To which I replied “Absolutely freakin’ not.” Knicks fans exude a combination of smugness and false pride that makes Donald Trump look humble and self-deprecating.
In the movie “On The Waterfront,” Marlon Brando laments his corrupted and failed boxing career to his complicit brother. He says, “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
The Nets have almost always been bums. But they aren’t the first Brooklyn bums. Da Bums, otherwise known, as the Brooklyn Dodgers, were lovable losers until they found superstars like Jackie Robinson and Duke Snyder in the 1950s. Then they won the World Series. It’s probably the greatest thing that ever happened in Brooklyn sports.
The challenge for the Nets since they arrived in the borough of homes and churches back in 2012 has been to build a fan base. Their black uniforms emblazoned with the name of the center of the hipster universe sold a lot of jerseys, but dedicated basketball fans in New York City already had a team in ugly blue and orange, and they are stubborn people.
The 2013 Nets made what was on paper one of the worst trades in NBA history for just this reason. They brought aging superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn and in exchange the Boston Celtics received approximately 8 million draft picks. The two former Celtics brought some excitement for a year or two, but not serious contention, and after that, the Nets endured a draft desert, and a lot of losses.
But now, by putting two of the NBA’s most dazzling players on the court at the Barclay’s Center with a young team that surprisingly made the playoffs last year, they might not convert the old, grizzled Knicks fan with jaw clenched since 1972, but they will appeal to kids. Kids like winners. And the addition of Durant and Irving brings the possibility of capturing a new generation of New York basketball fans.
Now, it’s the Nets, so yes, obviously this could all get fouled up. Durant is sitting out next year with an ACL injury, and who knows how well he will recover. Irving has a reputation for not being great in the locker room. By no means did the Nets just win themselves an NBA title, but even next year without Durant they bought relevance in the NBA playoff picture, and the following year with Durant, a legitimate shot at a title. The last time the Knicks had a legitimate shot at a title O.J. Simpson was in the passenger seat of a white Ford Bronco.
Irving and Durant join a spirited squad featuring Jarrod Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris. Coach Kenny Atkinson has gotten the best out of them, and now he has superstars to work with. It is without question the most exciting move in Nets history. And don’t be surprised if right now Spike Lee is trying on some Nets jerseys.
In reality, though, the new rivalry that this trade will create will not be with the Knicks. They are so awful and untalented that Nets fans will laugh at them more than hate them with a burning passion. The new rivalry will likely be with the Philadelphia 76ers, who knocked the Nets out of the playoffs in a chippy first-round series this year. These two teams are poised to be the beasts of the NBA East while the Knicks continue wandering in the wilderness of ineptitude.
Dawn has broken for the Brooklyn Nets. The only downside is that my tickets on Stubhub probably won’t cost $8 anymore. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay. So welcome to Brooklyn, Kevin and Kyrie, win us a title and you will be the forever kings of the borough, and maybe even relegate the Knicks to being that other team in town, as God intended.