A Big Apple a day keeps the Heat away


Author: Joe Siegal

The tip-off of the new National Basketball Association (NBA) season brings with it several compelling storylines. The Miami Heat begin their campaign for their third championship in a row, Derrick Rose returns to the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Clippers, led by new head coach Doc Rivers, will look to assert themselves as a force in the Western Conference.

In a star-driven league, though, the NBA does not have a defining team rivalry. Currently, the re-tooled Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks are the only two organization that can deliver this sorely needed competition. The two teams will battle for dominance of the Big Apple in what should become the most heated rivalry in the league for years to come.

Despite its status as the Mecca of basketball, New York has never had two NBA franchises, but it has a long and storied history of intra-borough sports rivalries, of which Knicks-Nets should be the latest chapter.

When the Nets played across the Hudson River in New Jersey, their fans in the New York City were few and far between, even during their years of success led by then-guard Jason Kidd. Playing in the still-sparkling $1.02 billion Barclays Center, the excitement around the Nets is palpable for the first time in recent memory, and the resulting Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry will spark citywide interest.

Kidd has now returned to the Nets, only now in Brooklyn and as the club’s head coach. With the provocative coaching change, the Nets also re-stocked their roster to the point of having a $100 million payroll, the highest in the NBA. The acquisitions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko bolster last year’s playoff roster, providing leadership as well as experience and talent. Flexing their financial muscle courtesy of Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets look to move into the upper echelon of NBA franchises, and they have the roster, finances and market to do it.

However, the Knicks, who may begin to inhabit the role of the old guard of basketball in the city, still have a team that can challenge the best in the East and a structure that keeps them in the top bracket of NBA franchises. Led by Carmelo Anthony, one of the best pure scorers in the NBA, the Knicks won’t take the Nets’ posturing lying down. The two teams’ match-ups this season will be marquee events, and both squads will battle for playoff positioning as well as the hearts and minds of New Yorkers.

It’s now been years since the heyday of the Lakers-Celtics grudge matches, or any compelling year-to-year team rivalry in the NBA. The focus on NBA coverage seems to center solely on individuals these days, perhaps losing sight of bygone eras when more static team rosters led to continual clashes. While the cores of the Knicks and Nets rosters may change in the coming years, their geography certainly won’t.

Though it is doubtful that either unit could upend the Heat in the Eastern Conference, the cultivation of an intra-city rivalry worthy of New York is a development that is good for the city, the league and the sport overall.

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