Sure, the NBA has a great rivalry in the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers but that only occurs when they meet in the NBA Finals. OK, a regular season game between the two is exciting but everyone knows it’s nothing more than a preliminary to the real games, i.e. if they play in the finals.
If other good teams play each other, there is a modicum of interest, e.g. Miami vs. any of the top clubs but that’s due more to the players than the teams. Well, the NBA has a true rivalry now and it doesn’t matter who’s playing for which squad. The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. For those people who aren’t from that area, New York City is composed of five boroughs: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Ask residents of each and they’ll tell you they’re from New York (as in New York City). All except the guys from Brooklyn. They’ll say they’re from Brooklyn. Kenny “The Jet” Smith (a native of Queens) acknowledged as much last night on TNT’s studio show.
Another former Tarheel point guard, Raymond Felton said he felt the Knicks-Nets rivalry could become like UNC-Duke. He said the Nets talk “a lot of blather.” This type of comment is not heard from anybody about any other team until the playoffs - and when it’s said then, it just seems to be a rallying cry to somehow squeeze out a victory. The Nets and the Knicks make it personal because living in NYC (Brooklyn or elsewhere) hardens guys. Or crushes them.
There are other states in which there are multiple teams but while Houston, San Antonio and Dallas all have winning franchises, Texas will always be a football state. Florida has a clubs in Orlando and Miami, both with very good teams for years (save last year’s debacle in DisneyWorld), but Florida is a place you visit. Although people are now from Florida, their parents (definitely grandparents) are from somewhere else. That’s a similar situation to California, the only state that is home for four pro basketball franchises (only because Kevin Johnson governs with the same never-say-die attitude that he played with). The Kings, and for that matter, the Warriors, haven’t been good enough to warrant a rivalry with anyone. Those guys are struggling for survival, hoping to snatch a playoff spot (and exit after round one).
LA has two very good teams but the overall atmosphere is too laid back. Besides, the Lakers have been king for so long and Clips have been bad for so long that the Clippers resurgence is just now being recognized. As a matter of fact, the Lakers had better recognize it real quick or they’ll lose the tie breaker (which may or may not be significant) since they already dropped one to the Clips earlier in the season. Right there is the difference between NY and LA. In New York, if one team beat the other, fans of both would know it.
In New York, things are different. People from New York are . . . from New York. Their parents and grandparents too. Maybe their great- or great-great-grandparents weren’t from New York. If not, they were from Europe. NY fans show before the tipoff, not LA style, are loud knowledgeable, intense, sarcastic and obnoxious. Basketball is not just a game - it’s something that’s taken much more seriously. It’s one of the items discussed at every bar, restaurant, barber shop (not hair styling salon) and dinner tables. Depending on the time of year, maybe the only one.
What about college ball, you ask? That is supposed to be a religion in New York. It is. So is high school. The basketball is what’s worshiped.
Someone very close to me said there would only be one other NBA rivalry fans would love to see as much as the Knicks and the Nets:
“It would be the Washington Wizards . . . but only if the Harlem Globetrotters had a franchise.”