Taking Nets/Knicks Personally

The amusing, yet hardly unexpected chorus of excuses and capitulations from Knicks fans the day after Round 1 of the “Battle of the Boroughs” went to the bums from Brooklyn – “it was just one game.” “The Knicks were missing Stat, Shump and Kidd.” “The Nets haven’t played anyone good yet” – do not upset me. For last night was something I was hoping to relish for a greater portion of my lifetime. Last night was personal.

As a kid growing up on Long Island in the shadow of Manhattan (and on the same land mass as Brooklyn), being a Nets fan was not a birthright. It was not hereditary. It was a choice. It was a choice I made in the summer of 1992-93 partly out of circumstance (my family was a Mets household and thus subscribed to Sports Channel, where the New Jersey Nets could be seen, and not MSG, where the Yankees and Knicks called home) but also, predominantly out of my affinity for the team’s players. The early 90s Knicks were clearly the better team, but featured a tired group of players and names who had been around the block – Ewing, Oakley, Smith and Riley. Sure, I guess John Starks had the potential to be a blue collar hero, but he always struck me as too erratic and crass for me to become a true believer. The Nets meanwhile presented a roster of youth and potential. Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson should have been great. And of course the Nets had the greatest underdog star I could ever hope to find in an era where Michael Jordan was at the top of his game.

I promise I won’t spill thousands of words about how much I love Drazen Petrovic again. For those who followed my writing at this site’s predecessor, you should be well versed in my feelings for him as a player and as a human being. Let’s just say Petro embodied why I voluntarily chose the Nets over the Knicks. As the youngest of two boys who frequently has his shots blocked in pick-up basketball by his older brother, there was no denying the affinity I had for the white guy from a foreign land who only needed opportunity to show how he could be a dominant force in the NBA.

But Petro died. Coleman and Anderson were busts. The Knicks wiped out the Nets in the first round of the 1994 Playoffs and went on to play 7 games in the NBA Finals that year (and lose) against the Houston Rockets. Why was I doing this to myself? Why did I subject myself to mockery when I showed up to school one day in a Kerry Kittles jersey while the rest of my classmates were more concerned about how their team was going to vanquish Reggie Miller or Michael Jordan en route to another postseason victory? Why wasn’t I surprised any time I opened to the Sports pages in my local newspaper, Newsday, and see a full spread of the Knicks on the back cover, while a short, AP write-up about the Nets latest 20 point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors was buried somewhere near the horseracing results?

Was I just a Knicks hater first, and a Nets fan second? It’s true, I did cheer outrageously when Ewing’s finger roll rattled in and out of the rim against Indiana during the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1995. I giggled when Jeff Van Gundy clung to Alonzo Mourning’s leg like some kind of rabid Chihuahua. I sat and stewed as the 1999 Knicks rode a hot streak into the NBA Finals before they finally were overcome by the San Antonio Spurs. I did all this while the Nets did nothing but lose, import more loser players, and pretty much make my life as a fan miserable.

But that never changed my love for them, and my yearning for them to be better than what they were. I kept cheering for the Nets because I truly believed one day, I would no longer be in the minority – or if I was still in the minority, I would at least be surrounded by more than one or two people who had my back in this fight. At first, I thought the Nets total domination of the Knicks in the first round of the 2004 Playoffs would have been a tipping point. But the Nets had already been to back-to-back Finals the previous two seasons, while the Knicks were languishing in their own executive incompetence. I would travel to the Izod Center for a Sunday afternoon Nets-Knicks matchup and still be surrounded by obnoxious Knicks fans, crowing about how once Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry get going, their team will be unstoppable. I had to hear about how the only reason the Nets made the Finals those two years was because the Eastern Conference was so weak. I had to endure all this crossing state lines to sit at the “home” arena. What a farce.

From the day it was announced, I hinged my hopes on the fact that Brooklyn would change things. While I still hadn’t moved to the borough yet, I knew well enough that the people who lived in Brooklyn carried themselves completely different from the rest of the city. Any time I set foot in BK, it felt like a completely different American city, with its own identity, loves, passions and quirks. I listened to my dad wax poetic about weekday afternoons at Ebbets Field, watching Jackie, Pee Wee and the Duke. Surely Brooklyn would change the tides of this broken relationship, and I would have the added advantage of having been there when times were at their worst.

And then of course Brooklyn was delayed. The Nets got worse. The Knicks, finally cleansed from their Isaiah demons (sort of) would get better. The Knicks were going to get LeBron (they didn’t). The Knicks were going to get Carmelo (they did). Why don’t the Knicks trade Amare for Dwight Howard (why would any team make that trade with you?) Deron Williams will leave the Nets (he didn’t). Brook Lopez stinks (I disagree).

As Jerry Stackhouse nailed a corner three during OT last night to give the Brooklyn Nets the lead for good, it created a moment that went beyond just catharsis for me. That “BROOOKLYNN” chant to close out last night’s game was a tsunami that washed away 20 years of disappointment, embarrassment and loneliness. Looking at today’s back pages and seeing the New York media not only praise the Nets performance, but accept them as part of the fabric of the city is as surreal of an experience that I’ve ever had in my lifetime. Sure, it’s just sports. It’s just one game. Both of these teams may look (and play) completely different in a few months time. But it doesn’t change the fact that it mattered to me. It doesn’t change the fact that nobody can take the memory of last night away from me – because it was built on a foundation of so many other emotionally charged memories that preceded it. Sometimes games do transcend “just sports.” And last night was one of those moments for me.

Comments

  1. Stat is the worst player, who’s going to disrupt their flow…except when he’s out. Then he’s the missing piece. You have to expect with a roster with multiple 40 year olds DNPs.

  2. Well said! I feel the same, I’m on cloud nine today! Everything with the Knicks (and Yanks) is overhyped (Melo, Linsanity,etc.,etc.). I believe the Knicks we are seeing right now are as good as they’ll be all season. JR Smith will be JR Smith and their age will catch up. Whereas the Nets haven’t fulfilled their potential yet. D Will is obviously injured; keeps clutching his right wrist. When he and Joe gel and get hot, watch out!

  3. As a die hard Bkn fan I understand tht the Knicks were missing stat and kidd.. u say tht the nets havent played anyone good yet… Im confused.. They beat Boston,Portland,Clevland, and most impressive beside NYK… LA clippers. Additionally, they lost to the warriors by 11 ok tough loss, and they lost in LA by 5.. With the exception of the begininging of the season in miami.. they have played vs tough teams to a 9-4 very respectable record so why is it tht “The Nets haven’t played anyone good yet” … !!

  4. I enjoyed your article about your Nets experiences. I too became a fan of the Nets during the 92 – 93 season – one that seemed to have so much hope. My worst Nets memory was being there for the final playoff game against the Knicks in the Bredan Byrne Arena. As MY Nets were being elimated from the playoffs – THE ENTIRE ARENA ROSE to give the Knicks a standing ovation. I wanted to vomit! I have stayed with this team through the good times and the bad, and I am a season ticket holder now in Brooklyn (was for the final 4 NJ seasons too). All I ever wanted was a pasionate fan base to cheer with me. My wish has been granted…

    1. And Drazen was my favorite player too. The Nets haven’t come close to replacing what he could do on the basketball court. I proudly wear my 3 jersey to games now…

  5. Mark, I lived in Manhattan from my birth in 1950, and my move to St. Louis in 2000.

    Have hated the Knicks since I started following the NBA in 1962

    Have been a Net fan since 1970 (the arrival of Rick Barry).

    I happen to have a few cousins in NY that are intelligent Knick fans, and actually have a realistic view of their team.

    But the majority of Knick fans know very little about the game, and will make excuses for every loss the Knicks have.

    You’ve got to try not to take it personally. Think of Knick fans’ excuses as you would answers that you would receive from questions that you asked of a mentally challenged person.

    It’s better that way.

  6. Beautiful post, Mark. Last night was golden. I rushed home to catch the second half, and the first thing I did was listen. The crowd was all-in, and it was great!

    I was a Knicks fan as a kid when Clyde and Willis were on the team. When Dr. J came to the Nets, I rooted for them, too. When the Knicks forced the Nets to sell Doc, I was done with the Knicks. But then, the move to Jersey… ugh. Why? Why?

    But it’s been clear to me since it was announced that Brooklyn was The Answer. Jersey simply never worked. The dear, depressing Nassau Coliseum and my lame-ass fellow suburbanites would also have lost the team by now. Hell, they couldn’t keep the Islanders. The Nets have been in the wilderness since the Teaneck Armory. In their 46th season, the Nets are finally home. Let’s ball.

  7. I was born in NY and therefore born a Knick fan. My family moved to NJ in 1984, out of boredom my brother and I would go to see Nets games. We could scalp tickets for under $10 and watch guys like Malone drop 40 on the Nets, and then something happened we actually became fans.

    Each season we would pretend not to get our hopes up but secretly thinking maybe the latest NBA cast off they picked up was actually going to do something. Which never happened but it didn’t matter we were fans and we stood by them. It’s 28 years later and I live in Brooklyn and have for a few years, and my team now plays a short walk from home. I can’t put in to words how great it was to be at yet another Knicks-Nets game but this time the Knick fans couldn’t walk into the arena and take over like they’re used to. The sight of Knick fans sitting quietly was one I never though I would see. It’s been my observation that Knick fans are like playground bullies. They think the Knicks are one of the great NBA franchises with a rich history and everyone else should just accept that the Knicks are THE team because they say so. The problem with that is that it’s just not true. Monday nights game was the 168th time these two teams have met in the regular season and the results are: One of the great NBA franchises 85 wins vs 83 wins for the joke of a franchise Nets (hmmm that doesn’t sound like dominance). Here’s another fact the Knicks career record is 20 games under .500, doesn’t .500 indicate mediocrity. In the 66 years the Knicks have been a franchise they have one 7 division titles, that’s one every 9.4 years or once a decade. That facts are despite what the fans say and the fact that they play “in the most famous arena in the world” when ranking NBA franchises the Knicks success is on par with the Atlanta Hawks not the Celtics, Lakers or Sixers.