Sunday, February 20, 2011

KNICKS-NETS; The Carmelo Tug-of-War Helps Spur Rivalry

To say the Knicks and Nets maintain a contentious local rivalry is a lie; They don't - Or, they didn't - Or, not yet anyway.  But they will! 

Whether it's the NBA or ABA, you'd have to go back to the age of bell-bottoms, 8-Tracks, Watergate, and America's Bicentennial for the last time either team tasted a Championship.  For the most intensely contested portion of this Metro-area turf battle, you might refer to the days when Otis Birdsong, Chocolate Thunder, and Buck Williams took on Bernard King and company.  But during the Patrick Ewing Era, the Knicks' run of playoff appearances really put the Nets in the Metro-area's rear view mirror and kept the Nets' relevance around here fairly low.  Even back-to-back Finals appearances by the Nets did little to break the strangle-hold on local area support for the Knicks. 

However, Discontent found it's way to both the Knicks' and Nets' doorstep in this new millennium and some-what put these franchises on arguably, a competitive equal footing for a time.

Bruce Ratner purchased a Jason Kidd led team and announced plans to move them to Brooklyn.  What attention the news garnered was first diminished some by Ratner's first bad decision as owner.  In a cost cutting move, he put the kibosh on resigning a very popular Kenyon Martin.  Bruce Ratner then had to compensate by agreeing to import Vince Carter in what was obviously a purely corrective signing.  That team would eventually have to be dismantled anyway.  The then GM Rod Thorn, set out to remake the Nets yet again.  The team was stripped down.  With a total rebuilding program in full swing, last year a new batch of young Nets suffered through a 12-70 season.

The Kenyon Martin deal was the least of Bruce Ratner's problems.  Instead, it was only a beginning.  Years of delays and lawsuits prevented Atlantic Yards and Barclays Center from breaking ground on time; if at all many thought.  Every day the project was delayed and the Nets' move to Brooklyn was pushed back just served to chip away at the whole project's credibility.  For a brief time, the project seemed doomed.  Basketball wise, there was no more better Poster Child for Bruce Ratner's dilemma than Jason Kidd, as he gave the, "I'll believe it when I see it." mantra life, meaning, and momentum among the Metro-area locals as he left town.

Around the time Ratner purchased the Nets, the Knicks were a blur of wheeling and dealing as then GM Isiah Thomas went about revamping a roster that needed to make a final and definitive break from the Ewingless; ...Allan Houston, Sprewell, Van Horn, Layden Era.  That was all fine and well until we realized the Zeke Exchange never closed.  In the process he Capped us to high-holy hell and supposedly made a mockery of office decorum.  Even darker days lay ahead for the Knicks when he assumed Coaching duties as well as being GM of the full-blown disaster he put together. 

Donnie Walsh runs things now and has reclaimed Salary Cap flexibility as well as restoring Knick respectability.  He asked the Fan Base for two years of patience while he maneuvered the team in a different direction.  Now in year three under Walsh, the Knicks are better than they have been in eight years and can become (near) dangerous if they compliment Amare' Stoudemire with another transaction or two.

It's not that peachy at MSG though.  Donnie Walsh is being made to pay a heavy price for asking the fans to tank two years.  There are members of the Media calling for Donnie Walsh's job if he does not secure the services of Carmelo Anthony, regardless of the cost.  I myself find that notion preposterous.  But I do not matter as much as James Dolan does.  The spectre of Isiah Thomas has never left this organization.  Not too long ago, Isiah Thomas spoke to the Media about "things" and offered insights into his lingering Knicks "interests".  We all know Isiah Thomas still has the Knick's owner's attention and continues to share a bond with him.  Meanwhile, James Dolan still refuses to extend Donnie Walsh's contract, with nary a mention from the owner about the pending matter.  James Dolan is also known for preventing Donnie Walsh from hiring Chris Mullen to be part of the Knicks' Front Office.  Most agree, Donnie Walsh is running the Knicks more at the behest of David Stern than due to any decision arrived upon by James Dolan regarding management of the Knicks.  And this weekend; All*Star Weekend, James Dolan appears poised to step all over Donnie Walsh's toes trying to secure Carmelo Anthony while Donnie has been trying to take a smarter, more tactful approach regarding a pending deal for 'Melo while also trying to prevent the Knicks from getting fleeced of it's players.  So, what fans are left to deal with is a GM whom the owner is not committed to, and an owner who still befriends and takes advice from the man who almost ruined his team.

"Almost ruined" can also be used to describe the plight of Bruce Ratner.  But he faced a situation that as a real estate guy,  he's faced many times before.  He is a long time developer in Downtown Brooklyn and has fought the fight over land-grabs before.  Only this time, his problems were exacerbated when the economy tanked and his financing crumbled apart.  Finally, six years after announcing his initial plans, Ground Breaking for the Barclays Center finally took place in March of 2010 kicking-off construction of the Nets' eventual new home and starting the countdown towards relocation of the team to Brooklyn. 

This time however, there was a new player in the game; Mikhail Prokhorov.  Bruce Ratner struck a deal with the Russian Billionaire to sell him a majority stake of the Nets Club and a smaller stake in the Barclays Center.  The Nets received an extremely confident, passionate Basketball fan and deep pocketed owner in Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner gained much needed capital for Atlantic Yards (which requires a wholly different discussion at this point).  This now, for all intents and purpose, puts Bruce Ratner in the background of the Knicks/Nets conversation.  Since then, the Knicks and Nets have been mentioned in the same conversation together more than at any other time in their histories while sharing the "same" TV market.

Everything about the Knicks-Nets dynamic in the NYC area changes now.  You can wait twenty years for a documentary to be made of these days, or you can just pay attention to what's going on between these two clubs ever since Prokhorov came to rescue the Nets and Barclays Center construction finally started resembling an arena.

Participate in some imagination with me and call NYC....the Universe.  Scientists say the universe all started with a Big Bang.  Something triggered that Big Bang...Yes?  Of course.  With NYC as our Universe, I submit to you, we are in those days before the Big Bang exploded.  We are living through the rumblings; the turbulence; and intensifying heat that made something so infinitely dense get "really" hot and go BOOM.  There is a real rivalry brewing between these two local teams and it's set to go BOOM in 2012; just like the Mayans predicted.  But more seriously, this is a new rivalry in the making and we are on the ground floor looking in.  The night the Nets tip-off in Brooklyn changes everything.  There is a rivalry indeed; born of this still new and young century.  If you just pay attention you can witness the genesis of it play-out before our eyes.  From these days on, the relationship between these two teams will forever change.

The Knicks?  They are the Football Giants; the Yankees; the Rangers.  They are the establishment.  They bear the distinction of being forefathers of their League.  The Nets?  They were Rebels; Adventurers; a New Wave Order; they were rivals to the NBA.  They were the Jets; the Mets; the Islanders or Devils.  They were the ABA an Dr. J.   Both the Knicks and Nets were Champions of their Leagues once.  But that was so many decades ago.  Since then they have both lost in two Finals appearances.

And so, the dawning of a new rivalry is now.  The Knicks are far removed from their somewhat-glorious past as best as James Dolan can ensure it.  And with the Nets moving forward under Mikhail Prokhorov, neither team has any recent history of success to hang each other's hats on.  The Nets are the last organization between the two to make the Finals; and back to back no less.  So, let's be honest here. 

Knick fans have only ever seen James Dolan act in desperation when one; Isiah Thomas wasn't around, and two; under Donnie Walsh and during the Club's attempts to lure LeBron James and now currently in his want of Carmelo Anthony.  James Dolan never even flinched when Latrell Spreewell got all up in his face; taunting him during a game once.  But he's a mess without Isiah and the direct threat of competition coming from Mikhail Prokhorov and a team in Brooklyn has Dolan in fits.  James Dolan may very well make Donnie Walsh a scape-goat as a result of his own insecurities without Zeke should they not acquire 'Melo.  It now appears Carmelo is as much of a pressing matter to Dolan as the West Side Stadium for the Jets was to his precious MSG.  Dolan seems willing to invest as much energy and money into making sure he gets 'Melo (without Donnie Walsh) as he did to squash the proposed Jet Stadium on the West Side.  So, if you don't think Prokhorov is a major supplier of motivation and fear for James Dolan, you are mistaken.  That's just my opinion of course; nothing personal.

Mikhail Prokorov (and Jay-Z) in the meantime, instigated a battle of the billboards between the two clubs when he leased space to paint an advertising mural on a building side just a few short blocks from Madison Square Garden.  That was part of the Nets' lead-in to the NBA Draft Lottery Show when Mikhail would not only officially introduce himself to the greater public, but also represent the team in their bid to secure the Number One pick in the upcoming draft.  During an on-air interview with the new, still mysterious Mr. Prokhorov, he was asked for details about the team's future and about his own assertions the team would be in a position to compete for a championship with-in five years.  His response? -  "I would have to kill you if I told you."  I knew then Mikhail Prokhorov would have a friend in me.

But Prokhorov has been beset with a series of set-backs.  The Lottery didn't go his way.  The Nets couldn't convince LeBron to play for them.  And during that time, James Dolan struck back with his own billboard campaign with one ad landing inside the Atlantic Yards footprint and another ad atop Flatbush Avenue at 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. 

Now, both owners find themselves engaged in a tug-of-war over Carmelo Anthony.  The Nets have a better trade package than the Knicks.  Mikhail Prokhorov knows it and is behaving much more cooler about it than Dolan is.  The Knicks have a more desperate owner than the Nets and Donnie Walsh knows it and is also trying to stay cool about it.  Both owners are willing to sign Carmelo to his desired contract extension before the CBA expires.  The problem is, the Nuggets would rather take the Nets package but 'Melo is believed to only want to play for the Knicks.  And this is how, today, we have two owners in direct competition against each other as they become THEE Front Men of their respective organizations in trying to gain the services of a one, Carmelo Anthony and two, the loyalties of a city.

Mr. Prokhorov spoke bold words and uttered Championship talk when he arrived on the scene.  In a case of cause and effect; all of a sudden, James Dolan is worried about the Knicks (like he never was with Zeke around or when they were getting sued for sexual harassment) and now it seems both teams are in a hurry to win a title before the other one does.  Right now, this new rivalry is being built upon the strength of  "Owner vs. Owner".  Soon, this rivalry will take on it's new dynamic when it becomes Manhattan versus Brooklyn.  And if you don't think the sceptre of Brooklyn hasn't played a part already in the relationship between Dolan, the Knicks, the Nets and Prokhorov, the fans, and a stubborn Media regarding the move, you are sadly mistaken....again. 

Carmelo Anthony is available and the only reason the Nets are a viable option for him is directly due to the team relocating to Brooklyn.  And the only reason why James Dolan suddenly cares about the Knicks is because the commissioner took away his teddy bear and Mikhail Prokhorov came to town like the big bad wolf as his team is about to plant it's flag within the New York City limits to foster direct competition against Dolan.

NYC is a densely populated city; - Just as dense as that "what-ever it was" that BIG BANGED..billions of years ago.  Brooklyn has 2.5 million of it's citizens and Manhattan has less.  The other boroughs bring the number of citizens to around 8 million people in the city.  When the Nets arrive in Brooklyn, matters between the teams and the two Boroughs will just get hotter.  Very soon, in the NYC Basketball Universe, there will be one force in Manhattan on 33rd Street and 7th Avenue and another force in Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue at Atlantic Avenue.  Billboards and Carmelo Anthony were only the initial tremors and turbulence to be felt before this thing blows in 2012.  When these two forces do collide, things will surly go BOOM!  The Rivalry will spread through the neighborhoods like galaxies through outer space; Our Space; Our Streets and Neighborhoods.

The media remains lukewarm to the County of Kings at best.  In this Brooklynites' opinion, they aren't taking the viability of Brooklyn hosting an NBA franchise seriously enough.  They laugh off any notion the Nets, or any entity there-of located in Brooklyn can adversely impact the New York Knickerbockers' dominant grip on NYC's basketball loyalties.  What they always fail to realize however is we (Brooklynites) could care less what happens in Manhattan.  For us "out here" this is what it has always boiled down to for us; - We are Brooklyn and the rest is whatever.  We make our own way.  We'll have Ours and Manhattan will have theirs.  And that's just the way we like it.  One day that will get played out on the court and not in the newspapers and on TAWK-shows.
Don't wait to read some nostalgic piece in some magazine or in a book about the birth of a new rivalry written later in your life when one of these Media naysayers decides to tell the story about this, and tell you how they were there When Brooklyn....blah blah blah...., No; not when so many of them are dismissive of the whole thing today.  I however, am living it.  And I don't do this to get paid either.  Just pay attention and put this story together for yourself.  It's happening.



Mike.BTB.... A Knick Fan since 1975 and life-long Brooklynite/Sport Fan.

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