The landscape of professional basketball inside New York City was permanently transformed on Monday night as the upstart Brooklyn Nets landed a clean right hook onto the chin of their new intra-city rivals, the New York Knicks, who they defeated 96-89 in a tightly contested overtime thriller.
The Nets trio of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez helped Brooklyn break away in the extra session, dampening Carmelo Anthony's 35 point Knicks effort, but, as good as the game was on the court, it was the unprecedented atmosphere surrounding the contest which will be remembered by the crowd of over 17,000.
The theory that a true rivalry between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets would take time to develop was tossed out instantaneously as legions of Knickerbocker fans donning their orange and blue, and Nets supporters emblazoned in black and white, rushed up from the subway station underneath the Brooklyn's Barclays Center before tipoff, pledging their allegiance in no uncertain terms. Those who have chosen to back Nets 2.0, a franchise that has landed in the Borough of Kings after wandering around the (suburban) desert for over 40 years, were clear in their declaration - there will be no waiting for relevance. Knicks fans meanwhile did their best to protect the notion that their territory, unchallenged since the team was founded in 1946, would remain just that.
"I walked here from home, I've been a Knicks fan all my life," said Maikidi Busby from Park Slope. "It's easy, I can come over here, walk a few blocks, and watch my Knicks put a whipping on the Nets."
"Nothing is as good as Madison Square Garden," according to Knicks fan Josh Brandwin. "and this still feels like a home game."
Nets fans, a group that comprises a small original group from across the river in New Jersey and the new generation of Brooklynites will agree to disagree. "I went to school five blocks away at Brooklyn Tech said Duane Dowdy of Crown Heights, "It's amazing, this is big, this is Brooklyn vs. the rest of New York man."
Tene Williams, also of Crown Heights was emotional about the rapid resurrection of big league sports in her backyard. "We're too young to remember how it was when the Brooklyn Dodgers were here so to have a major team back in our borough is a beautiful thing."
Even David Stern, Commissioner of the NBA, a position that demands impartiality, couldn't hide his enthusiasm for the reborn and rebranded Nets, 9-4 and tied with the Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division. "I love to see teams that were down, come up, however they do it," said Stern. "The Nets have been down both as an attendance matter and as a competitive matter and now they seem to be, I'm not going to send a trophy out there yet, but they seem to be very much on the ascendency."
Yes, everything about the Brooklyn Nets is on the up and up. Basketball arenas are notoriously vacant architecturally but the Barclays Center is armed with great sightlines and classy finishes, not to mention an assortment of local concessions that make even the recent stadium/arena eats renaissance seem stale. Most importantly though, the team has a winner with Williams, Joe Johnson, Lopez and Co., not to mention a rapidly growing fan base. The Nets were 30th of 30 teams in attendance last season and have jumped up nearly 20 places thus far in their first eight home games.
On Monday however, a good chunk of the crowd were Knicks fans, perhaps half, which turned the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues into the center of the basketball universe in a way that would have been difficult to imagine not so long ago. "I don't think we looked at it as a turf war," said Knick Steve Novak before the game, but the sounds inside the arena, with fans dueling in decibels, cheering and chanting over each other all night, were a clear indication that a battle for basketball hearts and minds is well underway in the Big Apple. The action on the court left both Knicks and Nets fans wanting more, and the NBA with a new set of blue chip grudge matches that will provide a fresh injection of intrigue to the regular season schedule and possibly the playoffs.
In overtime, a stressed out looking Jay-Z, who couldn't be missed sitting on the Nets bench despite wearing camouflage, watched his 1/15th share of the team rack up what must be one of the most important victories in the history of what has mostly been a moribund franchise, a fact not lost on Avery Johnson. "This is what we've been dreaming about since I've been here," said the Brooklyn Nets head coach, "it's a nice feeling and I'm glad we rewarded our fans with a victory. They deserve it."
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