The Birth of a Rivalry

Brian DiMenna

When I was cutting my teeth on the Knicks in the 90’s, the schedule was chock full of rivals. It was like Lincoln’s cabinet (History!).

New York had intense rivalries with the Bulls, the Pacers, the Heat and even a brief, but passionate fling with Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic. But the thing about rivalries, is that they only work when both teams are good. The Knicks/Celtics “rivalry” hasn’t really flourished in over two decades, what with neither team ever being good at the same time.

So sure, I still get the shakes at the sight of the Bulls, recoil in disgust at the thought of the Pacers and am fairly upset that the Heat are even still a thing, but none of those have really been rivalries by the historical definition for an awful long time now.

Which brings us to the Nets. The Nets and Knicks have never been rivals. Most of the time, it’s been hard to remember that the Nets even exist. Two teams, within miles of each other, sharing the same division and yet the Nets seemed designed as simply a way for New Jersey Knicks fans to get to see their team a couple times a year.

But with a move to Brooklyn, the Nets are hoping to change all that. With the two teams sitting 1 and 2 at the top of the Atlantic standings, their first meeting takes on a little more significance. The pieces are in place for a legitimate long-standing, inner-city hatred.

And rivalries are fun. Irrational sports hate is one of the true pleasures of the trade. My ability to truly hate players and teams is one of the great joys of my life. As a 16-year-old, I recall hearing about Reggie Miller’s house burning down and feeling thrilled. In hindsight, I’m very happy that everyone was OK.

And yet, for some reason, I’m not looking forward to this rivalry. I really don’t want to hate the Nets. To be honest, I so preferred complete indifference to them. For the New York sports fan, most of the year is something of a daily battle. If you like the Mets, you’re acutely aware that not everyone else does. Those folks are called Yankee fans, and they’re often vocal in reminding you that they field the superior team. Same goes for the Jets and Giants. It’s pretty much constant warfare.

But the Knicks have always united us. Everyone I know is a Knicks fan and it’s always been something of a relief, a comfort at bars, or other such venues where sports are commonly discussed. So the prospect of dealing with actual Nets fans, people dressed in Nets garb as though that’s an acceptable thing to do is actually kind of bumming me out.

I know it’ll be fun. I’m sure I’ll get into it, but at the moment I’m not really looking forward to it.

Is that just me?

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