In Praise of Rivalries…

I really wanted this game against the Nets.

Ever since the thought of the Nets moving to Brooklyn started to gain steam, I dreamed of the Knicks rolling into Brooklyn and completely demolishing the Nets as a means of punishment for the grave sin of putting forth another New York Basketball team into the public sphere. So naturally this loss was a gut punch for me. Still, there is a bright side to it though, so hear me out.

I learned more about Basketball against the Bulls than I did at any other time

Growing up my childhood was defined by rivalries: Professor X and Magneto, WWF Raw vs. WCW Nitro, Scorpion and his quest for revenge against Sub Zero, East coast Rap vs. the West coast, me against High School, but most important of all rivalries was the Knicks and Bulls. While basketball was easy for me to pick up on as a child, there was something about those Knick/Bulls matchups that took on a totally different tenor. It was during these battles that I learned the nuances of the game and understood what it meant to play with heart and have pride in your team. It’s not a coincidence that this blog is named after the one Knick player that taught me the most about this. Knick losses that came from other teams didn’t matter much to me but even then I knew the importance of beating Jordan and the Bulls. Those wins against Mike didn’t come to often, but when they did, I relished every ounce of it.

When Jordan left the game his first time around, I felt nothing but relief. While people bemoaned him for leaving the game early, I saw his departure as nothing more than a serendipitous chance to finally get through the playoffs. As you know, Reggie Miller and the Pacers would quickly take the place once held by the Bulls. And then after the Pacers the Heat became the latest obstacle for the Knicks to get through. After a few memorable wars with Miami things were quiet on the Knick rivalry front…a little too quiet. Suddenly there weren’t any games that mattered any more. Teams that I used the circle on the calendar were distant memories from what they used to be. The Heat weren’t the Heat anymore and the only link to the past that Pacers had was a well-aged Reggie Miller that struggled to run up and down the floor.

Hate him or Love him, Knick fans will never forget him

In 2005, the middle of the Isaiah years, the Knicks were an absolute disgrace to the game of basketball and city of New York. Something even stranger began to happen at the Garden. When the Pacers played in New York, Reggie was no longer a Garden nemesis. Instead, Reggie actually was the only player that got cheered while Stephon and Steve Franics scowled on the end of the bench. I couldn’t really explain it myself, but I also found myself rooting for Reggie. In these moments Knick fans knew that the team they loved for so long had fallen so far below bad that the only thing worth cheering was our past. A past that old villains like Reggie Miller were such a huge part of. This is what made Reggie’s last game at the Garden so moving. As Knick fans chanted Reggie, we all knew that a chapter of history was about to be closed and that the next one that waited for us to open would be nothing like the former.

Without bad guys, Knick lore wouldn’t be the same. What would separate us from lifeless franchises like the Hornets or Raptors if we didn’t have our beloved war stories to pass onto our children? There’s something vapid about a team without a rival. As any former HS nerd will tell you, the only thing worse than getting beaten is being ignored, and that’s exactly what has happened for the Knicks this past decade. Without any rivalries the lowly Knicks didn’t even make it to any national broadcasts. It was a very sad state of affairs where an iconic franchise like the Knicks was forgotten by the rest of the league.

Thankfully this isn’t the case anymore. Thanks to the LeBron saga an old rival in the Heat has been reactivated. The Celtics’ Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have made sure to make Knick games personal which has added fuel to an old division rivalry. Even the Pacers’ Danny Granger has helped breathe some life into another old familiar Knick rival. Now with the Brooklyn Nets goal of driving disenchanted Knick fans over the Barclays Center, the Knicks have found themselves back into relevance. If Monday’s game was any indication of the future, the rivalry with the Nets is going to be one that most Knick fans have never experienced before. This isn’t a team that just has a grudge against New York, but a mission statement built around capturing former Knick fans. Knowing the two owners animosity towards each other certainly will make things even more interesting, as already seen in this summers’ billboard battle.

The Knicks have new generation of rivals, and that is great news.

How the current roster of Knick players respond to bullseye on their backs will have to remain to be seen but so far I think Knick fans could take solace in the fact that rivalries are once again blooming. Only time will tell how these new battles will fall into the mosaic of basketball stories that make up Knick lore.

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