Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Battle For Los Angeles and New York

Brooklyn has emerged as a suitable cross-town rival for the New York Knicks. (entmoney.com)

Not long ago, the NBA and country's biggest markets were dominated by one team. The Knicks had the heart of New York City and the Lakers had control of Los Angeles.

Not long ago Knicks guard Raymond Felton would have not needed to say, "They will never take over our city." It would be implied. And not much longer ago than that, there was not team to take the city from the Knicks. The Nets were in New Jersey, but try calling a New Jersey team a cross-town rival in New York and prepare to run for your life.

Not long ago, if Kobe Bryant would have said that in LA, his comedy skills would have given him a spot with Jay Leno. The Clippers weren't competition to the Lakers. They just happened to be sharing a building.

Now all of that has changed. The Clippers were the better LA team last season, and it wasn't close. The Nets now reside in Brooklyn, and after a blockbuster trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets are now ready to make a run at the Eastern Conference.

Felton made the comment about NYC being the Knicks' city after Pierce told a New York radio station he thought it was time for the Nets to take control of New York. It is going to take more than a better winning record for Brooklyn to surpass the Knicks as New York's team. The Knicks have the advantage of history and years of connection with the city, as do the Lakers. The Clippers have planted roots in the city longer than the Nets in NYC, but much of that time was spent with fans wearing paper bags on their heads.

However, what we know about fans (sans die hard fans, there's no converting a die-hard fan) is that they can be fickle, and what is hot is what is important. Jack Nicholson will always be sitting courtside for Lakers games. But what if the Clippers go on a run of deep playoff appearances and even win an NBA title in the next 10 years while the Lakers rebuild following Kobe's retirement? The view of both teams will be much different than how we still come to know it in our minds. Right now it is still hard to imagine the Clippers as the better team because it has been so long since anyone has seen it. And if Brooklyn wins a title while the Knicks continue to lose in the first round every year? People in the borough and fans of the city will be celebrating right alongside.

One championship does not mean the Nets will run NYC, or the Clippers LA. The fan base will grow, certainly, but it would take years for either team to even come close, and even then, tradition is a hard obstacle to overcome.

Whether the Clippers or Nets actually overtake the Lakers and Knicks in terms of city love is not the point. Sports are cyclical and in another 10 years the standings could be flipped again. What is great for the NBA and the cities is that there is finally competition. Clippers fans can brag about their team without being laughed out of the room. The Nets can talk some trash on the Knicks.

Sports are built on rivalries and the two biggest NBA cities finally have rivalries that can capture attention. Not long ago, that was certainly not the case.

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