After the Brooklyn Nets traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the New York Knicks responded by trading for the exact opposite type of player when they acquired Andrea Bargnani from the Raptors. Then they re-signed the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. The Nets, considered impotent in the face of any more free agency moves with a tapped out salary cap, then pulled off the Andrei Kirilenko signing last night. The stakes keep getting higher in New York as Mikhail Prokhorov attempts to usurp James Dolan’s Knicks as the preeminent New York City team.
Here are 10 matchups on and off the court to decide who reigns supreme in New York now, and who will likely hold court in the future.
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10. MORE HISTORICALLY RELEVANT TEAM
This is a no-brainer. The Knicks have been relevant since the NBA’s inception, with the NBA’s offices stationed in New York, the draft held in New York, and the commissioner’s favorite hometown team, the New York Knicks. In fact, the nascent beginnings of the National Basketball Association began when Ned Irish, then the owner and operator of Madison Square Garden, acquired the Knicks franchise from New York sportswriter, Max Kase, one of the original founders of the league. The Knicks were already elbowing people out of the way in the inchoate days of the NBA. They then went on to own New York despite only winning titles in 1970 and 1973 and have long been the lone professional team associated with New York City hoops.
The Nets, conversely, are one of four teams that arrived in the NBA via the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. The New York Nets and star, Julius Irving, joined the league after winning the last ABA championship against another new merger team, the Denver Nuggets. Irving won the ABA Finals MVP and regular season MVP in the final season of the long-defunct league. But because the New York Knicks were angry about the Nets invading their turf in New York, they demanded the Nets pay them $4.8 million as part of the merger. That was no small amount of money in 1976, and Nets owner Roy Boe first offered Irving up to the Knicks to waive the fee. After the Knicks balked (which was disastrous and ruined the post-Walt Frazier/Willis Reed/Bill Bradley Knicks until Patrick Ewing came along in 1985), the Nets traded Irving to the Philadelphia 76ers for cash so they could pay the merger fee and the Knicks’ invasion fee. The competition between the two teams began with the Knicks winning (and because they didn’t take Irving) losing the first round.
9. MORE HISTORICALLY SUCCESSFUL TEAM
Again, this is pretty easy. The Knicks might not have won any titles once Walt Frazier stopped running point and starting a running commentary, but they were in the thick of the Eastern Conference battles throughout the 90′s. The Nets, meanwhile, despite the 1983-84 season under Stan Albeck, never won a playoff series until Jason Kidd came to town and they went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2003 and 2004, losing to the Spurs and Lakers, respectively.
The closest the Knicks ever got to capturing a third title was with Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley and coach Pat Riley with the 1994 team that didn’t have to go through the then-retired Michael Jordan on their way to the Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Rockets. They fell in seven games. The Knicks were again in the Finals during the strike-shortened 1999 season, where they fell once more, this time to the youngster Tim Duncan and the Admiral, David Robinson.
Despite the similarities in results, the Knicks have almost always had the better teams, especially after Pat Riley came aboard in the 90′s. But Jason Kidd did lead to a resurgence of the old New York Nets at the dawn of the new millennium, while Isiah Thomas‘ front office decisions depleted the Knicks in the first few years of that same millennium.
Slight edge: Knicks, but largely based off those incredible Red Holzman coached late 60′s and early 70′s teams.