The Nets get most of the bold-faced headlines now, and with reason. When the 2020-21 NBA season begins, they will certainly be among the most intriguing teams in the league, with or without James
The Nets get most of the bold-faced headlines now, and with reason. When the 2020-21 NBA season begins, they will certainly be among the most intriguing teams in the league, with or without James Harden. Just the presence of Kevin Durant changes the dynamic for them — regardless of how much of his old self he is able to present as a Net.
And the winning that is expected to follow …
Well, that’s the part that’s most intriguing for the Nets, who have been the No. 2 team in a two-team basketball town from the moment of their inception, the moment they were founded as the New Jersey Americans before the 1967-68 ABA season.
And it hasn’t matter where they’ve planted a flag — in Teaneck or Piscataway or East Rutherford or Newark, over in Jersey; in Commack, West Hempstead and Uniondale out on the Island; or in Brooklyn, at the fabled site where Walter O’Malley wanted to build a domed version of Ebbets Field — they’ve been the No. 2 team in town.
It didn’t matter that they won two ABA titles while the Knicks’ early-’70s mini-dynasty was breaking down, didn’t matter that they went to back-to-back NBA Finals early in the 2000s when the Knicks’ mid-’90s glory push began to fall apart. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride in their hometown.
The refrain always went this way:
“If only Dr. J played his games at the Garden …”
“If only Jason Kidd and Kenyon and the rest played in Manhattan and not hard by Exit 16-W …”
So the question is a fair one: If not now, when? The Knicks really do seem committed to the long game this time around, so there will be at least another few years where the only contention will occur in Brooklyn. The Nets have the stars. They have the expectations. There are easy metrics we can track — TV ratings, attendance (once people are allowed to actually attend games again).
But the reality will be plainer than that, and more subtle.
If it happens, we will know that it happened. People will talk about the Nets easily, and it won’t seem odd or out of place. That hasn’t happened yet, not really. But this time it does seem to be getting louder, and more prevalent. We may be seeing a franchise flip-flop. We may be getting there. We really might.
These are always fun saloon conversations in and around New York, but the fact is we don’t see such seismic changes much. Baseball, yes: Baseball in New York has changed hands several times through the years. John McGraw’s Giants were the unparalleled kings of Gotham, unchallenged, across all of the first two decades of the 20th century, but even as they remained the superior product by beating the Yankees in the 1921 and ’22 World Series, the Yankees had Babe Ruth by then, and were the unchallenged princes of the city for the next 40-plus years (the Dodgers, for all their nostalgia, never did quite emerge as the top dog, one unspoken reason why L.A. was so appealing to then).
The Mets came along and wrestled the town away from the Yankees between 1964-75. The Yankees came back with a vengeance, dominating the Mets from ’76-83, then the Mets came back themselves, emerging as top baseball dogs from 1984-91 or so. But since 1992, it has been a Yankees town, even during those the Mets’ pockets of prosperity.
Football has never really been close. In Joe Namath’s heyday, which we can roughly bookend from 1966 or so through 1974, the Jets did reach eye contact with the Yankees — regularly selling out Shea Stadium, winning a title employing the most famous football player on the planet. But even then, and even as the Giants endured a slew of miserable seasons, you couldn’t find a Giants ticket. They were still the alpha dogs. Even Namath admitted as much in 1970: “It’s a Giants town. But we make people think twice.”
Hockey? The Islanders and Devils both built dynasties, the Isles in the ’80s and the Devils in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But they never really came close to ever usurping the Rangers, who still only have the one Stanley Cup to show for all the years going back to 1940.
It’s never seemed remotely possible the Nets could rule the roost here. And maybe they won’t now, either. But if not now … when?
Every four years around this time I am overcome by the urge to find my dog-eared copy of “What it Takes,” the eternal Richard Ben Cramer accounting of the making of the modern-day presidency. And I’m never disappointed by the task.
The nominations are closed: If you saw the phantom offensive pass interference call at the end of the Minnesota-Purdue game Friday night, then you saw the worst referee/official/umpire call of the year. And maybe of all time.
Seems like if you curse-out your boss the way that Marc Colombo apparently did, then getting fired for it might be the least surprising part of your work week, no?
Bronx or Queens, it would be a wry cool thing to be able to watch Charlie Morton (below) pitch in New York next year — and not only because every time I watch him throw a pitch, it’s amazing how much his delivery recalls the late, great Roy Halladay’s.
Whack Back At Vac
Jerry Vogel: Your column on baseball cards put a smile on my face, remembering how many Roger Maris cards I had. How many fathers had to explain to their kids what flipping and scaling was? Ruined too many corners hitting the wall.
Vac: Every game of scaling and flipping knocked a few pennies and nickels off the back-end value of those cards … and we didn’t care! Reckless youth …
Scott Wolinetz: Robinson Cano should look at the upside. Should he never play baseball again, at least he just qualified himself for a gig in the studio with Fox or ESPN.
Vac: As a wise man once crooned: “Always look on the bright side of life …”
@DFlex2123: I feel bad for Klay Thompson. He’s one of the few likable stars who is easy to enjoy. What awful luck. Can he come back from this?
@MikeVacc: Man, I sure hope so because you’re right: He is maybe the most enjoyable player in the NBA to watch, and to root for.
Leonard Savino: My first reaction to the Robinson Cano news was that the Mets got a “get of jail free card” with this. An extra 10 or so million for Steve Cohen to have lying around? There’s work to be done. He and Sandy have to get it right and get the right guys, but they are in a unique position to build a juggernaut of a team this offseason. Truly make them perennial contenders.
Vac: I do think the Mets need to focus on the second of those things before the first, but they do seem to be, as Red Barber would have put it, sitting in the catbird’s seat.