Can the Nets truly ‘run this town?’ That’s what New York City NBA fans and spooked top-tier management of the borough-rival Knicks, albeit for far different reasons, have to be wondering after Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace all stamped their tickets for Brooklyn last week and perennial all-star center Dwight Howard has doggedly continued to express his immense interest in securing similar lodging.
With minority team investor and Brooklyn native Jay-Z almost as intent on making a splash in his home borough as new Russian billionaire owner Mikail Prokhorov seems on doing stateside, the Knicks’ seemingly eternal, vice-grip hold on NYC hoops supremacy may finally be in danger of eroding.
Not since the days of Julius Erving bolting the ABA as the headline attraction of the newly NBA formed New York Nets nearly four decades ago has the Knicks stranglehold on NYC fandom ever appeared more in peril. That revolutionary-styled faceoff never truly came to be as Erving, following a prolonged salary dispute, was shipped to Philadelphia before ever so much as donning the Nets’ blue and white. And perhaps that will again be the bottom line case this time around, provided Howard doesn’t somehow prove successful in brokering his way out of Orlando.
And yet, the mere fact that so many NBA stars, none more so than the hyper-sensitive Howard, would even have New York so clearly on the brain and the Knicks essentially nowhere in the equation, speaks volumes about a potential changing of the guard.
“I’m not really in the mood for being part of a rebuilding process,” Williams said of Jersey’s seemingly overnight transformation. “I’m getting older, I want to win and I want to win now. I want to go to a place where I feel like they have a chance to build and build fast.”
Though Williams’ and crew all seem to have internalized that NYC largely remains a populous that still bleeds Knicks’ orange and blue, most agree the climate has never been more ripe for a cultural takeover of a domain none other than former Knicks legend Phil Jackson now labels as “clumsy” despite a roster that boasts the star-studded likes of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
“As long as the Nets were in Jersey, the Knicks could treat them like they were headquartered somewhere in Wyoming,” observed a top league executive now regularly engaged in tracking all the machinations.
“Now it’s like the Nets just moved into the Knicks’ attic,” he said, adding that on the day Williams resigned their Barclays Center home arena sold more than 500 new season ticket packages worth well into the seven figures and in the hours after the team officially rebranded itself under its Brooklyn moniker the franchise sold more team merchandise than the Jersey version of it sold throughout the entire 2011-12 season.
In addition, Forbes Magazine reports Barclays is paying $200 million over 20 years for naming rights, which is the richest arena rights deal in the U.S. Not even the Knicks’ world famous Madison Square Garden shrine, billed as the world’s most famous arena, can boast of such a sweet deal despite the team netting league-high profits of $75 million annually, selling out the overriding majority of all of its games over the last two decades and benefiting from a ticket price scale that averages roughly $500,000 a year for luxury suites and $3,000 a game for courtside seats.
So momentous now seems the Brooklyn rally that even if Howard isn’t able to commander his way to town, the numbers may yet add up for the Nets. In Brook Lopez, Brooklyn has a center currently on its roster current who averaged better than 20 points per a night just two seasons ago and will be desperate this year to prove to all he has fully recovered from a slew of injuries that limited him to only a handful of games just last season.
“In Jersey, they were outsiders looking in,” said Brooklyn-born-and-bred legend and NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin. “When you’re in the city, you’re a destination. The climate is different than when we were kids. When we grew up rooting for the Knicks, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed were on the team for 10 years. Now it’s different — a lot more turnover, guys come and go. Especially with young fans, one or two new players can change everything.”
Glenn Minnis is a veteran sports and culture writer who has contributed to the likes of ESPN, Vibe and the NFL Magazine. He has also been on staff at AOL Sports, the Chicago Tribune and was the founding sports editor for 360HipHop.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.