A disembodied voice in an admonishing tone came out of the speakers to scold the team that the Knicks would face at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. "Hey Nets," the voice said. "You can walk like us, you can talk like us, but you ain't never gonna be like us."
A bit smug for a team that was struggling to get to .500 when they weren't airing commercials, no?
There's been a concerted effort to amp up this rivalry on both sides of the Hudson in the last few months. It hasn't really caught the imaginations of a public that likely wishes the two teams would worry more about getting better than about signage. The Nets put a billboard near Madison Square Garden and the Knicks retaliated by erecting a couple in Brooklyn, come-ons that haven't helped the team on the court but did elicit one of the more hyperbolic responses in the history of hyperbolic responses.
"Putting a billboard up like that so close to the Barclays Center, it’s like putting a mosque near Ground Zero,” said basketball fanatic Chris Tucker of Bedford-Stuyvesant. "I’m up in arms about this."
That's tremendous hustle! Tucker just became the most diehard Nets fan in franchise history. In the unlikely event that it is the same Chris Tucker that was in the "Rush Hour" movies, he should probably be courtside at every Nets game to give them their own balance for Knicks regular Chris Rock.
Tucker's comment is so ridiculous because there isn't another soul in the city who feels this way about the Knicks and Nets. It would be fun if there was some real juice to their games, but Tuesday night won't feel any different than it would if the Knicks were hosting the Bucks. Both teams have far too much to worry about in their own backyard to start worrying about what the neighbors are up to.
If the Knicks win Tuesday, they'll be 10-9 and that's swell because winning records in December haven't been their thing in a long time. But beating the Nets doesn't tell you anything more than you already know about this team's ability to beat up on the lesser lights of the NBA.
As for the Nets, they're 6-11 so winning games is all that matters. There may still be some lingering little brother instinct that makes beating the Knicks seem like a big deal, but serious minds know that they aren't punching up when they face the team from Manhattan any more.
One day, perhaps, they'll both be good enough to actually engage in rivalries of an organic nature. For now, it is manufactured, processed and prepackaged hate that matters only to the guys running the teams.