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Julius Erving sees Nets taking over New York City ... just not Manhattan

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

After a false start in the early 1970's and a long history of Knicks dominance, at least in attendance, the Nets will be able to compete with their Manhattan brethren, but only in the outer boroughs, says Julius Erving. And that's fine.

"Nothing is going to replace the Knicks as Manhattan’s team," Erving said in an interview with Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. "But in terms of New York City, Brooklyn is formidable. There’s more people in Brooklyn than Manhattan. It’s the biggest borough. … So if they have a championship team there, they are definitely a threat to the popularity of the Knicks."

So he says the rivalry is real, thanks to the Nets' off-season moves. "They’ve done a lot of things right, and it’s going to be fun to watch."

Dr. J remembers the early days of the rivalry when the Nets were winning in Nassau Coliseum and the Knicks at the Garden and how in preseason of 1973, the right after Knicks last championship and the Nets first, the two battled before a sell-out crowd at the Garden. The Nets won, 98-87, As Erving recalls in his autobiography, it was a "notice to New York basketball fans that there are two championship contenders in town."

As we reported last year, in pre-season exhibitions in 1973 and 1975, the Nets beat the Knicks all three times the two teams played. Was that the reason that the Knicks demanded a $4.8 million "entry fee" from the Nets on top of the $3.2 million the league required? Did they know the fee would strangle the Nets, require them to undertake a massive cost-cutting, which ultimately included the sale of Dr. Jr. to the 76ers? Ya think?

Whatever. That was then, this is now. Dr. J says he's rooting for the Nets in their rivalry with the Knicks. "That’s my old franchise, my old team," he said. (He's restricted beyond that, having been hired as a "strategic adviser" by the Sixers.)

He may be back next year, the 40th anniversary of the Nets' first championship. "One of these days, they're going to invite me back to the arena and I’m going to accept," Erving said, "and we’re going to have a grand old time."