It was quite the week for New York basketball. The Nets, after a slow start in Game 1, put on a clinic Tuesday night at Barclays Center. The Knicks finally won their first playoff game 2013 on Wednesday at the Garden with their fans chanting that they want the Nets. (They’re not within spitting distance, so to speak.) And Joe Tsai’s other team, the Liberty, have the best record in the WNBA.
It’s been a busy time for tabloid headline writers ... and for those who change the courts at Barclays Center, home of the Nets and Liberty.
So what does it mean? With COVID on the wane and pent-up emotions are on the rise, it’s hard to imagine a better time for New York basketball. The Nets are the odds-on favorite to win it all with its “Big Three,” the Knicks resurgent after nearly a decade in the doldrums and worse and the Liberty back within city limits after being exiled to Westchester in 2017.
Matt Fortuna, writing for The Athletic, says this of the time we’re living in...
New York is not the birthplace of the sport; it just often seems that way. And never before has the city’s basketball soul kicked into overdrive quite as it has right now.
It’s not called The City Game for nothing! Even The New Yorker took note, with a cover in April with a great perspective...
This week’s cover, “Hoop Dreams in New York,” by @MarkUlriksenArt. https://t.co/LTa721UE21 pic.twitter.com/m9DcrLM6Mx— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) May 3, 2021
Although James Harden thought it needed some editing...
May 4, 2021
Putting aside the stories about fan excitement (and in the case of MSG, fan expectorate), there are encouraging numbers, particularly with the two NBA teams, re the city’s healing from the pandemic. As we noted this morning...
Four games, two venues in New York: 60,466 fans, with more than 92 percent sitting in vaccinated sections of Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden. 82.2 percent capacity for Barclays, 79.0 percent capacity for MSG. Numbers of both fans and vaccinated jumped from first game to last. And all were “pandemic” sellouts.
Despite the Nets success on the court, in the stands — crowds so loud players had to adjust, in merchandise sales and on national and local television, the narrative —indeed the talking point— is that the Nets national success doesn’t translate locally. (The newest talking point, by the way, is that Nets “Big Three” aren’t likeable. Whatever.)
Maybe the Knicks are big winners. You know, “been down so long looks like up to me.” But chants of “F Brooklyn” and “F Durant” are a pretty good indicator that Knicks fans are far from dismissive of the Nets. They’re actually —surprisingly— obsessed.
There’s NO doubt that New York’s WNBA team is a big winner. After two years at the 90-year-old Westchester Center and the stringent rules of the “wubble” in Bradenton last year, Brooklyn is their home. They are Tsai’s first team. He bought control of them before he bought control of the Nets and he’s backing their resurgence big time.
Sabrina Ionescu is a big star which isn’t surprising. Betnijah Laney is big too which is a bit of a surprise. In less than 10 games with the Liberty, Ionescu has had a 33-point game, a buzzer beater and a triple double. Laney (22.7 points a game) is the fourth highest scorer in the WNBA. The three players above her are all established scorers and stars in the WNBA.
The resurgence at the pro level is being reflected and enhanced at college, high school and AAU levels as well as the hundreds of courts around the city populated by kids of all ages, who mimic Durant, Irving, Harden or Julius Randle.
Nets fans may not want to hear it but Tsai and his CEO, John Abbamondi, have noted both publicly and in private discussions with fans that having two (or three) good teams in New York is good for business, good for the sport. Casual fans become rabid and rabid fans become ... institutionalized?
Whoever advances the farthest will come away with the bragging rights. For the Nets, those bragging rights better come with a trophy and a parade. That’s why the New York resurgence falls mostly on their shoulders. The Knicks season is already a rousing success. Similarly, the Liberty can walk away later this summer feeling great no matter what happens. They’ve already more than doubled last season’s win total, have a new home, a new practice court and new stars.
There will always be reminders of the last year and a half, even for the best ballers. Across from the HSS Training Center in Brooklyn, mobile morgues holding some 700 corpses remain. “Right outside my window,” one staffer told us.
Still, as Fortuna writes, in New York, “Basketball, at last, was the most important of unimportant things in the city.” In a city that has suffered so much for so long, it’s not just important, it’s all GOOD.