The Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes may have sparked a rivalry between the Knicks and the Nets.
It's still more than a year before basketball's Nets forsake New Jersey for their new $1 billion home in Brooklyn. But sports fans are already noticing signs of a crosstown rivalry with the New York Knicks that they hope could echo the halcyon days when the Brooklyn Dodgers perennially battled the New York Giants for baseball's National League pennant.
The Nets and the Knicks will be hard-pressed to match the intensity of that rivalry, though there are glimpses of what's to come. The Knicks won last month's bidding war for Brooklyn-born superstar Carmelo Anthony — but not before Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov drove up the price during negotiations.
Fans of the two teams taunted one another last year with in-your-face billboards near each other's arenas. And on Thursday, Knicks star Amare Stoudemire helped New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dedicate a basketball court just blocks from the Nets' future Brooklyn home.
Nets boosters are already tapping into Dodgers nostalgia — and Knicks fans are responding with dismissiveness.
"I live in Brooklyn. But I ain't gonna be a Nets fan," insisted 16-year-old Sam Adams, sporting a No. 7 Carmelo Anthony jersey while heading into a Knicks game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. "I don't think a lot of people are going to be Brooklyn Nets fans, because honestly, this is the original team of New York."
Several New York rivalries succeeded Dodgers-Giants, of course, but only the Yankees and Mets share the city. They play each other six times a year and their fans enjoy bashing each other on talk radio, but they're in different leagues. The Giants and Jets share a stadium, but it's in New Jersey and they rarely play each other. The Rangers play hockey at the Garden, but their closest rivals are in New Jersey and on Long Island.
The Nets will begin their 2012-2013 season at the new arena, called Barclays Center. The teams are in the same division and will play each other frequently, just as the Dodgers and Giants did.
But for a rivalry to mean anything, both teams would have to be competitive, which the Nets in particular have struggled with in recent years.
"The Nets are going to have to start becoming a viable team," said Joe Benigno, a radio host on the all-sports WFAN. "Once they finally get into Brooklyn there will be a buzz for the Nets. That won't last if the team isn't good."
Asked about a potential rivalry, the Knicks released a statement that condescended to the Nets and Brooklyn without mentioning either by name.
"While we always respect any competition, the Garden will always be the Garden," said Barry Watkins, a spokesman for the Knicks and their home, Madison Square Garden. "Madison Square Garden is located in the heart of New York City, sitting on top of the busiest transportation hub in the nation. The Garden hosts over 400 events annually and has been a destination for New Yorkers and visitors to the city for over 130 years."
The current Madison Square Garden actually opened in 1968. It is the fourth New York City arena to bear that name.
Brooklyn's population of 2.5 million is the largest of New York City's five boroughs, and is home to $3 million condos and four-star restaurants. If it were an independent city it would be the fourth-largest in the nation, bigger than Houston, Phoenix or Philadelphia.
But it has not had a big-league sports team since the Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles after the 1957 season, breaking hearts from Brooklyn Heights to Bay Ridge.
At last year's groundbreaking for the new Nets arena, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz spoke of "what began for me as a dream of bringing a major league sports team back to Brooklyn for the first time since our beloved Brooklyn Bums skipped town when I was just a boy."
The Giants and Dodgers boasted larger-than-life figures like Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball with the Dodgers, and Leo Durocher, the hot-tempered manager of the Dodgers and then the Giants.
"Dodger fans hated the Giants," said Dominic Schiavo, 68, who attended games at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field as a youngster. "To the core we hated them. The rivalry was unbelievable."
David Schacker, 72, agreed.
"I hated everything about the Giants," he said. "I hated their uniforms, I hated their ballpark, I hated their announcer and I hated Channel 11 for televising their games."
The teams hated each other as much as the fans did, said author Roger Kahn, who wrote "The Boys of Summer" about the Dodgers and covered both teams as a young sportswriter.
Kahn recounted a conversation he had with the Giants' Bobby Thomson, whose season-ending home run beat the Dodgers in 1951 and was known as the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," before Thomson's death last August.
Kahn said Thomson told him, "Durocher told me every day the Dodgers are not just your rivals, they are bad people. If you went to a party those guys would jump your wife."
The Nets and Knicks have exhibited no similar animosity, though the Russian billionaire Prokhorov vowed to "turn Knicks fans into Nets fans" after buying the Nets in May.
Nets CEO Brett Yormark was more diplomatic in a telephone interview from London, where the Nets are playing the Toronto Raptors on Friday and Saturday.
"What's good for basketball would be that both the Nets and Knicks are very good teams, which would hopefully create a great rivalry," he said.
The Nets' campaign to build a fan base has been hampered by a drawn-out battle between neighborhood residents and developer Bruce Ratner over the 22-acre Atlantic Yards development, anchored by the Barclays Center. Many Brooklyn residents opposed the project's scale and the use of eminent domain to clear the land.
Eric McClure, a spokesman for the group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, said, "I used to root for the Nets until they announced that they were going to be taking people's homes to build a taxpayer-subsidized basketball arena."
But some Knicks fans say they may switch their allegiance once the Nets are in Brooklyn.
Michael Shapiro, the author of another book about the Dodgers, "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together," said the Nets' move to Brooklyn means "the cosmic scale has swung."
"It's going to be really hard for me to root against a Brooklyn team," he said. "Call me in two years."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press. The AP's Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y., contributed to this report.