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Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Knicks, Nets rivalry is deep-rooted

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The NBA held a news conference on Wednesday to announce the All-Star Game coming back to New York in 2015.

But the presser designed to highlight the union between the Knicks and Nets as co-hosts of the NBA's marquee weekend also ended up promoting the real reason why New York City should be excited about NBA basketball.

Bruce Ratner, Michael Bloomberg, David Stern, James Dolan
James Dolan, far right, said he's looking forward to giving the rivalry a rest -- at lest for a little while.

The rivalry between the Knicks and Nets is growing and it's not just felt at the player level. Management from both sides made it clear on Wednesday that the Knicks and Nets rivalry is on their minds as well.

While executives from both teams lobbed compliments toward one another on their All-Star union, the event felt awkward and at times uncomfortable. In between all the thank-yous and praise, the Knicks and Nets couldn't stop mentioning how they needed to put aside their differences and let their rivalry rest for at least one weekend in 2015.

"To our friends in Brooklyn," Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said, "like so many other times when New Yorkers put their differences aside for something bigger, we are looking forward to giving our rivalry a rest, for a little bit, to ensure that we deliver the very best All-Star experience the league has ever held."

There was no trash talking at the event as Paul Pierce and J.R. Smith were not present. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who was once featured on a billboard in the shadow of Madison Square Garden with then part-owner Jay-Z, also was not present at the news conference.

It's too bad, because seeing Prokhorov and Dolan on a stage together would've been a treat. The two owners recently met for lunch in what was reported by the New York Post as a meeting brokered by Commissioner David Stern to cool tensions between the two owners.

"You know, this whole thing is totally blown out of proportion," said Irina Pavlova, president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment and Prokhorov's representative. "They are two owners of two New York teams that never actually sat down and talked before. So they got together, they had lunch, they talked, it wasn't like there was a hatchet to be buried or anything."

When asked what he got out of the meeting, Dolan cracked, "free lunch."

There's been a turf war of sorts ever since Prokhorov and the Nets moved to Brooklyn. Both teams and both venues want to be the best in New York. And nobody on either side wants their lunch handed to them.

At one point during the news conference, Pavlova said the Nets were "looking forward to putting our differences aside as Mr. Dolan said, for a little bit, rolling up our sleeves and truly making this a showcase event for a wonderful city."

Then Pavlova spoke in Russian to the audience and cameras before giving way to Hank Ratner, Garden president and CEO. Ratner joked, "[That] was all nice stuff right?"

The Nets certainly have no problem talking about the Knicks in plain English. They seem to relish the talk and attention as the fun-loving Prokhorov has the kind of personality that feeds into the rivalry.

"It is rivalry," Pavlova said when asked about Prokhorov having fun. "It is all in jest, it's fun. But I think it makes it more exciting [than] if we were just sitting around doing kumbaya ... it wouldn't be that much fun for anyone."

The Nets increased their profile as title contenders over the summer by trading for Pierce and Kevin Garnett in addition to hiring Jason Kidd as head coach. And certainly all the Nets' talk about running New York has to be a nuisance to the Knicks, who have always been the kings of the metropolitan area and never had to worry about their popularity even when the Nets were in New Jersey and Kidd was leading them to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances.

"I think it changed once you got across the river," Kidd said of the rivalry. "No matter if the teams are bad or if the teams are good. It's not that far, but the river makes a big difference. Being in Brooklyn, you've got two teams here. I think it's great for the city."

The Nets still have to win to overtake the city from the Knicks.

But if the All-Star news conference is any indication, this NBA season will be an incredibly entertaining and perhaps tense one in New York. The Knicks-Nets rivalry appears to be on the verge of blowing up starting next month.

"New York is used to rivalries," Dolan said. "We've seen quite a few of them in our day, maybe the most famous is, you know, Brooklyn versus the Yankees, and the Rangers versus Islanders and the Devils. They are nothing but good and fun for the fans, great for business, and I think they push the teams that are involved to even greater heights athletically.

"So it's a good thing. ... And the All Star Game is just, you know, we take a time out from the rhetoric and promote basketball and a great game. And we'll do a great job together."