Friday Conversation: Little Brother Franchises

Today I received a rather innocent email from Tim. That innocent email spawned a rather interesting conversation between Tim, Lamont, and I about the status of the four New York and Los Angeles franchises. Here is that conversation, unedited.

Lakers/Knicks v. Clippers/Nets

Tim: You guys been chewing on that subject at all?

Like, how two of the league’s marquee franchises in two of the biggest media markets in the world have very clearly lost cache and perhaps market share to the little brother franchise that has historically underperformed?

Will be an interesting storyline to follow for the next 2-3 years.

Chris: I really haven’t thought much about it. The Knicks didn’t have any cache to lose in the first place. That franchise has been absolutely woeful the last 15 years, and the Nets have been more successful during that span (more playoff wins and Finals appearances). The difference now is that the Nets have more money to spend on marketing.

As for the Clippers, well, they’re still owned by Donald Sterling. Even though they did better than the Lakers in acquiring a “franchise” player (quotes because I’m not sure Howard can be considered that anymore, much in the same way Anthony can’t, and because for all the adoration Paul gets, he’s still only had one decent playoff run), it’s going to take a helluva lot more to dig out of the hole Sterling puts them in. Jim Buss may be an idiot, but he’s no Sterling.

Lamont: It will be interesting in LA more so than in NYC. As Chris said, the Knicks haven’t been all that good since Jeff Van Gundy was holding onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg. Yes, I’m including the ’99 season when they made the Finals in that statement. I’m not sure how much big brother/little brother they had going on with the Nets, but I’d the two are on equal footing right now. The Nets have new ownership and appear to be doing business the way the Knicks did a decade ago. I’m more interested in seeing if the Nets can build a legitimate fan base as opposed to “stepping out of the shadow” of the Knicks. Call me skeptical, but I’m still not convinced anyone in Flatbush was rooting for them before last season.

On the San Andreas, things have flipped to a certain extent. The Lakers are a team in flux, a place nobody is used to seeing them in. It’s also a place where, historically, they don’t stay for long. They’re not going to be very good next season and the elephant in the room is what they plan to do with Kobe in a year. For all the flack that Jim Buss has taken, the only real mistake he’s made has been at head coach (and I’ve been one who’s defending the hiring of both Mike’s). A year from now, they’ll have cap space and a huge decision about Kobe.

The Clippers aren’t a laughingstock anymore and that’s saying a lot. They’re relevant in spite of Sterling not because of him. They’re relevant because they were fortunate in the draft (Blake Griffin) and because of David Stern’s basketball reasons (Chris Paul). They’ve made all the right moves in the past few weeks and their future is bright. It feels weird typing “Clippers” and “bright future” in the same sentence. That being said, they need at least one deep playoff run in the next 3 seasons (when Doc Rivers’ contract is up) to solidify themselves. Otherwise Sterling goes back to being Sterling.

Tim: While I generally agree with you guys about the notion of the Knicks being an underperforming franchise (recently and historically)…they’re still the New York Knicks and they still play in Madison Square Garden. Before Jay-Z happened, no one cared that the Nets went to the Finals twice with Jason Kidd. And they certainly didn’t care about those brief flirtations in the 80s/90s with the likes of Michael Ray Richardson, Kenny Anderson, Drazen and Derick Coleman. The Nets have never been as maliciously mismanaged as the Clippers, but they’ve always been very much overshadowed by their neighbor in Manhattan the way the Clippers have been overshadowed by the team that actually wins things.

To defend the Knicks most simply: Kenny Anderson, Mark Jackson, Ron Artest, Carmelo Anthony, Elton Brand, Stephon Marbury all had some childhood connection to some part of the NYC area and not one of them ever said they dreamed of playing for the Nets. That’s cache.

Chris: Maybe this is my west coast bias, but I’ve never considered New York basketball as Knicks/Nets. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that they were the NEW JERSEY Nets for so long. I know it’s the same metro, but I’ve never really paired the two clubs. It’s not like Giants/Jets, or Yanks/Mets, or even Rangers/Islanders. It’s more like…Kings/Ducks…but even then those teams are at least in the same state.

And that measurement of cache seems off to me. Again, my west coast bias, but if some kids from New York wanted to play for the only NBA franchise in New York, that makes sense because New Yorkers have never claimed Jersey. And that’s bigger than basketball.

So maybe the issue here is much more about New Jersey always looking up to New York, than it is about Nets v. Knicks.

Tim: This is really interesting. What I’m hearing in your west coast bias is actually an undervaluing of what it means to be in a tri-state area.

You’re right. New Yorkers are very specific. They don’t even really claim Staten Island. And that’s one of the actual 5 boroughs. But when you zoom out to understand how people in a region feel about what qualifies as the center of the place they live…particularly where pro sports are concerned…the significance of the Knicks can be better understood. You’re not just talking about kids in Harlem or Bed Stuy. You’re also talking about kids in New Haven, CT and kids in Newark, NJ. Granted, some folks from northern NJ have a certain chip on their shoulder about being from NJ and could give a shit about NYC. But they’re still getting media from New York. And they’re still inundated with Knicks stuff. Which they would have been true back when the Nets played in the Meadowlands. (Related: people from south Jersey don’t really have that same chip. Philly doesn’t seem to be seen as something to flip a middle finger to.)

Conversely, maybe the kids in Harlem weren’t thinking so much about the Meadowlands-based (or even Newark-based) New Jersey Nets what with Madison Square Garden being 90 blocks away. But what do those same kids think now that the Brooklyn Nets are merely a different stop rather than a PATH train ride away? That was really the crux of my original question.

Your point re: the recent tradition of New Yorkers not connecting with the New Jerseyness of the Nets is a strong one. But it’s not a thing anymore. What happens now? And what happens next? Especially where those kids in New Haven, CT are concerned. Like, their parents might have been Brooklyn hipsters who moved to Connecticut for more space and cheaper real estate. Would those people take you to Brooklyn to see an NBA game? Or Manhattan? How will allegiances be drawn in the future?

That’s the stuff I think will be fascinating.

As for the Clippers…I hope they never win a championship. Feels like Sterling has finally opened up his wallet ’cause David Stern invited him to dance on Jerry Buss’ grave. And that’s just fucking awful.

Chris: Well Prokorov is spending an awful lot of money to get those fans, so it will be interesting to see how young Brooklynites form their allegiances. The only comparison I can make here is when the Raiders moved to LA. Tons of Angelinos are now Raider fans, but at my age I can only guess at the reason: the Raiders won in LA immediately. Winning brought fans, even though the Rams had been embedded in LA for decades.

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