'Fugazy'-free: Knicks-Nets a real rivalry from now on

Yankees-Mets. Islanders-Rangers. Rangers-Devils. Giants-Jets.

Each of the above-mentioned local pro sports rivalries conjure memories of iconic moments, be it the Yanks and Mets colliding in the 2000 Subway Series, the Islanders and Rangers bloodying the ice during the Stanley Cup playoffs throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s or the Blueshirts and Devils staging two very memorable Eastern Conference finals, including one earlier this year that saw New Jersey stun the Rangers en route to the Finals.

Even the Jets and Giants, who spent most of the past four decades peacefully co-existing in the same stadium, no less saw their rivalry intensify to a fever pitch last winter, thanks in most part to the trash-talking of Jets coach Rex Ryan, who was burnt badly by Victor Cruz's memorable 90-yard touchdown sprint on Christmas Eve, a play that ultimately spurred Big Blue to its latest Super Bowl title in February.

As far as the Knicks and Nets go, however, area fans are still waiting for something to gnash their teeth on in terms of a genuine rivalry.

Historically, the Nets have always played little brother to their NBA brethren at Madison Square Garden, even when they swept the Knicks during the last playoff series between the franchises back in 2004. The then-Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets, having reached the NBA Finals in each of the previous two years, swept New York in four easy games that spring before being knocked off by Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

That not-so-memorable, non-competitive series did, however, give us the immortal phrase, "Fugazy tough guy," which is what Knicks forward Tim Thomas called the Nets' Kenyon Martin following a Game 2 loss to New Jersey in East Rutherford.

The teams also met in the playoffs in 1983 (the Knicks swept 2-0) and 1994 (the Knicks won 3-1 en route to the NBA Finals). But neither of those series featured anything resembling a defining moment for New York sports fans.

That all promises to change come this November, when the new-look Nets, bolstered by arguably the best starting five at least on paper in franchise history, move into their sparkling new digs in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.

In other words, this isn't going to be a Fugazy rivalry anymore.

Brooklyn-born Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, currently teamed with Nets guard Deron Williams on the U.S. Olympic squad, is looking forward to proving who's the best team in the city come November. AP Photo.At least that's what NBA commissioner David Stern is hoping for as the so-called East River rivalry begins anew, and hopefully more intense chapter, in four short months.

“I am hoping, for more sparks, a few verbal, some build up,” Stern noted prior to last month's NBA Draft. “We are going to have two spectacular new buildings in New York City [the renovated MSG and the Barclays Center], and we are going to have two very aggressively managed teams.

"I think there’s going to be a real conversation, and there are lots of baseball fans that see the Brooklyn Nets as a legitimate successor to the Brooklyn Dodgers. I think that we are going to have a great rivalry."

Of course, the off-the-court duel is already in full effect, be it billionaire Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's well-chronicled Battle of the Billboards with Knicks owner James Dolan in the fall of 2010, the Knicks swiping Carmelo Anthony from under the Nets' noses the season before last or Brooklyn's $330 million spending spree this offseason, which thrust them into pole position as the best team in the five boroughs.

During last Friday's Downtown Backcourt Bash to herald the return of All-Star point guard Deron Williams and the acquisition of All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson, the Brooklyn side took what sounded like the first swipe at their intracity rivals.

"The Nets [are the best team in New York]," insisted Johnson. "Definitely, the Nets."

The Brooklyn-born Anthony, currently joining forces with Williams to help Team USA bring home gold at the upcoming London Olympics, was quick to respond.

"I hear they're talking trash, but we'll be ready for the challenge," Anthony said during the U.S. Team's visit to Washington, D.C. for a pre-Olympics exhibition game against Brazil earlier this week. "I haven't looked at the schedule, but when that game happens, we will be ready."

The schedule isn't out yet, so we don't know exactly when the Nets and Knicks will hit the hardwood for the first time as inhabitants of the same city.

But it's coming.

When asked during Wednesday's press conference at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott whether his team was ready to stake its claim as the New Kings of New York City Basketball, Nets coach Avery Johnson carefully side-stepped the issue.

“For us, we’ve been down for a while," Johnson humbly admitted, citing the Nets' streak of five consecutive non-playoff seasons, including a 22-44 last-place finish in 2011-12. "We started this project of trying to resurrect this team two years ago in 2010. It’s been a lot of hard work. It started with the trade for Deron, obviously we tried to make a lot of other moves to upgrade our roster. We’re aware of what goes on with every team. For us, we’re steadily trying to become the best team in the NBA, and not just the best team in the city."

Knicks management has remained mum on the matter thus far, but there's no doubt Dolan and his management team are quietly simmering over the Nets' headline-grabbing summer spending spree and the fact that they will have a state-of-the-art arena and potential new fan base to compete against for the foreseeable future.

By placing this billboard outside of Madison Square Garden in October 2010, Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov began what is developing into a heated off-the-court rivalry with the Knicks, which will intensify once the teams begin to compete on the court this coming season.When Prokhorov was bold enough to buy a billboard outside the Garden two years ago, proclaming the Nets' Blueprint for Greatness, the Knicks responded with a TV promo claiming, "Hey Nets. You can walk like us, you can talk like us, but you ain't never gonna be like us."

The third-place finisher in this year's Russian Presidential elections cheekily responded with: "I don't think we want to be like the Knicks. I think we'd more like to resemble the Lakers."

Thus far, Knicks-Nets 2.0 has been all about a war of words, offseason moves and ad campaigns. Beginning this coming fall, talk will be cheap and the matter of who owns the basketball soul of this city will genuinely be up for grabs like an opening tip.

For the first time in a long time, and maybe in forever, Knicks-Nets will mean much more than just another night on the 82-game regular-season slate.

And that's no Fugazy.