Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
BROOKLYN — Across the long, long history of sports rivalries, there may never have been a case where one player enjoyed the chants of the opposing team’s fans the way Carmelo Anthony did on Monday night.
Melo grew up in the nearby Red Hook Houses and so the chants of “Brook-lyn, Brook-lyn” during the Nets’ 96-89 overtime victory over the Knicks at Barclays Center didn’t bother him the way chants of “Yank-ees suck” or “A-Rod sucks” might have bothered, say, Alex Rodriguez at Fenway Park.
“It felt good,” Anthony said of the chants that occurred during a game in which he scored a game-high 35 points to go with 13 rebounds but missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation. “Just as a Brooklyn guy, it felt good to hear that.”
Anthony wasn’t alive in 1957 but it had been that long ago since two New York pro franchises met — the last time being when the Brooklyn Dodgers played the New York Giants on Sept. 8, 1957 at the Polo Grounds.
Even though this was game No. 13 in late November for both teams, it had the feel of a playoff atmosphere in April or May. A capacity crowd — split perhaps 60/40 in favor of the Nets — filled the Barclays Center for a makeup of a game postponed from Nov. 1 by Hurricane Sandy.
Jay-Z and Beyonce sat courtside, as did several members of the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” Anthony said of the atmosphere. “To step back from this and take my Knicks’ uniform off and just be a Brooklyn kid once again, just to see that and be a part of that atmosphere, there’s nothing like it over here.”
Despite his Brooklyn roots and the fact that he could well have ended up a Net had he been traded there from the Denver Nuggets in 2011, Anthony had a legitimate shot to win the game for the Knicks at the end of regulation.
With the game tied at 84, he missed a 16-foot jumper with 4.9 seconds left that would have helped further cement his reputation as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Indeed, the Knicks fans who either live in Brooklyn or took the subway to the game chanted, “MVP, MVP” at various points in the game.
“That’s the look I wanted,” Anthony said. “I’ll take that shot all day. I got a perfect look at it. I missed that one, but that’s the look I wanted.”
In the overtime, it was too much Deron Williams, too much Jerry Stackhouse, too much Brook Lopez and too much Gerald Wallace as the Nets outscored the Knicks, 12-5.
Still, it was clear that something special started on this night.
A rivalry bloomed in Brooklyn.
“Why not?” Anthony said. “They’re across the bridge. They’re here in Brooklyn. we’re in the city. We in the same division, see them four times a year. I guess you could say that started something.”
All you had to to was ask 38-year-old Knicks veteran Marcus Camby if Knicks-Nets even begins to approach the intensity of Knicks-Heat, Knicks-Pacers or Knicks-Celtics in the 1990s to know that this rivalry has a long way to go.
It wasn’t exactly Jeff Van Gundy hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg.
“I just think with Brooklyn being so close to the Garden, people, they want it to be a rivalry,” Camby said in a corner of the Knicks locker room.
“But those Miami-Knick battles back in the days, you knew that was a rivalry because you had all the hoopla that surrounded Pat Riley was once the Knick coach, now he moves down to Miami, and all that buildup and stuff and all the great series were a part of those two organizations.”
But there’s no denying the energy, passion and intensity of this game eclipsed that of a normal NBA game in November.
Camby knows that something special may have begun on this night.
“I can see years and years to come, I can see the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks having that rivalry as we go down,” Camby said. “But it’s only one game today. We see that team a couple more times but I definitely can see a budding rivalry.”
The teams will meet again Dec. 11 in Brooklyn and then Dec. 19 and Jan. 21 at the Garden.
“You can’t lose the division tonight and you can’t win it,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said before the game. “It’s been brought up enough where it has our attention, but the main thing is, we’re not gonna have a parade and we have to get on the plane and go to Boston [Tuesday] and play.”
Still, at this point, this is the latest the Knicks and Nets have been tied for first place since Nov. 30, 1997, when both teams were 10-5.
“The atmosphere out there tonight it was crazy and the fans were excited,” Camby said. “I’m anxious to see how the crowd reacts when they come to the Garden, see if they have any fans in the Garden.”
Don’t bet on it being anywhere near a 60/40 split when the teams meet at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue.
Looking ahead, these teams have to be tested under playoff conditions in the spring for this thing to become a full-blown rivalry.
But something bloomed here tonight in Brooklyn.
And if New York City fans are lucky, they got a glimpse of something special coming down the road.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.