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How New York regained its relevance in the basketball world

By Ziyad Jamal

With the NBA just into the second half of the season things are expected to heat up in the race for the playoff spots and MVP race. This can also be a time of reflection for the first half of the campaign. One talking point is how the city of New York has a sense of excitement again in regard to basketball, thanks to the performances of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. If this was any other city perhaps this would not be a big deal, but with New York proposed as the media capital of the world, there is reason to be alerted to this.

Recent years for New York basketball fans have been tough as the Knicks have been in decline for a very lengthy time having not won a championship since 1973. In more recent times, the franchise has been in turmoil on and off the court. They have not played a playoff game since 2013 and have twice in the past seven years finished with a franchise regular season unwanted record of 17-65. Added to that has been the running of the franchise from owner James Dolan, who has been the subject of fierce criticism from many. Dolan has built an unpopular profile due to his treatment of supporters at games as he banned one fan from attending Knicks games for life because he asked Dolan to sell the team.


"NYC: Madison Square Garden - Marquee" by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This season has seen an incredible turnaround for the Knicks as they are currently placed in the Eastern Conference playoff spots. New head coach Tom Thibodeau has brought real energy and tenacity back to the Knicks. Some of their wins this season have included great victories over Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers. Julius Randle has been the star of the show for the Knicks averaging 23.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game this season. Reaching the playoffs and even winning just a single playoff game would bring such joy to Knicks fans due to the lacklustre and disastrous basketball they have had to endure in recent times.

The Knicks’ home, Madison Square Garden, is known as the ‘Mecca of Basketball’ due to its rich history. MSG is the oldest arena in the current NBA with it hosting Knicks games since 1968. Every player wants to have their best game of the season at MSG and there have been some incredible individual displays there with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden all having 50-plus point games as opposition players. This affection of basketball at MSG means it is imperative the Knicks do well as is it remains an integral element of the NBA and fans should go to the arena expecting to be entertained and enjoy the basketball on display.

The Brooklyn Nets, formerly the New Jersey Nets, have never won an NBA championship and whilst they have not been as bad as the Knicks in recent years, they still have not managed to attract more attention than their neighbours. That could change over the coming decades as younger basketball fans growing up in New York will be more attracted to the Nets. Watching superstar players in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden on a nightly basis will appeal hugely to many of the younger generation.

The arrival of Harden this season means he joins an already stacked scoring duo of Irving and Durant, with the latter playing his first season in Brooklyn due to a long-term injury that ruled him out of his entire first year. The Nets look to be one of the main contenders for the championship this year, which is expected given the amazing talent they possess. Their trio of superstars have taken turns in which games they take control of with impressive chemistry being built in a short period of time. This is despite many thinking the addition of Harden would derail the Nets as they would be unbalanced from giving away players in the trade and having too many offensive players on the court would make them a liability on the defensive end. This season Harden is averaging an impressive 25.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 11.2 assists per game, whilst Durant and Irving are averaging 29.0 and 27.6 ppg respectively.

The Nets will face pretty tough competition in winning the Eastern conference as the Joel Embiid-led Philadelphia 76ers are in inspired form this year under the wisdom of new head coach Doc Rivers. Other threats in the East will likely come from the Bucks, who have finished first in the regular season Eastern standings in the past two seasons, and have Giannis Antetokounmpo coming off back-to-back regular season MVP awards. Miami Heat could also pose a threat to the Nets as they have good and recent playoff experience from reaching the NBA Finals last season.

It remains to be seen how both teams get on in the remaining months of the regular season, especially the Knicks as they have disappointed before, but the signs look very promising for New York based basketball. Having a legitimate title-contending team in the Nets and a tough, competitive and hardworking Knicks team that could make the playoffs, means New Yorkers can finally feel good and optimistic about the basketball being played in their city.

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