The New York Knicks have done the impossible and turned the franchise around so quickly that they have become a beloved underdog story in 2021. Given they are owned by James Dolan and reside in the biggest market in the country, that seems unthinkable, yet here we are. They've won nine games in a row by playing fierce defense and getting entirely behind Julius Randle.
Meanwhile, one borough away, the Brooklyn Nets have chugged along to the best record in the Eastern Conference. Despite boasting three of the biggest superstars in the NBA, the Nets haven't been talked about as much as their NYC counterparts because each of those three superstars keeps getting hurt. There's always at least one available, though, and having one of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, or James Harden is good enough to be in the running for a win on any given night. Must be nice.
The fact remains that while the Knicks are a fun story, the Nets are heavyweights with an eye for a title. Even a new version of Randle and improving youngsters like RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley cannot change that. With Durant, Irving, and Harden all under contract for the next two years, that's unlikely to change.
Even with all that in mind, Stephen A. Smith still went on First Take today to ride the euphoria of an exciting Knicks team and declared KD and Kyrie would still come to regret choosing the Nets over the orange and blue.
Before you check for yourself, yes, this video is from this year. It's from today, in fact.
While we can all agree that it's doubtful Durant and Irving regret anything at all after joining Brooklyn and subsequently rocketing to the top of all power rankings following the Harden trade, Stephen A.'s overall points hold a lot of water. If the Nets falter at any point in the playoffs and the Knicks even win a game, all anyone will talk about is how far the Knicks have come. That might still happen even if the Nets sweep their way to the Finals. That's the power, the allure the franchise has earned (rightfully or not) over the last few decades. They are the story in New York, even when they're abjectly awful. When they're average or above, as they are this season, it's the biggest narrative in town.
One potentially interesting angle that the ESPN crew didn't address is how Durant and Irving are as people. They have both made it abundantly clear in different ways at different points throughout their career that basketball would be better if there weren't all the storylines and drama that come with the widespread attention of professional sports. It isn't quite as simple as saying the pair just want to hoop, but it's pretty close.
Playing for the Nets is probably ideal for them. They still have plenty of adoring fans, if they care about that at all. But their every move, every motion isn't under the same microscope as it would be over at Madison Square Garden. It's all relative, obviously, given I'm here writing an article about them. Durant and Irving are still two of the faces of the NBA and will receive due publicity that comes with that. But it just isn't the same if they're playing for Brooklyn instead of the Knicks. Which is probably just how they like it.
Anyway. The banter between Stephen A. and Max Kellerman about who can speak for New York was the funniest segment I've seen on First Take this year, so if anything it's worth watching for that. Stephen A. even pulls out the General Hospital card.