I have always hated the Nets. I grew up a Knicks fan in New Jersey, where most of my friends didn't care about the NBA, but the ones who did abandoned New York for the superior local team by the turn of the millennium. This only stoked my hatred. I hated the Nets from the days of Kerry Kittles and Jayson Williams to the brief Stephon Marbury era to the contending years with Jason Kidd to the awful-but-still-more-than-capable-of-beating-the-Knicks final years in the Meadowlands. And when the Nets moved to Brooklyn and got a new look and a competitive roster, I continued to hate them. And when they annexed the most abhorrent part of the Celtics roster, then snatched Kidd straight out of the Knicks locker room to coach the team, my hatred only intensified. I've hated Kaniel Dickens and Deron Williams alike. I hate the Nets as much as one can hate an artificial collection of complete strangers.
This year, I kinda hate my Knicks, too, and it goes beyond the usual discomfort one feels rooting for James Dolan's plaything. It's a different kind of hatred. I love the Knicks in a deep and irrevocable kind of way, as if they were my family. This year, I love the family even though everyone from the petulant godfather to the clumsy, bickering cousins has made plainly awful decisions and suffered repeated public embarrassment. Ownership meddled with the front office and roster, and now Mike Woodson is leading that roster toward repeated demise with decisions that defy every positive trend established last season. And the roster is helping him out by negating any semblance of team defense and missing scores of open shots. I love them in spite of all the above, and I hate that.
In fact, my happiest NBA-watching experiences this season have all been on the YES Network. I watch all the Nets games now. Because I hate them, and because they reward my hatred. Because between viewings of my own team's cankerous roster getting miscoached into oblivion, it's rather refreshing to watch their equally bloated rival suffer the same fate. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce haven't held up, and it's contagious. Kidd is already flailing for solutions, and he just looks uncomfortable in a suit. And it pleases me. It sustains me. I watch every game and read the blogs and quotes more closely than ever, like a diehard fan, only opposite. I've become a diehard hater.
I've heard from numerous Knicks fans who've taken to the same practice, and I hope Nets fans are returning the favor for their own benefit. The hate heals. And now, as the teams' first meeting of the season occupies the top half of the Thursday night TNT bill, we get to share our respective overpaid, overwrought abscesses on this fine city with all of you.
Come hate with us. I can tell you're ready. Knicks-Nets has already been dubbed "The Toilet Bowl" (which was also what my middle school gym teacher called the consolation game in our field hockey unit. That was mean). Beckley Mason wrote a typically excellent article that boils down to "holy shit, THIS is on national television?". Steve Kerr, who will call the game and would typically be compelled to promote it, is openly hatin' on Twitter.
Hate. Everybody's gonna be doing it. Your team -- your life-- is imperfect, but at least you don't have woeful mismanagement trickling down from a mad owner to an embattled coach to a misfitting, injury-ravaged bunch of players in the league's most undeservedly proud and high-pressure market. These two rich, powerful organizations were built up to be this year's greatest rivals. Instead, we have a loathsome match-up of dysfunction and disrepair that ought to be swept under a rug, but will still demand the nation's attention.
So, tonight is the Player Haters Ball. Bring all your hate for two teams that deserve it. After all, what can you say about the Knicks and Nets that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan? They looked bombed out and depleted.