HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In every metropolis boasting a pair of pro teams in the same sport exists an indisputable historical hierarchy.
The Yankees rule the Mets; the Giants squash the A’s; the White Sox won a World Series in the past century, yet the Cubs own Chicago; and Los Angeles will bleed Dodger Blue no matter what name the Angels give themselves. The Jets fall in line behind the Giants and, of course, the Nets bow to the Knicks while the Clippers kiss all those Lakers’ rings.
“They have a great chance to compete for a title,” Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, speaking of the intruding Brooklyn Nets, told reporters at his charity golf event. “But we’re still the marquee team in New York.”
True, and as mentioned above, indisputable.
But… on both coasts, the NBA’s two most valuable franchises are being pressured like never before by their once-laughingstock, suddenly serious neighbors. The billion-dollar Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets’ black-and-white color scheme have proven popular in the borough, while owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets [which could shell out upwards of $70 million in luxury tax alone after next season and could pose significant cap/roster issues down the road] have delivered a team that, on paper, looks to have surpassed the Knicks as title contenders.
One of the Nets’ newest members said Thursday it’s time for the apple to turn in NYC.
“Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it’s grown to another level,” Paul Pierce told ESPN. “I think it’s time for the Nets to start running this city.”
That’s not going to happen, but there’s no doubt the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the Nets with Pierce and Kevin Garnett joining Deron Williams, as well as in L.A. where notoriously cheap owner Donald Sterling has seen the light in his advanced age, and where there’s now a three-to-one superstar ratio favoring the Clippers [Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, coach Doc Rivers] over the Lakers [Kobe Bryant].
If the upstart Nets and Clippers get off to hot starts and the Knicks and Lakers don’t, the establishment will be subject to a changing-of-the-guard, 24/7 news-cycle grilling.
In key measurements of popularity and franchise value, the Nets and Clippers are gaining ground on, if not stealing fans and dollars from, their virtually impenetrable big brothers. In 2012-13 merchandise sales, the Nets, who have long languished in this department, spiked to No. 4 [with help from hipsters taking to the color scheme] behind the Knicks, Lakers and Heat.
The Clippers checked in at No. 8 for a second consecutive season, not coincidentally the two seasons with Paul on board. And it was the Clippers, not the Lakers, joining the Heat as the only two teams with two players [Paul, 9th, and Griffin, 10th] ranked in the top 10 for jersey sales.
Attendance has jumped for both clubs, too. The Nets ranked 30th, 28th and 30th during their final three seasons in New Jersey, drawing barely more than a half-million fans in 2009-10. They ranked 13th last season, their first in Brooklyn, attracting more than 704,000 fans to Barclays [capacity 17,732], nearly 95 percent capacity, compared to the 780,353 that caught the Knicks at typically sold-out MSG [capacity 19,033].
After the Nets acquired Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in the stunning trade with the Boston Celtics and signed Andrei Kirilenko, the club announced almost a month ago it had sold more than $3 million in new full season tickets, bringing it close to burning through its allotment.
At Staples Center, where 16 Lakers championship banners hang, the Clippers officially outdrew their co-tenant in each of the last two seasons, actually playing to more than 100 percent capacity. Capacity at a Clippers game [19,060] is slightly more than a Lakers game [18,997] and the Clippers benefit from two home against the Lakers [both drew more than capacity — 20,179 and 19,768, while both games with the Lakers home games drew the usual Lakers sellout of 18,997].
All in all, the Clippers increased their total attendance by more than 118,000 from 2009-10 and by more than 50,000 from 2010-11, the season before Paul arrived.
It makes for a more valuable franchise. According to Forbes’ January valuation report, the Lakers and Knicks became the NBA’s first two billion-dollar franchises last year with New York valued at $1.1 billion and Brooklyn a close second at $1 billion.
The previously depressed Nets and Clippers made headway. Spiked by the move to Brooklyn, the Nets came in at No. 9, a 48 percent change from the previous year [when it ranked No. 14]. Forbes estimated the Nets’ value jumped from $357 million to $530 million. The Clips’ value increased from $324 million [No. 20] to $430 million [No. 18], a 33 percent change.
While all this won’t threaten the Knicks’ and Lakers’ air-tight thrones, for two long-wallowing and overshadowed franchises, these are rare power moves in a promising, and profitable, direction.