Best: Dueling Knicks, Nets a good thing

Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks and Derrick Favors' Nets may

Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks and Derrick Favors' Nets may be nothing more than playoff hopefuls, but the first signs of a rivalry between the two teams are materializing. (Credit: Getty Images)

It was a verbal warning shot launched across the Hudson, with aftershocks that could echo for years to come. Let's hope so, anyway.

"Hey Nets,'' the man on the MSG Network ad said during the Knicks-Pistons game Sunday. "You can walk like us, you can talk like us, but you ain't never gonna be like us.

"Knicks. Nets. Tuesday, 7:30. MSG.''

Holy Harthorne Wingo, did he really say that?

Yup, and why not?

The NBA has been in hibernation around here for years, but now that the Knicks and Nets seem to be on promising paths, the first green shoots of a real rivalry are starting to appear.

It began with dueling billboards, first a Nets ad during the summer near the Garden, then a Knicks' answer featuring Amar'e Stoudemire that turned up near the Barclays Center site in Brooklyn last month.

The teams were behind those moves, but the Knicks had nothing to do with Sunday's TV spot. It was produced by the network to promote the Nets' visit tonight.

Regardless, Nets CEO Brett Yormark insisted he is not offended. On the contrary. "It was a tune-in message to drive viewership to the game, which I think is a good thing,'' he said. "As far as I can see, the Knicks seem to be spending a lot of time thinking about us lately, which is fine.

"Hopefully it's getting them excited, and it certainly is us, about what this rivalry can be in the coming years.''

What about the Stoudemire ad? "We encourage anyone that wants to go into Brooklyn and promote basketball,'' he said. "I mean that. I encourage that.''

MSG Network and the Knicks declined to comment on the Nets or the potential rivalry, but the Garden publicly has been supportive of the Nets' move east, a sentiment Yormark said he senses in his own dealings with the Knicks.

Yormark said the Knicks need not view the Nets as a threat, at least not in business terms. "We're in the biggest market in the country and you've got more Fortune 500 companies here than anywhere,'' he said. "There's enough for both of us.''

The Nets aim to be in Brooklyn by the fall of 2012. But even when they arrive, the odds of the Nets becoming the more prominent franchise seem remote for the foreseeable future.

The Knicks have a massive head start. While they continue to draw big crowds at the Garden, some Nets tickets in Newark have gone for under $1 on the secondary market.

TV ratings? Through Wednesday, the Knicks were averaging 1.07 percent of area homes on MSG, up 15 percent over last season. The Nets averaged 0.29 percent on YES, down 12 percent.

The real drama, if there is to be any, will unfold on the court.

The Knicks have the salary- cap room to continue improving; Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets' very colorful (and very rich) owner, has promised a championship-caliber team of his own.

So imagine this, if you can:

A Subway Series for the NBA's Eastern Conference title in the spring of 2014, contested in a radically renovated Garden and a new arena in Brooklyn.

Cool, right?

Said Yormark: "I don't think there's anything better for basketball in the New York area than a great rivalry between the Nets and the Knicks.''

The Dolan family owns

controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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