Mr. Dolan would very much like to counteract the past decade of futility, one that left an impression that he was more concerned with the parent company’s bottom line than with hanging new banners from the Garden rafters.
“Jim Dolan has always taken, to me, unnecessary hits as far as wanting to win,” said Jeff Van Gundy, the Knicks’ coach from 1996 until his resignation in 2001. “Maybe you question the methodology, but he’s always wanted to win.”
“He’s had such a negative reputation for so long, in terms of what the Knicks haven’t done in recent years, I think he knew above all else that he had to get this deal done,” said Wayne McDonnell Jr., a sports business professor at N.Y.U., of the Anthony trade.
For Mr. Dolan, adding Mr. Anthony helps the entire MSG empire. It boosts the television ratings, ups the in-stadium advertising fees and helps book the luxury boxes–all of which help to offset the nearly $800 million in renovations the arena is undergoing.
The challenge for Mr. Prokhorov is to somehow chip away at the prestige, and now the buzz, of Mr. Dolan’s monopoly.
He has brazenly guaranteed a championship within five years, and–even as the team watched Mr. Anthony slip away–he crowed about the Nets’ impact on the deal. “I think we’ve made a very good tactical decision to force Knicks [sic] just to pay as much as they can,” he told CNBC, even before the trade was officially completed.
A few hours before the Knicks’ press conference to introduce Mr. Anthony, the Nets announced a new star of their own: Deron Williams, acquired in an out-of-nowhere swap with Utah that was certain to crowd the next day’s headlines.
“We all love to have rivals,” said Mark Cuban, the outlandish Dallas Mavericks owner and fellow billionaire to whom Mr. Prokhorov is often compared, in an email to The Observer. “He is a good guy,” Mr. Cuban wrote. “Smart. Passionate. Competitive. Most importantly, he is witty as shit. He loves a good battle of the words, even if it isn’t his native language.” (Mr. Prokhorov is unlikely to match the noisy courtside presence of Mr. Cuban. A person familiar with the plans said Mr. Prokhorov is assembling an in-house retreat for himself 10 times the size of a standard luxury box “for he and his Russian friends.”)
The Knicks’ official position is to feign a lack of concern. “While we always respect any competition, the Garden will always be the Garden,” the company said in a statement.
And, on the night of Mr. Anthony’s debut, the Garden was very much the Garden again, for the first time in recent memory.
In the concourse, fans pulled brand-new “Anthony” jerseys over their shirt
s, and the crowd stayed on its feet for the layup lines, snapping cell phone shots of Mr. Anthony in his new uniform.
Then the arena went pitch black, Diddy’s “Coming Home” floated over the PA, and a quotation from Mr. Anthony flashed on the scoreboard. “I was born May 29, 1984 in Brooklyn, N.Y.”
If Mr. Prokhorov has any hope of capturing the city’s affection, he must first conquer Brooklyn, which could prove a rocky beachhead.
The rosiest scenario has the Nets replacing the bygone baseball Dodgers as the borough’s pro sports heroes, but the prospect of a glorious homecoming is quite a bit more complicated.
“For someone like me, who’s a Brooklynite through and through, it’s going to create dilemmas,” said Senator Charles Schumer, who was born and still lives a short bicycle ride from the new arena site. “Because I’ve been a Knicks fan all along, and I guess I’ll have to wait until they arrive and see what happens. But my inclination is to stick with the Nets”–he shook his head–“with the Knicks.”
The team’s arrival has already suffered years of bad press, thanks to the protracted battle over the $4 billion development at the Atlantic Yards site in downtown Brooklyn. Before a series of court rulings resolved it and construction started in earnest last year, the battle pitted neighborhood activists, many of them newcomers who spawned the borough’s gentrification, against the team’s former owner Bruce Ratner, the site’s developer.
The bitterness lingers.
Eric McClure, the founder of Park Slope Neighbors, said the only thing that might possibly draw him to the arena was “a Beatles reunion.”
“Can Prokhorov sway Brooklynites to root for a different team?” mused Daniel Goldstein, a leader of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the leading Atlantic Yards opposition group, in an email to The Observer from India. “If he pays them enough.”
“For the hard-core anti-Yards people, I don’t see them coming around that fast,” conceded Borough President Marty Markowitz, a longtime supporter of relocating the team. “But I see their kids coming around. And that will motivate them.”
For the majority of Brooklynites, the prospect of Nets fandom is likely to rest on the simple question of whether the team is worth watching.
“I’ve been a lifelong Knick fan, but winning changes everything, so if they start to win, they’ll like ’em,” said Larry Chertoff, a Park Slope dad, who was leaving the Atlantic Center mall on Sunday afternoon. “I don’t see myself switching allegiances, but a couple years ago, when the Nets were pretty good and they had [Jason] Kidd and [Richard] Jefferson, I went out to Jersey to see them, and I enjoyed them, so you never know.”
In that regard, Mr. Prokhorov seems to inspire more hope for a competitive product than Mr. Ratner ever did.