In case you missed it, here's Joe Johnson's game-winning (long) two to beat the Detroit Pistons 107-105 in double OT. Don't blink or you'll miss Jerry Seinfeld's look of relief after this latest victory by the Brooklyn laundry.
Will feed the trolls a bit here. In a vacuum, 17 points and 6 assists sound nice but it was accompanied by 7-17 shooting and 5 turnovers, including some key misses in the extra session and an awful turnover in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter on a show-offy crossover. Not the performance you want to see from your de facto leader.
Hit probably his two biggest shots in a Nets uniform: a six-foot floater to put the Nets up 104-103 in OT and of course the game winning two. Meanwhile, led all scorers with 28 points. But only three free throws (including a crucial miss that allowed Detroit to tie it)? Still, have to love back-to-back great games from JJ.
Didn't hit the game winner, but his tip-in in the fourth quarter forced OT and his omnipresent hustle went into an even higher gear. With the Pistons up 100-98 in the closing seconds of Overtime, Wallace's offensive rebound while falling to the ground (and having the wherewithal to pass the ball to a teammate and not travel) was a sight to behold.
I'm at a loss to find the positives here. OK, an offensive rebound. No field goals, a -16 +/- and a tipped rebound to Kyle Singler that gave the Pistons the lead late in 2OT. If it wasn't for frontcourt foul trouble and Brook Lopez's gradual re-introduction to live basketball, I imagine Hump wouldn't have seen the floor much in the second half. And I have to wonder if he's playing himself out of the rotation if Avery Johnson goes with Crash as a small "four."
Was rusty and only played 24 minutes. Still he showed some vintage Lopez offensive moves and had a monster block of Greg Monroe in the third quarter.
This is what drives you crazy about Blatche. 16 points on 7-12 shooting, but a stupid loose ball foul in the fourth quarter gives him an early exit on a night where he needed to stay on the floor to preserve Lopez.
Fans keep clamoring for MarShon and with Jerry Stackhouse hurt, Avery obliged. But is 1-5 shooting and a -14 really want you want to see from your sixth man? He did get a nice block, which I guess means he has some defensive instincts.
He's the team's best option at PF right now, but with every game he starts, he's getting exposed more and more as the one-dimensional player everybody knew he was before the season started.
It looked like DWill hurt himself early and Watson stepped in and actually got the offense humming in the second quarter before everything ground to a halt in the third. Two threes and 4 assists is good enough for me.
Brook Lopez's defensive game has its critics, but he was all business guarding the interior against Greg Monroe here in the 3rd quarter:
Not quite on par with Jason Kidd dishing to Lucious Harris bowling ball style, CJ Watson still with an impressive trick in the first half, intercepting an errant Detroit pass and blindly throwing the ball over-his-head from behind half-court for a Gerald Wallace slam (here's the play in real time). Have to think this will be a top 10 play by year's end.
The phrase “Fugazi” – Mafia slang for “fake tough guy” per the movie Donnie Brasco – should be a familiar one to long-term Nets fans. Following a game 2 Nets demolition of the Manhattan Knicks during the 2004 NBA Playoffs, then-Knick Tim Thomas, injured by a hard foul from Nets center Jason Collins, referred to Collins’ teammate Kenyon Martin – long considered the heart, soul and tenacious grit of the back-to-back finals team – as a “Fugazi.” Martin, ever the diplomat, said he would welcome being locked in a room with Thomas to see who would emerge in one piece. That surprisingly did very little to quiet the heat between the Nets and Knicks.
What I’ve always found preposterous about Thomas’ words was the fact that Martin’s tough guy act helped his team win, and only went on to emblemize in that playoff series how much more battle-tested and prepared the Nets were than the Knicks –- a team that had taken a punch and essentially refused to fight back. If Jason Kidd hadn’t suffered a debilitating knee injury in the second round of that postseason, the Nets and their “Fugazi” spirit probably would have made a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. There was nothing "fake" about Martin and those Nets.
Of course the reason why I’m fixated on “Fugazi” today is based on last night’s Brooklyn Nets victory in Boston over the Celtics. The Celtics, who are only a few months removed from taking the Miami Heat to a competitive fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, put on a clinic in “Fugazi” last night... MORE →
The amusing, yet hardly unexpected chorus of excuses and capitulations from Knicks fans the day after Round 1 of the “Battle of the Boroughs” went to the bums from Brooklyn – “it was just one game.” “The Knicks were missing Stat, Shump and Kidd.” “The Nets haven’t played anyone good yet” – do not upset me. For last night was something I was hoping to relish for a greater portion of my lifetime. Last night was personal.
As a kid growing up on Long Island in the shadow of Manhattan (and on the same land mass as Brooklyn), being a Nets fan was not a birthright. It was not hereditary. It was a choice. It was a choice I made in the summer of 1992-93 partly out of circumstance (my family was a Mets household and thus subscribed to Sports Channel, where the New Jersey Nets could be seen, and not MSG, where the Yankees and Knicks called home) but also, predominantly out of my affinity for the team’s players. The early 90s Knicks were clearly the better team, but featured a tired group of players and names who had been around the block – Ewing, Oakley, Smith and Riley. Sure, I guess John Starks had the potential to be a blue collar hero, but he always struck me as too erratic and crass for me to become a true believer. The Nets meanwhile presented a roster of youth and potential. Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson should have been great. And of course the Nets had the greatest underdog star I could ever hope to find in an era where Michael Jordan was at the top of his game.... MORE →
Brooklyn’s “Bench Mob” has already earned its share of attention in the early part of the season – primarily for the offensive performances from the likes of Andray Blatche, CJ Watson, MarShon Brooks and Jerry Stackhouse. But what’s most impressive in these (very) early stages of the season is how the group has performed defensively. Last night’s come-from-behind victory against the Los Angeles Clippers was a shining example when the bench kept the game even during the first few minutes of the 4th quarter and then Reggie Evans was subbed back in for the games final four minutes when the Nets outscored the Clippers 12-2.
Prerequisite reading: Despite his robust price tag and his mainstream status thanks to a certain sham marriage to a certain sham “celebrity,” Kris Humphries is not the star of the Brooklyn Nets (did this uber-popular Nets site just refer to Hump as the team's most "famous" player?). When asked about Hump’s placement in the offensive pecking order for the team, LeBron James reportedly responded, “not one, not two, not three, not four …” (*this report can’t be verified by a link anywhere, so don’t look). With a starting line-up and bench filled with offensive stars who can score in a variety of ways, Hump’s role this year is to fill in the gaps – especially on the glass and defensively in the blocks. As for every other aspect of basketball, he just needs to do what is requested of him by his teammates.
Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree follows the relationship of a tree and a boy from childhood to old age. Throughout the story, the boy comes back to the tree with requests - branches to swing on, shade to sit in, apples to eat. Throughout the story, the tree always obliges, until he is nothing left but a stump to sit on, and even then, when the boy/old man needs a place to sit, the tree is there.
Kris Humphries needs to be that tree (this is not a joke about his intelligence). When aligned with Brook Lopez, Hump needs to focus on rebounding and help defense, nothing more. If the Nets put Hump on the floor with Reggie Evans, he can focus on his offensive game. If the defense keeps collapsing on the paint and DWill has a pick-and-pop flow going with Humphries, the PF-turned-reality star better connect on those 12-15 footers. If Hump can’t be flexible and selfless, he will be relegated to the bench, regardless of his contract and status, because the Nets potentially have a number of other guys in Evans, Mizra Teletovic and Andray Blatche ready to step in if Hump regresses to the player he was prior to Avery Johnson’s arrival.
Film Studies: The Art of Warfare in Urban Environments. Course description: Few players mastered the art of physicality, intimidation and the occasional mid-range jumper like Charles Oakley. Oakley was the defensive enforcer and overall glue that helped make the Knicks into perennial contenders in the early-to-mid-1990s. In terms of size and length, Humphries and Oak are very similar – both range about 6’8” to 6’9” depending on the listing and about 230 lbs. Both have great basketball bodies which more than makes up for the fact that they’re a little “short” for the PF position. Humphries comes across as a bit more athletic – pulling in a higher percentage of rebounds over his career than Oakley, as well as registering a higher block percentage. And yet, Oakley is indisputably known as the smarter, more imposing player. Humphries needs to channel his inner Oak, and the best way for him to do that is to watch and mirror all the dirty business Oakley was able to accomplish against superstar teams like the Bulls, the Cavs, the Hawks, etc.
Elective: Crisis Management in the Age of New Media. Course description: I’ll admit that even I thought it was a bit humorous when NBA fans were booing Humphries wherever he went last season, and while Hump always managed to compose himself on the court, he still hasn’t exactly figured out how not to be an object of scorn away from the court. Here’s a clue, don’t give an interview with a media outlet called “Hollywood Life” about wanting to be an Olympian. Don’t spend your free time constantly modeling for magazines like GQ. And obviously, don’t put your love life out on the open market as part of a reality show. In the world of PR, Humphries is in desperate need of some crisis management training. He needs to get ahead of the stories being pumped out about him, and the best way to do that is to keep himself away from the public eye. In this age of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, 24 hours, The Soup, Ryan Seacrest, etc. etc. etc., everything you do is going to be consumed by people who are just looking to destroy you. You made your mistake, now don’t go compounding it by being oblivious to the cold harsh realities that people only care about you to mock you.
At first blush, it appears that nearly every neighborhood in Brooklyn wears its cultural identity on its sleeve. But there just seems to be a little extra “oomph” behind being a Russian American native to Brooklyn. The Brighton Beach neighborhood in South Brooklyn proudly calls itself “Little Odessa,” and a walk down Brighton Beach Avenue could easily be mistaken for a stroll through Moscow – if the Kremlin had a beachfront property a stone’s throw from Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. At the end of the month, more than 125,000 people will visit this stretch of Brooklyn for Brighton Beach’s annual “Jubilee” festival, which celebrates the area’s diversity and cultural.
But it’s more than just Brighton Beach that carries a Russian influence. According to a 2009 survey, about 3.9 percent of all Brooklyn residents feature Russian ancestry. When looking at the borough’s European lineage, only the Italians (of Brooklyn “fugghedabauit” fame) have a larger population (6.1 percent).
So what happens when you bring a brand new basketball team into Brooklyn, with arguably one of the world’s most famous Russians as its owner? How do you say “if you build it, they will come” in Russian?
Steven Popel lives in Staten Island, but his heart remains true to Brooklyn, the Nets, and the team’s owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Popel’s parents immigrated to the United States from Lithuiana back when the country was a part of the USSR. He spoke Russian in his house, was exposed to Russian culture, attended Lincoln High School in Brighton Beach, and currently works with bilingual Russian-speaking elementary school students.
Popel wasn’t always a Nets fan. When he started following basketball in the 1990s, the New York Knicks were at their peak, making the NBA Finals in 1994, and sporting insanely popular players like Patrick Ewing and John Starks (while the Nets were toiling with disgruntled cry babies like Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson). But as empires are wont to do, the Knicks collapsed, a man named Dolan and his lieutenant Isaiah drove the team into the ground, and the Nets shockingly built a competent team around the flash of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin. However, as most Nets fans will note, the Kidd/Martin-era did not end happily. But fortunately for Popel and a group of his old high school friends, an even bigger star entered the picture: a Russian billionaire “oligarch” who at one point or another ran the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium, Russian’s largest producer of gold, and a major corporation named Onexim. Enter the Prokhorov.
“I went out and bought season tickets the day Prokhorov bought the team,” Popel said. “My parents watch Russian television, so when I heard he was buying the team, they were familiar with him. Then when I saw him on that 60 Minutes interview, I’ve loved him ever since.”
The 60 Minutes segment is unquestionably the defining moment of Prokhorov’s tenure as an NBA owner, moreso than “Carmela,” “the Yi player” and apparently this week, referring to a certain Knicks owner as a “little man.” But there have been some other curiosities with Prokhorov, most notably, his bid to unseat Vladimir Putin as president of Russia last year. It made some raise questions about what Prokhorov’s true priorities may be (if he won the election, he would most certainly had given up his stake in the Nets), and it’s given legitimacy to the idea that despite being a wave-hopping, AK-47 carrying, club hopping, billionaire playboy, Prokhorov is first and foremost a Russian who happens to own an American property in the Brooklyn Nets.
“We are proud Russian speaking Americans, not Russian Federation citizens, so we don’t feel any special connections to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov,” said Ari Kagan, a Russian American journalist and politician who currently lives in Brooklyn and is a Russian community liason for the New York City comptroller’s office.
That’s not to say Kagan and others he speaks with aren’t excited about the Nets – “we are happy the New Jersey Nets moved to Brooklyn because we love Brooklyn and New York” – but from his perspective, an owner who “we like more than we like Russian President Vladimir Putin who is clearly not a friend of the United States” – is not necessarily a draw for everyone sipping their cherry varenya to make their way to the Barclays Center.
Still, Popel and his “clique” remain exuberant. Being a Russian in Brooklyn is already a source of tremendous pride. So it would only make sense that a personality as big as Prokhorov would find his way to the hearts of at least some of the population.
“Russians stick together,” Popel said. “We develop our groups and our cliques and even if we’re spread out across different places, we stick together.”
That includes a Staten Island resident by Little Odessa.
“This is the way the Dwightmare ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
- Something TS Eliot would say about the Orlando Magic’s Front Office
Let me preface this entire rant by saying the next few hundred words I’m about to spout have nothing to do with my disappointment over the fact that the Nets did not get Dwight Howard. Quite frankly, I moved on from that idea way back in March when Howard impulsively waived his ETO in exchange for a bowl of candy. All trade chatter last month seemed to be an exercise in futility. Because, as evidenced by the trade that eventually went down last night, it was abundantly clear that the Orlando front office was just never going to play ball with Billy King and the Nets.
So consider this post a big middle finger to all of the people who were praising the poor, poor, Orlando front office who were heroically defending their castle against the suddenly big, bad, big market, free-spending Brooklyn Nets. Because your endless kvetching and hand-wringing and mockery of Brook Lopez’s rebound rate has left you with this result: the Lakers are suddenly unquestionably dominant again in a way that would even make the Heatles blush, and the Magic are going to rebuild around an average, defensive-minded wing player, a bad contract in Al Harrington, and an assortment of highly protected first-round and second round draft picks. Let’s all praise Rob Hennigan for avoiding a “max” contract for Brook Lopez, even though as frequent Billy King critic John Hollinger admitted last night: “Suddenly, overpaying Brook Lopez doesn't sound so bad.”
Do I think what the Nets were offering was a better package than what the Magic inevitably got? I’m biased, but naturally I say, yes. The Magic obviously could have received their best haul last winter when they passed on a non-max Lopez, Gerald Wallace and a boatload of draft picks all while shedding some of their most toxic contracts. But even what the Nets were offering last month seems more appealing in retrospect – at least compared to Arron Afflalo, Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless, and three protected first-round picks, all while only unloading Jason Richardson and (maybe) Chris Duhon. Getting Harrington back in the deal is essentially a wash for unloading Richardson and Afflalo is a nice piece to bring in once you have a core of above average players to build around, but beyond that, I honestly can’t wrap my head around this deal and how THIS is what Hennigan was holding out for. He couldn’t even convince the Lakers to throw in Pau Gasol so the Magic could pretend that they wanted to be competitive for another year or two. So I guess the strategy is to just tank for a few years and hope the next Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fall into your laps. I still don’t understand how having an under-25 7-footer with a polished offensive game who with proper coaching and motivation could become a more well-rounded center would have prevented the Magic from employing the tanking strategy anyway. And at least with Lopez, if they develop him right, the organization could have had another asset to flip in a year or two.
But I digress, because this is sounding more and more like sour grapes. Let me get back to my original thesis here, which is that Hennigan and moreso, Magic owner Rich Devos were NEVER going to agree a trade with the Nets, regardless of the package. As earlier mentioned, the original offer from the Nets in December appeared to be the best for Orlando in terms of providing long-term flexibility and draft picks, but that entire deal was scuttled by an owner who a week or so earlier floated a bogus tampering charge against Mikhail Prokhorov. And quite frankly, based on the chain reaction of events that have followed over the past six months, it appeared that the Magic front office never got over the fact that Dwight and Deron Williams allegedly conspired to team up and that Mikhail Prokhorov was showering Howard with rides on his private jet. So when the Magic were faced with having to trade Dwight to the Nets again at last season’s deadline, we had the alleged “blackmail” deal go down (and yes, there’s plenty of shame to lay on Howard here for reportedly waiving his right to free agency because he didn’t want to get traded somewhere else), followed by round three of the Dwightmare last month where the Magic had the Nets jump through hoops to try to find a third or fourth team to take on Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks and then inevitably floated the idea that teams in the league were unwilling to facilitate because they didn’t want to build another “superteam” in the NBA.
So instead, the Magic have seemingly agreed to a deal that gives them a worse player and contract than Humphries in Harrington, they facilitated a way for the best young asset in the whole transaction in Andrew Bynum to end up with an Eastern Conference competitor in the Sixers, and they found two teams in Denver and Philly who had no qualms about the Lakers sporting a team that will feature Kobe, Nash, Gasol and Dwight. Sounds like Hennigan really hit a home run here. But don’t worry, Brook Lopez still can’t rebound so if that’s going to make all of you sleep better at night for ripping apart the Nets deal for months, then more power to you. In the meantime, I’m getting ready to suffer through Lakers-Heat in the Finals for the next (not one, not two, not three...) years.
Anyone who has friends and family who grew up in Brooklyn during the late 1940s and 1950s knows that a trip down memory lane isn’t complete until the conversation inevitably turns to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The narrative is fairly straightforward and almost depressingly predictable – diehard fan of arguably baseball’s second-best team for about a decade behind the hated New York Yankees gets his heart broken in 1957 when Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley decides to move the team to California.
That’s not to be glib about any of this, especially since my father is one of those emotionally anguished former Brooklynites. He eventually adopted the Mets as his hometown team in the 1960s, but that’s not to say the Dodgers won’t always be a part of his make-up. When my father found out that my wife and I were moving to Brooklyn a few years ago, he started reminiscing about the church near his house, visits with my grandmother to Coney Island, and summer afternoons at Ebbets Field cheering for the Duke, Pee Wee, Jackie and Campy.
Years after the fact, this “romantic” notion about the Brooklyn Dodgers remains, even though it’s been more than 50 years since they last played a game at Ebbets (and despite the fact that for the bulk of their existence, the Brooklyn Dodgers were a pretty lousy team). There’s clearly a desire on behalf of the Nets to capitalize on this romance, or they wouldn’t be making t-shirts like these that talk about opening night in November being Brooklyn’s “first home game” since 1957. But in this modern era of sports, not to mention the number of ways Brooklyn has dynamically changed since 1957 – is it conceivable for the Nets to not only fill that void left by the Dodgers absence, but to capture that romantic “magic” that seemed to make Dem Bums America’s only true “hometown” team?
So much ink and film has been used to discuss the cultural and sociological impacts of the Brooklyn Dodgers and their exodus from New York – including Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer,” perhaps the greatest book about baseball that’s been ever written. Another book that I’ve always enjoyed was “The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together,” by Michael Shapiro, who interestingly enough grew up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s after the Dodgers had already left town. After moving to Brooklyn myself in 2010, one thing that really struck me about some of Shapiro’s anecdotes was how they captured the intimacy between the team and its residents. Most of the Dodgers, including some of their biggest stars, lived right in the Bay Ridge near Shore Road. Kids would ring Pee Wee Reese’s doorbell looking for autographs. The players’ wives would shop at the local stores. The Dodgers weren’t a team representing a major city like the Yankees or the Cubs. They were a neighborhood team consisting of neighborhood people.
I asked Shapiro, who is a professor at Columbia University’s Journalism school, if the Brooklyn Nets could ever have that impact on the community that the Dodgers once had. The answer, unsurprisingly, was not really, though for reasons that are far out of the Nets control.
“The Dodgers were local guys and were very much a ‘Brooklyn’ team,” Shapiro said. “But the Brooklyn in 2012 is not the Brooklyn of 1955. It’s no longer the working class bedroom community to Manhattan.”
Brooklyn today is a "hot" spot (dare we day, "hip?"). Interestingly enough, the current location of the Barclays Center at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, is exactly where Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley was looking to build a new baseball stadium. But O'Malley couldn't get the backing of Robert Moses, a highly influential developer who, depending on who you talk to, is either credited for creating "modern" cities or "urban sprawl." Regardless, Brooklyn went into a downward spiral after the Dodgers skipped town. Less than a decade later, the Brooklyn Navy Yards closed, only adding to the borough's overwhelming sense of depression. It wasn't just a void Dem Bums left behind. It was an emotional chasm.
So while most Brooklynites today wouldn't know or understand the pain and despair of their forbearers, the community still retains enough of its individuality and swagger that if the Nets play their cards right – i.e. become a competitive team that is consistently in the postseason – the move to Kings County could still result in a very happy marriage with residents.
“I don’t know of anyone in Philadelphia who is bemoaning the fact that the A’s and Braves left town,” Shapiro said. “The Dodgers were the only team in town during that time. There’s something to be said about having a team that is ‘your’ team. It's cool.”
As for the obvious and inevitable rivalry with the Knicks – or the “Manhattan Knicks” as Brooklyn Borough President Mary Markowitz has said on multiple occasions – Shapiro, who grew up a Knicks fan during the team’s hey-day, has a “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” moment when asked if Nets/Knicks could match Dodgers/Yankees.
“It’s not like the Knicks are aspirational,” Shapiro joked. “You have to remember that during all those years when the Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series, the Dodgers are ‘almost’ as good as the Yankees. The Knicks, the way they’re built, don’t make sense as a team.”
And just to rub a little extra salt in the wounds, count Shapiro as a long-term Knicks fan who is more than happy to embrace the Brooklyn Nets after Knicks owner James Dolan willfully failed to match a contract offer for popular PG Jeremy Lin.
“The greatest gift for the Brooklyn Nets is the fact that James Dolan owns the Knicks,” Shapiro said. “I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. I live in Manhattan. But I really want to root for the Nets. After (Dolan) let Lin go, I called my son and he said to me, ‘Fine. Brooklyn. I get it dad.’”