Editor’s Note: While Nets Are Scorching will continue to provide analysis and opinion on player moves and front office decisions, we would be remiss in not talking about perhaps the biggest paradigm shift in the history of the Nets organization – their relocation to Brooklyn. "Brooklyn Vibes" will look at the people and places that make Brooklyn Brooklyn, and how that inevitably, one way or another, ties in to the Brooklyn Nets and its growing legion of fans (which now, apparently includes Lin-sanity scorned ex-Knicks fans).
In a city of millions of mix and mingled cultures and backgrounds, I’ve long maintained that sports apparel is the great equalizer. When I put on my Mets jersey to run some errands in my then-Upper Manhattan-practically-the-Bronx neighborhood on the last day of the baseball season in 2007, I probably bumped into about a dozen Mets fans chanting “You gotta believe” to me, despite the fact that I had always associated that area as Yankees Country (and let’s just all forget about Tom Glavine’s performance on the mound that day, right?). When I busted out my Jets hoodie in time for the start of the 2011 season, a neighbor on my Brooklyn-neighborhood block jokingly taunted me with “Eli’s better.” I reminded him of back-to-back AFC Championship games; though he would go on to remind me of Eli’s greatness this past February.
And yet, despite this weird connection between two perfect strangers forged by a jersey or a t-shirt, I’ve been hesitant to flip on my new Brooklyn Nets hat since the new logo/colors/apparel debuted a few months back. It’s not that I don’t have pride in my team (Nets fan going on 20 years now, or basically two-thirds of my life) and the simplistic logo and colors go with pretty much everything I wear on a given day, but since the Nets made their move “official” official a few months back, it’s been hard to gauge what kind of relationship this diverse borough was going to have with the team.
Up until very recently, the only feedback I ever received from Brooklyn residents about the Nets move was vitriol over the fact that the new arena forced people out of their homes and was going to cause/is already causing nightmarish-levels of traffic in a very dense urban area intersected by two of the borough’s busiest thoroughfares in Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Then of course there was the usual mockery from Brooklyn-based Knicks fans who couldn't even contemplate how a team with "dirty Jersey" roots could impact the borough's landscape (though there seems to be a fair amount of Knicks fans eating serious crow about that this week). Wearing a Brooklyn Nets hat out and about in the neighborhood, could have made me a social pariah in the wrong setting.
But the past two weeks have been a mostly victorious one for the newly-minted Brooklyn Nets, culminating with a pep rally outside of Borough Hall on Friday to announce the team’s new backcourt in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Yeah, the chase for Dwight Howard fell short, but I was buzzing about this team and for the first time in a number of years, really wanted to brag about the fact that I’ve been a long-time fan of the NETS. So I went with the Nets hat.
Our day’s travels brought us to the South Park Slope neighborhood – a neighborhood designation that was really just invented by realtors, one of the many "quirks" of Brooklyn. The neighborhood, just north of Greenwood Cemetary, but just south of Prospect Expressway, is too far south to be legit Park Slope, and too far North to be Sunset Park – a neighborhood that’s considerably more working class than Park Slope, and thus not desirable from a real estate perspective anyway ($$$).
As such, South Park Slope is quite your mishmash of demographics. Over the past two years, a number of high end bars and restaurants have opened up in this area – many of which offering food and drink that would give a lot of places in Manhattan a run for their money. We made our way over to South Park Slope's newest spot: Greenwood Park, an outdoor beer garden that has only been open for about a month.
In recent years, beer gardens have become the ultimate calling cards for a neighborhood. People are drawn to these places like moths to a flame and Greenwood Park was probably the surest sign that this neighborhood was truly embracing the “Park Slope” portion of its name. I wasn’t sure what we were going to find there, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be a part of the Brooklyn element that was welcoming to my new Nets hat.
The space features a bunch of picnic tables and an outside bar and then what appears to be a converted car garage that has a larger bar and more seating inside. My buddy and I went to pick up a couple of Sixpoint Crisp Lagers (locally brewed in Red Hook). One of the two bartenders immediately shot me an inquisitive look:
“Dude, can I see your hat?” he asked. I ducked my head down a little bit, thinking perhaps he just couldn’t get a good look through the bar’s opening.
“No, could you take it off. I want to see the back of it for a second.”
My buddy shot me a concerned look, but since we hadn’t received our beers yet, I wasn’t in a position to get surly, so I obliged.
The bartender then turned to his partner and while holding the hat and pointing to the “Brooklyn” emblazoned on the back, “you see this mother-effer right here? Next time you see one of these it’s going to be on my head.” He handed the hat back to me before asking where I picked mine up (Modell’s).
“Better get on the bandwagon now,” his partner said.
A little more relaxed now, I said, “I’ve actually been a fan of these guys for about 20 years now. So I’m excited to have them so close to home.”
The original bartender gave me a shocked look, “you mean, you liked the New Jersey Nets? That’s cool, whatever.”
My mind immediately went back to one of the more audacious shots across the bow from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, “we want to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans.” Was this bartender exhibit A?
“I grew up loving the Chicago Bulls,” he said. “But I’ve been in Brooklyn for the past six years, so I think it’s time to follow the hometown team.”
After this exchange, and the retrieval of my hat and beer, all I’m thinking is that somewhere, Nets CEO Brett Yormark is smiling like the Cheshire Cat. People who are still questioning what the Nets are hoping to tap into by moving into Brooklyn need to understand that the pride residents have in this borough far exceeds the preconceived notion that New York is “a Knicks town.”
This bartender has lived in Brooklyn for nearly six years and has not felt the need to change his allegiances, regardless of how they were forged, from the Chicago Bulls to the Knicks. He didn’t become a Knicks fan when he first moved to Brooklyn. He didn’t became a Knicks fan when they brought in Amare or when they successfully outmaneuvered the Nets for Carmelo Anthony. But once the Nets move to Brooklyn became tangible – something he could see and feel for himself – he was ready to represent Kings County’s first professional sports organization in nearly 60 years.
I’m no longer going to be overly cautious about wearing my Nets hat. While critics and skeptics remain, this little exchange over a bar-top reminded me that people are in a constant push-pull struggle to find ways to unite and bond together. There was no talk over eminent domain or traffic. There was just talk about a hat, and a new team, which was more than enough to bring a guy from Long Island, and a former Bulls fan-turned-Nets fan, aka, two guys from Brooklyn, together.