Thanks, Google Images
For the past two years, I've watched from afar a wonderful scene develop in Sacramento. Led by bloggers and fans, "Here We Stay" is an evolving movement, currently Sacramento's plea to the Maloof family to keep the Kings in Sacramento, despite George Maloof's seemingly imminent intent to gut Sacramento, move the team to Anaheim, and potentially turn a profit in a market with two other NBA franchises.
The contingency is staggering. James Ham and Blake Ellington co-produced a documentary, Small Market, Big Heart. The "Here We Stay" Facebook page has nearly 5,000 Likes, the Twitter page well over 2,000 followers. The group organized sellout crowds and arena-wide chants. A beautiful movement cropped up, out of the very notion that a city cared about its team and didn't want to see it leave for purely financial reasons. The unique connection between team and city is normally a difficult one to sever, and Kings fans have no interest in taking it lightly.
To give you an idea of how much they care, I sent Kings bloggers Akis Yerocostas and James Ham an e-mail asking for some quick background info on the Here We Stay movement. Akis immediately sent me over 1,000 words and about 30 links to words, video, pictures, and stories, and James offered to give me a first-hand account and show me the documentary as soon as they finished production. They've built a movement that's made a difference, counter to the actions of NBA ownership. And it matters.
Last night, when the New Jersey Nets played the Miami Heat, in Newark, New Jersey, the crowd appeared transplanted from somewhere between Miami and reality television. As I walked past the gate, the LeBron James jerseys outnumbered Nets jerseys by about ten-to-one, and I'm being generous. The cheers for Victor Cruz, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Justin Tuck, and seemingly every other football player that makes his living in East Rutherford, New Jersey for a New York-branded franchise, well outlasted and drowned out the cheers for the Nets' starting five. Fans, per usual, screamed louder for free t-shirts than MarShon Brooks, who put up an efficient 24-7-6 line on just 17 shots.
But the two loudest chants from last night's game, without question, are the two that'll ring in my head for days, as the game wound down, and the Heat began a late push.
LET'S. GO. HEAT! LET'S. GO. HEAT! LET'S. GO. HEAT!
Then, as LeBron paused at the free throw line, shortly after dropping an and-1 as part of his 17-point barrage that buried the hometown New Jersey Nets.
M.V.P.! M.V.P.! M.V.P.!
After a barrage of Bron buckets elicited more raucous cheers, the PA announcer actually had to remind fans where they were, calling out each player's name on the floor and imploring the crowd to root for the hometown New Jersey Nets.
Isn't this the Heat? Isn't this the franchise everyone's been so excited to watch falter? I understand there's a certain panache to watching LeBron James eschew the ridiculous narrative that he's somehow pieced together with faulty parts that begin an inevitable rust once the game's on the line, but Nets fans shouldn't root for that. Let it happen somewhere else. You should want your team to succeed, especially in such an intense game with such a successful team.
LET'S GO HEAT!
Last night's showing, no matter who you blame or how you frame it, was a disgrace. This is not a reaction to one-game occurrence. Cheering louder for the opponent than the home team is hardly unprecedented or unrivaled in Nets history. It's recognition of a culture of no culture. New Jersey, unfathomably, sustained a basketball team for 35 years, mostly on the strength of its opponents; now at the height of basketball's boom, Nets games routinely fill with fans who don't seem quite sure when to cheer.
Since Bruce Ratner announced his intentions to move the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, the only serious opposition came in response to the Atlantic Yards project, not in response to an ownership group uprooting its team. "Here We Stay" never would have worked here, for every reason that it's had some success in Sacramento: the owner's finances are bulletproof, the current fanbase dominated by apathy, and the roster itself has whirled through a revolving door for the past four years.
Kings fans tout DeMarcus Cousins' success and low-post abilities to death, as a marker that Cousins can change the future of their franchise. Nets fans pump up Brook Lopez, the longest tenured Nets player, in the hopes that Dwight Howard can. The Nets aren't selling out on their own strength in New Jersey, they didn't even sell out Finals games. After last night's game, one Nets player said (and I'm admittedly taking his quote out of context) "this arena is cursed." Purport be damned, he's absolutely right. Because the fact remains: outside of a select few, most people in New Jersey don't give a damn about the New Jersey Nets.
Those of you that will inevitably critique me for caring too much about fair-weather fans are missing the point. This franchise, in this state, is predicated on a culture of indifference. I'm happy there are those die-hards (shout-out, NetsDaily), but die-hards are the vast minority at games, and those fans seem rightfully glad that the team's moving. No matter how flawed, a team deserves better from its off-court representation. Certainly in a game like last night's.
By this time next week, NBA basketball in New Jersey will be dead. Given how little the majority of the crowd seems to care, it's the proper logical, practical, and emotional thing to do. With fans that only serve to cater to the whims of star opponents, a re-branding seems mandatory.
When the Sonics left Seattle, fans mourned. When the Kings' departure seemed imminent, fans fought. When the Nets move to Brooklyn, it'll be widely viewed as a day of victory.
You earned it, New Jersey.