An open letter to Patrick Ewing

Ewing, who’s been given credit for Howard’s emergence into superstardom, said last month he’s already warned Howard about the glaring spotlight of playing in New York.

And playing for the Nets?

“Most of the fans will still be Knicks fans,” Ewing said. “Brooklyn is a great town, great city. It’s New York. But most of the people — like most people going to Nets games — are Knicks fans. They’re going to have to their work cut out for them to try to change the culture.”

Marc Berman, NY Post — Ewing doesn’t expect Brooklyn Nets to steal Knicks fans

Dear Mr. Ewing,

Firstly, I’d like to say that as a lifetime member of the tri-state area club, I spent many of my most impressionable years admiring your work in a Knicks uniform. You were one of the finest centers to ever grace the NBA, and the league is better for your contributions in it.

But your recent comments regarding the Nets leave me in a bit of disarray, especially since it wasn’t long ago that you lobbied for the Nets coaching job:

“Of course,” Ewing said after his Magic beat the Knicks, 114-102, at the Garden. “I would be back home. I still live in New Jersey. I just want an opportunity. Yes, I would love to coach the Nets.”

Leaving that odd bit of hypocrisy aside: I’ve spent most of my life as a Nets fan, paying attention to Nets games. I’ve grown up going to Nets games, both in the IZOD Center (stretching back to when it was Brendan Byrne Arena, as I’m sure you remember) in East Rutherford, and more recently Newark’s Prudential Center. I encountered a brief stretch in 1999, around nine years old, when I rooted for the Knicks, but that’s mostly because you guys were in the NBA Finals against the Spurs and I attended Game 1 in the Alamodome in San Antonio. (In case you’ve since forgotten, you guys lost the game, and eventually the series.) But before and after that brief flirtation, the Nets have had my heart.

I understand your basis for analysis. I’m sure many folks that crossed your path near your Englewood home insisted that they love the Knicks. I’m also sure your strongest memories of New Jersey basketball land somewhere between Buck Williams, Drazen Petrovic, Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, Kendall Gill, and empty seats. Throughout your 15 years in a Knicks uniform, you saw only three Nets teams that barely ended with winning records, with 43 wins twice and 45 once. Hard to imagine many a conversation with Ewing that includes the words “Oh, I’m actually a Nets fan.”

It’s realistic for you to think that Newark is normally a festering hole for secondary Knickerwatchers, as the stadium is flooded with blue and orange when the Nets and Knicks play in New Jersey, but unless the team is in town there’s hardly a hint of Manhattan in the arena.

Granted, there’s hardly a hint of anything in the arena; why do you think they’re moving to Brooklyn, anyhow? Split the boroughs and Brooklyn is the third-largest city in the United States, behind Los Angeles and Chicago. The soon-to-be Nets home Barclays Center falls right on the largest subway connection in Brooklyn, and will be a state-of-the-art facility unlike any in the country. The first events to take place at the arena are three concerts from Jay-Z, one of the most prolific hip hop artists of all time, a dominant marker of Brooklyn’s performance history, and a Nets minority owner. Do not presume that the majority of Nets fans will abandon ship, and more importantly, that these concerts, this arena, this homecoming, will be taken lightly.

Make no mistake — the fan base is small, flawed, and strong. Signing on to Nets fandom is a binding agreement with a precipice. Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman fell just short of relevance. Stephon Marbury the same. Jason Kidd fell just short of a championship. Vince Carter fell just short of Wade and LeBron. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez fell just short of futile history. Rod Thorn fell just short of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. Billy King fell just short of Carmelo — perhaps more fortunately than Thorn. We are not used to success, and scarcely understand the proper ways of deconstructing it when it fleetingly crosses our path. But we relish it when it comes our way.

Despite this history of trial and error, I can say to you, Mr. Ewing, with utmost certainty, that Nets fans are not closeted Knicks fans, huddling around Newark hardwood for their nearest basketball fix. They’re not New Yorkers subsidizing New Jersey basketball for the fun of it — why you think fans cross state lines, either to East Rutherford or Newark, to go to a Nets game when Manhattan’s got their team flows far beyond my stream of consciousness. Nets fans are just that — Nets fans. Some of us like Deron Williams, some of us don’t. Some of us like Brook Lopez, some of us don’t. Most of us want the Nets to acquire your advisee, but I’m sure there are a couple dozen somewhere that wouldn’t mind skipping the Superman train. It’s not a settlement, it’s a culture. We can’t always articulate our desire, only that it’s all we know.

It’s a mental contract for the mental, one that guarantees a plethora of emotions, with only boredom excluded. When I meet fellow Nets fans, there’s a general consensus that our connection is kind of silly — the Nets have hardly had a storied, successful history, merely one of constant unfulfilled potential for something bigger. Yet here we are, cheering on 30-win seasons year after year, waiting for the other sneaker to fly off the ground.

And yes, despite this history, or perhaps because of it, I still sense the potential for prosperity. Brooklyn is a cultural hub, one that has already piqued the interest of players league-wide. Deron Williams has pledged a 90% allegiance to the Nets, 90% better than most give him credit for. The Nets boast both an exciting young talent in MarShon Brooks and numerous draft picks in the wings, and voluminous cap space in the coming years. I can’t say for certain if we’ll see promises fulfilled, the only guarantee is the plan, and that I’ll be watching.

The team comes first, and there are no hidden allegiances. If Dwight Howard joins the Nets, I’ll root for the Nets. If he joins the Knicks, I’ll root for the Nets. If he joins the Bobcats, I’ll root for the Nets. Thirty options, zero changes.

As a lifelong fan of this team, an admittedly biased party, attempting to look happily on its successes and critically at its flaws, I do hope that the Nets prosper in the coming years. I hope they acquire the necessary pieces to compete for a championship, whatever those pieces may be.

I know that the prospect of losing one of the league’s greatest talents is an enormous challenge, and that you’d like to maintain your connection to him. But I hope that you will one day understand that Howard’s publicly declared desire to join forces with the Brooklyn Nets is far less flawed than the context of your counsel.

Thanks for your time.
-Devin

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