Six years ago, I first bought into Bruce Ratner’s idea of the Nets in Brooklyn. As a lifelong New Yorker who seemingly punished himself by choosing to root for the team playing in New Jersey, rather than the more easily accessible franchise in Manhattan, I was overjoyed that the Nets would some day only be a simple New York City subway ride away from my front door. And fresh off back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, I thought the timing of such a move was spectacular. Doing the math in my head, I figured by 2009, Jason Kidd would be playing in his final season with the team, having already brought us NBA championship glory with Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin (substitute Vince Carter for Martin a year later). The Nets would be coming to Brooklyn after clearly owning the title of New York City’s supreme team. Take that, New York Knicks fans, who tortured me with their bravado in the mid-90s and mocked me for rooting for a team that played in a different state and was toying with the idea of renaming itself the “Swamp Dragons.”
Obviously, this master plan of mine (and Bruce Ratner’s) hit some snags. Residents of the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn where the arena was to be built were not about to hand their land over to a developer without a fight. And then there was the whole issue of financing this big thing, which became even more questionable when the famous, and now former arena-architect Frank Gehry was waxing poetic about “Miss Brooklyn” skyscrapers. Meanwhile, the Nets got steadily worse where it mattered most to me – on the basketball court. The “Big Three” were traded away to create roster flexibility (aka, salary relief) and this year, the Nets got off to the worst start in NBA history. Then, there was all this talk that if the Nets weren’t in position to break ground in Brooklyn by the end of this year, the project was probably never going to happen. Yet, after so many letdowns with this team and this organization, it was hard for me to say if any of this Brooklyn stuff even mattered anymore.
Now, yesterday’s “master closing” announcement from Ratner and Co. is probably not the definitive victory dance in this fight – but is a clear sign that after all of these years, delays, lawsuits and controversies, this project is as close to reality as it’s ever been. And I must admit, I’m suddenly getting reacquainted with the 2003 version of myself (it’s like the Sport Fan’s version of The Lake House). Finally, the era of the Brooklyn Nets is upon us. For the first time in my life, I will have liked something before it became hip and cool to Brooklyn folk. Now all I need is my Strokes t-shirt and an apartment in Williamsburg and I’ll fit right in.
Seriously though, while the bluster of Brooklyn arena opponents will try and have you believe otherwise, at this point, there appears to be a very thin veil of red tape and interference that will prevent this project from happening. The courts have ruled in favor of the use of eminent domain, the tax-exempt bonds have been sold (and briskly at that), and the project has been “closed.” Ground needs to be broken, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov needs to be approved by the NBA (the latter will, undoubtedly happen), and this long strange trip should come to an end, and the next era of Nets basketball will be set to begin. Opponents keep talking of lawsuits and more lawsuits. It’s certainly their right to fight this project to the death, but with very few political allies who matter remaining on their side, their record in the courtroom is starting to reflect the Nets’ record on the hardwood – except even the Nets have pulled out a couple of victories this season.
So, for the first time in many years, I’m back to talk about the Brooklyn Nets like this is something I will see in my lifetime. Sure, my current vision of things may differ from what I was expecting back in 2003, but beggars can’t be choosers.