I’m a New Jersey Nets fan. I’m also a fan, and resident, of Brooklyn, NY. One doesn’t really have anything to do with the other, except in two years they will, when the Nets – or whatever they’ll be calling themselves by then – are expected to move into the Barclays Arena right smack in the middle of the borough I live in and love.
With that in mind, I’m coming to resent, and even be angered by the prospect that the Brooklyn “experiment” is still at risk to “fail.” This idea has been perpetuated with more fervor and panic in recent weeks regarding the Carmelo Anthony saga. The premise is the Nets will need a “star” to sell Brooklyn to fans. The prospect that the star the Nets have in mind could still end up playing for long-established team in the next borough over, the Knicks, has seemingly scared the logic out of a contingent of Nets fans and media writers. I understand that having a recognizable face to place on a billboard or on a television commercial can only help from a marketing standpoint, but the idea that the Nets will “fail” in Brooklyn without a superstar – a very specific superstar mind you – shows a complete lack of understanding of what Brooklyn is all about.
Detractors of Brooklyn dismiss it as “hype” or “hipster” elitism. Residents of Park Slope get mocked for bringing baby strollers into bars, while the youth in Williamsburg gets mocked for their beards and tight jeans. They still shoot the freak at Coney Island until further notice, and then go ride the Wonder Wheel or Cyclone. Neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights are being gentrified, while communities in Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach (and on and on and on) are already, or are evolving into their own cultural epicenters for Latinos, Chinese, Middle Easterners, Russians, Italians, Jews, etc. What unites this borough is that it’s not New York City – it’s Brooklyn. We live in Brooklyn. The only time we live in New York City is when Michael Bloomberg forgets to plow our streets.
I say this because anyone who understands Brooklyn knows that the star of Brooklyn itself will always shine brighter and longer than any athlete or owner. I always believed that NBA Commissioner David Stern was such a proponent of the Nets move to Brooklyn because he understood there was an embarrassment of riches to be tapped there. Brooklyn was going to be the draw for the NBA. The team that relocated there was practically irrelevant. That’s because Brooklyn is practically virgin soil – decades removed from when the Dodgers left town, here is the most populated borough in New York City where the majority of the residents identify with the concept of “Brooklyn,” rather than New York City. Forget an empire state of mind, we don’t sleep ‘till Brooklyn.
If the Nets fail to catch on in Brooklyn, it will not be because of Carmelo Anthony. It will be because they failed to create an organization that this unique community of people could rally around. Winning a few games helps too. With the never-ending rivalry between Brooklyn and Manhattan, I believe there’s nothing real, true-blue Brooklyn-based basketball fans would rather do then rally around an organization that’s competing with the guys who play in midtown Manhattan. Who in Brooklyn even goes to midtown unless it’s for work, or to entertain friends doubling as tourists. This is the same fan base that all but coined the phrase “wait until next year,” after losing year after year to the “elite” Yankees during the World Series. Yes, time and demographics have changed since then, but the idea that Brooklyn will always be different remains the same.