Brooklyn Vibes: Can the Nets Be Hip? What is Hip?

Brooklyn Vibes: Can the Nets Be Hip? What is Hip?
Russell Westbrook would fit in quite well on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

Perhaps the Nets are going about their new ad campaign all wrong. Maybe they would connect better to Brooklynites if instead of learning that Deron Williams is a father of four, that he’s partial to a can of PBR and a shot of well whiskey. Or that “Iso” Joe Johnson quietly enjoys his plastic-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts. Gerald Wallace can still like fishing – in an ironic sort of way. And Brook Lopez already has a natural “in” with Brooklyn’s nerd crowd, though his cred would go up instantly if he followed superheroes less “mainstream” than Batman.

But an ad campaign like that would only work if you believe Brooklyn is a borough full of snark-spouting, shaggy-bearded hipsters. And if you believe that, then you probably think there’s no hope for a professional basketball team ever being accessible enough for a crowd that’s notorious for its aversion to anything popular. I did have a friend in Williamsburg once tell me that the “masses are asses.”

Of course, as previously mentioned, Brooklyn is made up of a much more diverse population than 20 or 30-somethings listening to indie rock and drinking cheap beer (unless it’s craft beer – it’s the mid-level stuff you have to avoid, I guess). And furthermore, there’s no rule out there that says Brooklyn “hipsters” can’t like basketball – at least based on the opinions of a few who have been cast as “hipsters” in some shape or form based on their likes and dislikes.

Take Ryan Lang for example. A Crown Heights resident who has followed the Nets ever since Jason Kidd joined the ranks from Phoenix in 2001. Ryan “swears” he’s been wearing “plastic-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts before they became popular” and it so happens he’s a season ticket holder who is the definition of “Brooklyn ready.” He laughs at the notion that some may call him a “hipster” – he believes there is a subset of Brooklynites who may be hipsters, but he isn’t a part of it – and he’s already noticed in his ever-evolving neighborhood that just the mention of “go Nets” is a good way to get a positive reaction from people on the street.

“For a lot of them, the New Jersey Nets didn’t exist, so this is something all new,” Ryan said. “This is something they can get behind.”

Same can be said for Ryan’s friend Lee Frank, another Crown Heights resident who actually grew up around Philadelphia following the Sixers. Lee was hesitant to convert to the Brooklyn Nets flock – contemplating what the team would look like without Deron Williams next season if he left as a free agent – but he plopped down the necessary funds for season tickets regardless. There was something about having a professional sports team right down the street from his neighborhood, “walking by an arena being built,” that drew him in.

When you ask Lee about Brooklyn and his love of the borough, he talks about the “architecture, the never-ending finding of delicious foods,” and its “creativity” as the main draw. If you tell him that sounds like something a “hipster” might say, he scoffs.

“What’s hipster about enjoying good food, green spaces and high-quality bars? I think the term gets thrown around to describe someone who is particular about certain things.”

Marshall Thompson wonders if people who call others “hipsters,” even know what they’re talking about anymore. Marshall lives in Bushwick – just east of Williamsburg, ground zero for the hipster movement if you judge the neighborhood strictly on the groups of people walking in and out of music clubs along Bedford Avenue. But like Ryan and Lee, Marshall shakes his head over the idea that he would be cast as a “hipster” by some (for the record, he did mention to me that he recently saw Superchunk Hot Chip play a show, and he did laugh at an obscure Arcade Fire reference I made in an e-mail exchange).

“You have so many groups of people who people call ‘hipster,’” Marshall said. “You have urban lumberjacks wearing plaid, people in skinny jeans and chuck sneakers. Skaters. How can all of these people not be a part of the ‘mainstream?’ I feel like ‘hipster’ is a word that’s really devoid of meaning these days.”

Something that’s not devoid of meaning, is Marshall’s growing affinity for the Brooklyn Nets. While he’s followed professional basketball for years, he seems to be fall in the “team agnostic” camp of fan who follows a few teams or individual players for a few years without it ever evolving into a full passion. Since the Nets made their move to Brooklyn official, that’s changed.

“This is something new and exciting in Brooklyn and I like to think that following this team is going to make me feel more connected to the borough,” Marshall said. “Fans of the Brooklyn Nets are all going into this season on an even playing field. That’s because we’re all following something that didn’t even exist until this season.”

As for other Brooklynites who may or may not be “hipsters,” Ryan, Lee and Marshall all believe there’s no reason for anyone who’s passionate about the borough to not be passionate about the Nets. It’s not like the NBA has turned its back on hipsters – Lee noted how Russell Westbrook demonstrated that a superstar PG can rock some thick plastic glasses and off-beat shirts.

“I bet some street style bloggers can have some fun with a Nets post-game,” Lee said.

As for the current member of the team who could end up as the most identifiable for those who may or may not be hipsters?

Mizra Teletovic – “I bet he has some big black glasses,” Lee said.

I couldn’t resist throwing in a “and he listens to some bands you never heard of,” joke either.

“Probably some weird heavy metal,” Ryan said.