It never gets old. Not yet anyway. After 10 visits to Barclays Center --for games, a Jay-Z concert, events to mark the opening-- coming up that subway escalator, with its Great Reveal, and walking 250 feet to the main entrance is still a thrill. Even more so now that the night arrives earlier in downtown Brooklyn and an occasional rain wets the plaza.
Everywhere at Barclays Center, on the street, on the entrance plaza, overlooking the practice court, there are people taking pictures, people who unlike those who tried to stop it understand its significance. It is a sporting arena but also a piece of urban art, a city space that can't be denied. Happily ensconced in a downtown setting, It's unique in its brazenness among the region's new venues.
The Yankees sought to add modern amenities to an old shell when they rebuild the Stadium next door. It has the feel of a cathedral, a bit self-absorbed. The Mets went retro at CitiField and wound up with a perfectly nice New York rendition of Camden Yards. The Giants and Jets built a soul-less concrete mauseleum with pretty lights in the
Meadowlands. The Red went Euro. Whatever. Prudential Center is a fine arena ... for hockey. The Garden, a wonderful place to watch the game since it opened in 1968, is "transforming" and erasing bits of its glory in doing so. Eliminating the Willis Reed tunnel? Marring the signature dropped ceiling with two "skybridges" (which may have to be fitted with anti-suicide nets)? Best leave well enough alone.
Barclays is different in its ambitions. It's about the city, as noted, and like a city is fitted with many small wonders and that one great one, in this case, the "oculus" which may as well be called the "oggulus" for all the almost awestruck neck-craning it engenders. There's nothing like it anywhere, big and bold.
For those who haven't been there yet, the main entrance leads to a grand entrance: the pavilion at the far end of the ticket lobby where the enormity of the arena explodes all at once and causes people to reach instinctively for their cell phone cameras. They want to share the experience. Barclays is a much smaller space than the IZOD Center or Prudential Center but seems larger or perhaps just grander. That may be what sets Barclays Center apart: its grandeur, not grandiosity.
Design elements are underplayed like the all-grey seating or out-of-sight like "The Vault." Concession stands have a uniformity but retain the local flavor literally as well as figuratively. The suites, even Mikhail Prokhorov's double suite, are painted in understated hues and are more utilitarian than ostentatious. There is no "look at me" sensibility. It's more "here I am."
So it's about subtlety. But it's also about taste and style. Take the black box, theatrical lighting. The story goes that Dmitry Razumov, Mikhail Prokhorov,'s No. 2, went to a Lakers game at Staples Center during construction of Barclays Center, saw its dramatic effect and said the Nets had to have it...and they did. There are other stories as well, like how Brett Yormark likened a finish on tiles in a club space to a high school cafeteria and ordered up a higher gloss. It cost more and few might notice it. Yormark did. It doesn't end there. The Nets really haven't rolled out their $10 million "basketball campus" like we thought they would. It's as big as any in the NBA, from the family lounge through the locker room to the practice court. Opposing players love the visitors locker room and rave about its amenities.
An arena doesn't get to a billion dollars, even in New York, without those small touches adding up. Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner spent money on the arena as they did on the team that plays there...and it shows.
Being a city space isn't all about the architecture, although it keeps getting more and more glowing reviews. The staff at the arena is unlike any we've experienced. Helpful isn't the word. Gracious is. So is proud. There may be no better advertising for the Disney Institute training program than the 2,000 (mostly young, mostly Brooklyn) staff who work the arena. These are local kids for the most part with limited experience in the hospitality industry but who after training are a model for how to treat people in large venues. We have one staffer walk us the entire length of the arena to help us get where we were going. Yormark says he's surprised at the lack of turnover. That should tell you something as well
A lot of that's been reported elsewhere, of course, but there's something else, even more subtle that we've noticed now that we've spent more time at Barclays Center. It's the fans, the diversity of the people who come there, how it reflects the city, the borough, the region. There is no place like New York in the world. Half the city's population was born elsewhere, 40 percent overseas. Those numbers are higher in Brooklyn.
The Nets have talked about how one out of every seven
Friday night, people didn't want to leave the arena. They were amped up, happy, after the big and very satisfying win. There was a lot of picture taking a half-hour after David Diamante wished everyone a safe trip home. Dozens watched a few kids, Avery Johnson Jr. and his pals apparently, shoot hoops on the Practice Court. Hundreds stood outside under the "oculus" talking as they watched its changing scenery of sponsors' ads and promotions for upcoming events. "Under the oculus" has become a new meeting place for New Yorkers. At the Netstore, sales were brisk as fans wanted to sign on to a winning club by getting signature gear. You got a sense of community.
Then, there's THAT chant, the extended "Brook-Lyn, Brook-lyn." Almost 12 hours after leaving Barclays, we can still hear it. It sums what Barclays Center is about. It's about community and fun and novelty ... and it's all ours.