March 17th never did it for me. Amateur night for suburbanites who normally don't get out much. Yeah, the parades, drinking and general debauchery tied to it are all cool in theory. But what's the big deal about Italian Unification Day? At best it always left me ambivalent. History shows the south sacrificed their entire kingdom so the rest of the peninsula could gain a footing in Europe. But clowns like Berlusconi make you wonder if it was all worth it. The traditional celebratory food and drink has always been questionable as well. Why would a land already unified with frutti di mare and wine chose to mark actual unification with corned beef-n-cabbage and green beer? I guess by now you see where this is going but I'll add that this particular March 17th gave me more excitement than most.
Much like the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, Brooklyn sacrificed their own city so a consolidated New York could become the capital of the world. No blood was shed in the "Mistake of '98" but for 115 years now many Brooklynites have asked if it was all worth it. But this March 17th was a chance to heal some old wounds. This one was a chance to move into a first place tie with the slip-sliding Manhattan Knicks. This one would put Brooklyn back in first (or tied with first) for the first time since 1956. Well, for the first time at this late stage of the season. Either way I had a small but fitting chant planned for the occasion. Bobby's Brooklyn Brigade was on point as always but this time without me doing much lifting. Instead, I was pulling the old Rope-a-Dope. I laid low while NoJersey, OctoberGr8ness, ShaneGayle, PolaynJap, TwigHill, MetsJetsNets and the many others all did their thing. KingofDenial, tambourine back in hand after our Trippy-led Memphis caper, was there busting out an Egyptian groove too. Still no word on that missing Grizzlies front office guy, but that's a different story. As for JohnFromLongIsland, well no one came as prepared as the big man.
JLI didn't need a tambourine to show where his priorities lie. His "Kiss Me Irina" sign proved that amore trumps seeing Brooklyn back in first. Unfortunately, even on March 17th, JLI's luck was a bit off. Holding his sign up, while obviously facing the court, he probably missed Irina as she came through the tunnel to check out the arena's coolest crowd. For a brief moment the stunning Russian was even standing directly behind JLI although I'm pretty certain she only got to see the blank side of his cardboard passion plea. She was all smiles but never got to feel the love JLI was emitting. Sadly she never gave the kiss he has spent a lifetime waiting for. Moment lost.
The moment was lost for me too. The three magical words I had been waiting to unleash onto the universe? The one I had envisioned taking over every single section of the Rusty Turtle? Fuhgeddaboudit! For it to work I needed the Nets to have a fourth quarter lead. I needed them to have the ball. I needed victory to be in sight. I also needed Denial to bang out a quick "Let's-Go-Nets!" beat. That's where I'd step in and reword things to "First-Place-Nets!" Now, Denial did do his part. But the Nets? Not so much. Yeah, they briefly held the lead and ball early in the 4th so the adjusted chant did begin as strongly as scripted. Better than scripted since David Diamante had just asked the crowd to get up for some fourth quarter strength. But it all dissipated as quickly as the brief lead. An already clumsy effort defined by apathy and indifference got even sloppier just when the well-rested Nets needed to give their most. Instead of going Brooklyn hard, they reverted to Swamp Dragon weak.
Thankfully the 4th Avenue Pub is a great escape for distressed Nets fans. Last time around, co-owner Jacob got us all a free round. This time his younger co-owner (can't remember the dude's name but I do know he is all about Italian Unification Day, and Italians in general really) did one better. He had his mom bring in a healthy batch of corned beef-n-cabbage for all to enjoy. All homemade, all free. The tender meat was marinated for days in a brine and was even tastier than the pics below suggest. Tasty enough to *almost-almost* make me forget about my preference for scungilli on pepper friselle biscuits and drenched in a spicy marinara. Unfortunately, the chef was gone by the time we arrived but her daughter, Jackie, was there. By chance, Jackie is a lifelong Nets fan and an old college chum of NoJersey. Small world. Also a nice end to a frustrating night of lost moments. Well, not too frustrating thanks to the crew Gooner has assembled.
Oh, and in all seriousness, there was a very touching moment that even the Nets' half-effort couldn't dampen. No, not Gooner's enormous generosity. His own brand of fan unification is already legendary. But what moved me even more than Gooner's gift of not only tickets but friendships too, was the 17,000 fans all cheering on Eric LeGrand. The second his image popped up on the big screen NoJersey started a "Rutgers (clap-clap) Rutgers" shout. Other names, like Emmy winner Mariska Hargitay and Benshonhurst's Paulie Malignaggi were there too. As was longtime Nets fan, Ethan Hawke. I think it was TwigHill who, off the top of his head, screamed "Training Day was a wildly overblown and grossly inaccurate depiction of police life" although I doubt the Oscar nominee heard him. Sadly, another moment lost. Not to beat on Hawke (who was even less believable as, ahem-ahem, "Sal" in Brooklyn's Finest) too much. He's done a ton of good indie flicks. Still, he and the other names were no match for the applause reserved for Eric LeGrand. I sincerely wish him nothing but the best. Hopefully he'll check out more Nets games. Hopefully things can be rigged so that all opposing teams are coached by either L-Frank or Ty Corbin. Okay that last line is a pipe dream but the LeGrand moment really was goose-bumps cool. Eh, maybe March 17th ain't so bad after all. But of course the proof is in the photos: