We sat down recently with Jake Appleman, author of "Brooklyn Bounce: the Highs and Lows of Nets Basketball's First Season in Borough." Appleman is a veteran sportswriter whose work has appeared in the New York Times as well as SLAM, GQ, Vibe, NBC Sports and NBA.com.
He talked about the reasons why he wrote the book, how it came about and the personalities he saw in play as he chronicled the Nets first year in Brooklyn. Among his insights, Irina Pavlova is perhaps the most interesting personality he met during the course of writing the book, why Avery Johnson was doomed, how MarShon Brooks never received the support he needed and how fans should not see Andray Blatche as a knucklehead. He's much more complicated than that. Here's some excerpts from the interview...
On how the book came about:
"I wanted to do a book about something and i shopping ideas to an agent who works for a friend of mine and he came highly recommended. He's one of those one or two people who seem to have our back and always seem to believe in us. I gave him some indy ideas and he, being a native Brooklynite, counted with, 'why dont you do a book about the Brooklyn Nets?' And I saw, 'oh really, I could do that?!'
"This was in late May of 2012. Being with the team every day and being able to write about it in fun and creative ways, that kind of came out.
"I had so much history as a fan and as reporter with this team, it actually , the more and more I thought about it the more it made sense to me. It sort of built up to this place where it should have happened all along...starting from a place where I said, 'i could do this?'"
On changes entering Brooklyn:
"We were all babes in the woods coming into Brooklyn and I think that was one of the more unexpected things: there was sort of an openness and a laissez-faire, 'if you're media, we're happy to have you' in New Jersey. Then all of a sudden became for reporters, or P.R., or players, something different. Everyone seemed to be looking over their shoulder, asking, 'How do we act here, what's the proper decorum? how much media access is good and what's right?' Nets basketball was a crash course for reporters ... the bigger setting, the bigger place."
"It was interesting in that there was so much positive about winning 49 games, making the playoffs for the first time time in six years ... and also that the expectations were so high, that there was disappointment when they got knocked out. It made for competing agendas on how the narrative should be.
The firing of Avery Johnson:
"On the principle of it, whether or not he deserved to get canned is different from whether he should be canned just for the team to move forward, I don't think given the situation, he deserved to get canned. I don't know many people who do. I mean Brook (Lopez) breaks his foot and then you have this long losing streak ... and you're supposed to have this 'winning team,' I mean that's hard, to be the rebuilder and then immediately get sent packing again.
"But (on the other hand), you could tell, the way he operated, he probably wasn't the right guy for the job long term. I think they needed --look at Kidd right now. As much as he's just a coach right now, his first year, and some of the older guys might see him as a player or however, (he's seen as the coach). Avery is a unique person in the world. If you don't jibe with him, I can imagine it can be very difficult. As a reporter, he can be difficult, so I can't imagine if he's barking out instructions, some players might not have the easiest time."
On how he saw team dynamics:
"There seemed to be the leaders. Everyone had their own corner of leadership: Deron (Williams) being the franchise player, Gerald (Wallace) being the voice, Reggie (Evans) being the guy everyone rallied around when he was playing well, Brook being the unsung hero, having this amazing season. You'd arrive at Barclays and certain players would be promoted on these billboards and those guys have a little bit more of a magnetic leadership on the surface, on the immediate surface in the locker room.
"Then, when you turnover into the bench, you get to know Mirza (Teletovic) a little bit and you get to know (Andray) Blatche a little bit, even Tyshawn (Taylor), these little quirky personalities on the bench that offset that canned thing that they're promoting. It made it all the more interesting. You have Blatche's talent, but not always the mindset or MarShon (Brooks') hardheadedness. You know them more as interview subjects (as a beat reporter) more than as people with families. You relate to certain things with certain guys.
Most Interesting Personality:
"Irina. When we sat down talking about the Nets, we had an extremely honest conversation. I felt like myself when I was talking to her in a way that I didn't feel like I was at work."
Impressions of Players:
"I think people who dismiss Blatche as a knucklehead don't really look at him really closely. Obviously, he's does plenty of knucklehead stuff in his life. He has a quick twitch mental recognition. He's always aware of what's going on. It can be kind of overwhelming to him at times. When he slows down, he's in his room, in his own.
"MarShon Brooks. You ask him a question, he gives you the answer. For whatever he didn't do on the court, his defense, you knew if you asked him, he gave you his answer. For a second year player, a young guy, it's either foolish or he has balls, but you have to respect that at some level.
"He took a lot of shit, from Avery in particular and P.J. really didn't slow down on him in press conferences and stuff. They weren't a good enough team for him to be the black sheep like that. That was the one thing that always unnerved me. It was always easy for them to tell his supporters he isn't doing x, y, z, but if you put him out there in the right situation, he could still put the ball in the basket. There were still positives to his game. It wasn't as if they had, rest in peace, Yinka Dare out there. There were positives to MarShon like you could work with him. A lot of it is support. People, I think, need support. That resonated with me.
"As for starters ... Watching Deron, I understood why people like that don't want that type of attention. When you see the routine, I wouldn't want to call it bogus, day-to-day sports interview stuff, it takes a lot of patience. If you do anything in your life every day for any period of time, and its to serve a certain purpose and you don't feel it serves yourself as much as other players might, I get it. Some people hide their frustration, some people pretend its not there. I give him credit for being honest and open about that. "
"It was hard being a member of the media without access to Mr. Prokhorov but they seemed in their own little world and the American side of the team seemed like it was in their own little cloud. I think it was fun to watch Prokhorov (match wits) with the media and have a good time and show his wit and sense of humor, that you can be the most interesting man in the world and take it serious when you need to. His presence ... I don't think we got the biggest impression of him.
"People in the media were more focused on what was going on on the court, what they can get out of Billy, can they talk to Bobby. I hope as time goes on, and if the Russian ownership exists for another 10 to 20 years, I hope we get to know them more on a universal level because I think that can trickle down in an organization and make it a better work environment because they do bring a different and refreshing attitude to the table when they do talk to them."
Hello, Brooklyn - a mutual embrace:
"I think there was a number of different facets in which they embraced Brooklyn. There was the fashion, ticket sales, promotional, 'Hello Brooklyn," the Brook-lyn chant. I think there will be layers to how this evolves. I think they're are certain people who are new to them now. I did some interviews with fans. I got to know different people and people are open to trying different things. They don't necessarily know everything about the game or the franchise. Those types of folks, it seems to me, are the initial catch. As far as turning Knicks fans and having the launch, having the team being the organic thing, being Brooklyn, aside from the business, that's going to take a long time for a number of reasons.
"Maybe ticket sales-wise and fashion-wise, you could make that argument (that Brooklyn embraced the Nets), you can make that case. You can't walk down the streets of New York without seeing someone rocking Nets gear.
"On Brooklynites identifying with the Brooklyn Nets as Brooklyn, that's a very grey area. I don't want to quantify it necessarily but I don't know. Especially in the basketball world, I think it's important that they make a bigger effort to connect with the legendary basketball place, whether it's Lincoln or Boys and Girls high schools or Bishop Loughlin. They're surrounded by this stuff. There's being a business and there's representing where you're business really is."
Is he optimistic about the franchise?
"I think it still needs to be proven off the court. I know too many family members in Brooklyn and it's still so early. On the court, if a free agent is going to come to New York, I think it would be to the Nets. But that's always an interesting thing to me: Would Kevin Durant go from Oklahoma City to play in Brooklyn? I don't know. That's a huge TBD. If you dont have draft picks for X amount of years, that's a gamble you're playing with, whether it goes for them or anybody else.
"The only question is that there are so few (superstars) who are absolutely magnetic and would fill your building ... transcendent.
"Between the arena and the ownership, it's hard not to imagine that (they will succeed in getting that superstar), I'd like to say yes but with the caveat that i wouldnt be surprised to see it turn out the other way."