When the New Jersey Nets moved to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season, a business was born in what could be described as the most unique borough in the world's largest market. A global business owned by a Russian billionaire and rep'ed by a Jigga Man. A move that, over the past decade-plus, was like no other. One that had just as much to do about culture and style as it did about profit margins.
Its importance, in the short, may not feel so grand, since the protagonists, for the most part, were holdovers from the New Jersey days and all that changed were a few "antagonists" who felt the move was not a net-positive for their beloved borough. In the long run, though, and in theory and practice, moving an NBA franchise to the world's largest market will be a seminal moment for the league and for sports, in general. And that is why Jake Appleman's book, "Brooklyn Bounce: The Highs and Lows of Nets Basketball's Historic First Season in the Borough" is so important.
Today, the book acts as a chronicle -- not necessarily in chronological order -- of a season that may still be fresh in your head. But, tomorrow, the book will act as a refresher, later a source to call back to, and down the road a historical account of what it meant to you, me, us and them as the Nets relocated from Brooklyn to New Jersey.
An Interview With Jake Appleman
An Interview With Jake Appleman
This book has you, Nets fan, in mind. In that, you know the season's highs and lows, the record and the outcomes, but Appleman gives you perspective from inside the organization, from the players, coaches and management who for the most part are difficult to read. He gives the likes of Keith Bogans, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and even Brook Lopez a personality. For every "Uhhh" from Lopez, "Ummm" from Williams and pseudo answer to questions about teamwork, heartache and struggle, Appleman doesn't promote an agenda or force a narrative, instead he paints a portrait; one that provides a little color to a team coated in black and white.
Appleman writes of Avery Johnson, the "Little General," in a way that speaks to Nets fans who "battled" alongside him for two-plus seasons of near-.300 basketball, then tips over to P.J. Carlesimo -- or, I guess you can call him "The Interim" -- who provided personality, won basketball games (he had a .648 winning percentage in the regular season), but was never able to win over the support of the fans and, more importantly, management.
The book also delves deeply into the plight of Deron ("pronounced Dare-wren, not Duh-ron or Der-in") Williams, who for the year preceding the move and the inaugural season in Brooklyn was in the driver's seat -- all moves related to Nets personnel were made with Williams in mind, and criticism was skirted, because if he he wasn't playing well it was mostly related to system and health, which he appreciates your concern for, but not because of a lack of desire, will or conditioning.
It's not as if Appleman makes Williams come off as a villain or unlikable. On the contrary. He paints a portrait of Williams as someone who is/was in a transition, in a position that none of us -- OK, most of us -- will ever find ourselves in. His salary, his personal life and his personal struggles were put on display in the world's largest market. He was finding his way, and in that he struggled on and off the basketball court. When he was playing well (see: post-All-Star break 2013) he carried the label as "franchise player" quite well. It suited him. But when he struggled (see: pre-All-Star break 2012-13) he was nothing more than an "overpaid player who wins regular season games, but not playoff series." It's easy to see how one could struggle with the Jeckll and Hyde of an NBA season.
In an interview with Paul Flannery on his Drive & Kick Podcast, Flannery evokes David Shield's "Black Planet," which is exactly what came to mind when I read "Brooklyn Bounce." In it, Shields covered nearly all of the 1994-95 Seattle Supersonics home games (and watched the road games on TV), talking to players, coaches, fans and others, in an attempt to understand race relations in the NBA -- white journalists and white fans trying to cover and understand "black heroes." No, Appleman's book isn't a "provocative" look at race relations in the NBA, but it does touch on the importance of media relations as it pertains to covering the NBA and also, more importantly, the culture to which we are all a part of as NBA fans.
Brooklyn, in itself, is a cultural hotbed, and no sport embodies culture more so than professional basketball. None. Appleman notes not only Jay Z's involvement in the Nets, but the likes of Justin Timberlake, who is part owner of the Grizzlies, Nelly's involvement with Bobcats and even the impact Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James have on hip-hop music. In fact, Brooklyn is hip-hop; hip-hop is the NBA. That was not lost on Appleman who spends plenty of time in this book writing about this perfect marriage.
He also writes about the Brooklyn Nets -- or, Brooklyn itself -- as a brand. Has there ever been a professional franchise that took as much of an interest in branding, design and culture as the Brooklyn Nets? I can't think of another team that placed (its own version of...) Irina Pavlova, the president of ONEXIN Sports and Entertainment, and (its version of...) Jay Z in the same room together in a thorough business "battle," in deep discussion over the team's logo. Or how about the creation of the BrooklynKnight, the Nets' mascot, who seemingly has been the cause of many sleepless nights, and is described by Ms. Pavlova as being "misunderstood."
"He's smiling," Pavlova told Appleman in speaking of the BrooklynKnight. "People will grown to love him...He's awesome. He's strong. He's not furry. He's not soft. He's powerful." The BrooklynKnight, she was talking about. Though, she could very well have been talking about Brooklyn, the borough, as well -- except for, maybe, furry; there are plenty of beards in Brooklyn.
Culture, basketball, branding, business and Brooklyn are all important themes in this book. Again, a book that now is a very fun, interesting read, and that over time will become an important piece of NBA history. This is a book that needed to be written. If and when another writer decides to chronicle the history of the Brooklyn Nets or anything related to basketball in Brooklyn, it's the "Brooklyn Bounce" that will be the ultimate reference.
Whether you're "in the know," a diehard fan, or even a casual NBA fan, there's a taste for everyone in this book. Especially since Appleman has a refreshing voice and a talent putting words...down...on...paper...in...order. Meaning, he can write. And, yes, that's refreshing.
I definitely recommend "Brooklyn Bounce," and would be curious to hear what our readers who've read it think about the book, and if you haven't read it yet, I suggest picking it up.