One of our most memorable moments as a sports fan --hell, it was THE most memorable-- took place on November 26 of 2012, when the Nets hosted the Knicks. It was supposed to be the game that officially opened Barclays Center three weeks earlier but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.
The Nets won in a thrilling overtime game, their fans all decked out in mint condition black-and-white gear. As the game ended, the chant began, "Broook-lyn, Broook-lyn." It never stopped. Fans sang it as they moved onto the concourse, down the escalators, across the lobby and the entrance plaza, then down into the subway where it rang out on the platforms before finally drowning out as the last trains sped off into the Brooklyn ("Broook-lyn?") night. The other team's fans kept their distance, kept quiet, in a rare display of intelligence.
It certainly hasn't been that way this week, when everyone has seized on, with near Freudian glee, the psyche of the Brooklyn Nets fan. "What is wrong with these people? They don't cheer loud enough. They're late. They're too cool for school" seems to be mantra. The Brooklyn Nets Twitter feed offered advice on how fans should "take notes" and "set your DVD's" to see how a real playoff crowd --the Raptors'-- acts. Pedantic much? How about patronizing? Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have suggested Nets fans need to step it up. Yes, yes, we know you played in Boston. And the Raptors PR machine has just had a whole bunch of fun. Stephen A. Smith got in on the act late, calling Nets fans "wusses." Then again, Stephen sees the world as either "wusses" or "close personal friends."
So what do we think?
First, there is this myth that Nets fans are, in the words of Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Globe & Mail, "a visiting collection of Park Slope arrivistes and yuppies that last heard The Blueprint at a wine bar." It's a recurring theme: Nets fans are hipsters. Not people of color. Not familiar with the roundball game. Not only is that wrong, it is actively dishonest. (We're being kind.) Anyone who's actually been to a game knows what Nate Silver's blog reported this week: Nets fans are among the most diverse in the NBA, with 40.6 percent white fans, 35.9 percent black, 15.2 Hispanic and 8.3 percent Asian. You know, like New York.
A rather famous Knicks fan who attended his first Nets game recently told us that one of the things he appreciated about the Nets was how diversity "explodes" in the stands and in the work force at Barclays and the Nets should be justly proud of that. It matters ... a lot. And the next time you're waiting to descend into the subway from the entrance plaza, listen to the languages spoken around you. That's Brooklyn! Half of the population of the borough, about 1.25 million people, were born outside the US, as many as at anytime in the borough's history. Brooklyn goes on forever in geography and culture. It doesn't end at Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope.
Yeah, we admit last season fandom was kind of forced. Management wasn't sure what to expect. So they primed the pump. They pushed the black-and-white theme, "Broook-lyn" and may have manufactured more than they needed to, but it worked. Nets gear sales gear soared from 31st to 4th, YES TV ratings racked up the biggest increase of any NBA team. And after selling out four times in Newark, they sold out 22 times in Brooklyn (26 this year.)
This season, things have been a bit more organic with fan personalities like Jeffrey Gamblero, WhiteNoyz, the Brooklyn CowBell Guy and the Brooklyn 3 (what other team has triplets!?) joining Mr. Whammy. The Brooklyn Brigade has become a nightly sensation whose special mission seems to be coming up with more clever chants than the previous game. They're like the Nets' own Greek chorus! (In ancient Greece, such choruses consisted of between 12 and 50 players, who variously danced, sang or spoke their lines in unison and sometimes wore masks. Sounds about right.)
Maybe they don't cheer as loudly as Boston fans. Well, the Celtics do have a bit more of a legacy than the two-year-old Nets. They have 17 pennants hanging from the ceiling at TD Garden. Maybe they're not as potty-mouthed as Toronto fans or their GM. Well, in Canada, curses aren't bleeped out on TV, so its culture is more, uh, free-spirited. ....like their mayor! Yikes. Maybe Nets fans don't show up on time. Well, this IS New York, not some 9-to-5 cowtown. People work late, but if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. (By the way, we've checked and couldn't find a single Sinatra or Jay-Z tribute to Ontario.)
The Nets fan is a work in progress. Big deal. It will take time. So what? So have a lot of great things. And make no mistake, these are Brooklyn fans, New York fans, not transplanted New Jersey fans. They're a new breed. Only about one in ten fans at Nets games is from New Jersey, considerably less than the team expected. Almost as many fans walk home from the game as drive or take the train(s) to the Jersey side.
When will Nets fans find themselves? Shouldn't take long. That's not an excuse. It's a promise. Maybe Friday night, at 7 p.m. Be there.