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On Jeffrey Gamblero and what it means to be a 'fan'

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On December 2, Brooklyn Nets super-fan Jeffrey Vanchiro, known professionally and personally as Jeffrey Gamblero, was forcefully removed from Madison Square Garden for being a "disruptive" basketball fan. He was treated as less-than-human by the Madison Square Garden security, carried out of the arena without his prosthetic leg and, ultimately, dropped on his head.

Two days later, I was asked by a close friend of Gamblero's if I wanted to speak with him about the incident. Initially, I thought, "absolutely!" Gamblero, however, was in the hospital and, later, dealing with injuries and later, as we've come to learn, more than just embarrassment from a terrible incident. So, it never transpired.

A few days after I spoke with one of his friends, Gamblero himself reached out to me and asked if I wanted to talk about the incident. To be honest, I wasn't so sure at this point.

Then, after speaking with a few people in my life who I trust and whose opinion I truly respect, I wavered about whether or not it was something I wanted to "get involved in." Gamblero had spoken briefly to Mitch Abramson of the Daily News and later Mike Mazzeo of ESPN, who both did fantastic work in gathering information about what had happened that night. Eventually, I balked. From some weird -- maybe? -- domesticated, or possibly institutionalized, place I thought that we have enough on the story and to further it along would mean that down the line we would have then injected ourselves into the story. A little overthinking on my part.

On Sunday, just over two weeks since the incident, Gamblero was in the ICU after having jumped out of the second-story window at his father's house in Queens. Later that day, he passed away.

After wrestling all day with the sadness of what had happened to Gamblero, I began to beat myself up a little because, shit, I messed up. Not because I passed on the "story," but because I missed on the opportunity to talk to Gamblero about anything. Not just the story, but anything.

I won't say he was a friend of mine, it was more that we were friendly with each other. He always, always said "hello" to me when he saw me at Barclays and would ask first and foremost how I was, with a big smile on his face and full daps, then ask me whether I thought the Nets would "get the win tonight." Always.

See, I knew who Gamblero was, much like the rest of us did. Likewise, he knew who I was -- which I still, to this day, three seasons later, never get tired of when someone stops me at a game and says "hello" -- because he was a part of our NetsDaily community.

Gamblero read our work and he read the comments. Your comments. And while it wasn't even close to being "all of you," he read the one percent of you who actually comment on the site who questioned his fandom and his credentials as a "super fan." He was one of ours, as a fan and a member of our community, but he was rarely given the same amount of respect that we ask you to give to each other, and on more than one occasion he told members of our staff that he had seen these comments. It certainly wasn't easy on him to read and it wasn't fair that we had to defend our community on behalf of a vocal few.

On April 9th of this year I received this following e-mail (sic) after I posted a feature we had done on Gamblero:

tom,

had to respond to your piece on the nets daily by this alleged superfan, "gamblero" which isnt even his real name- his real name is jeff vanchiro- u can google him hes got a nice long rap sheet for graffiti and vandalism ( he calls this art ) in new york .

would also like to bring this to ur attention as well- this is direct from his instagram and i believe cited in the comments of the piece u posted: this guy is as fake is as fake gets, sad that real brooklyn fans, and apparently the nets have bought his act. its kind of pathetic.

I can verify that this guy had knicks season tickets until 2 years ago and conveniently erased all of his tweets prior to the move in brooklyn- guy was a "die hard" knick fan before the nets were in brooklyn.

in the future, please make sure to feature real fans who have been with this team since the bad years in nj. there arent a lot of us, and we may not be as camera hungry as this clown-- but we are there--- sorry tom, this fraud needs to be exposed.

an angry real nets fan.

I didn't touch it.

And here we are, again and again, keeping score about "fraudulent" fans and how you can't possibly be anything but "true", if you started rooting for the Nets upon their arrival in Brooklyn. The sad thing was, no one fan was more of a target of these attacks than Gamblero, who was, by my estimation, working in conjunction with folks like the Brooklyn Brigade and White Noyze, among others, to be the true heart and soul of the Brooklyn fan base.

"I just love the NBA," Gamblero was heard saying as he was being carried away by the Madison Square Garden security. This, again, turned into a battle among our community as to whether or not he was "true" and a "real" Nets fan. Dude was a "'die hard' knick (sic) fan before the nets (sic) were in brooklyn (sic)."

I've been threatened with physical violence by some of the most "die hard" Nets fans. Our mods, Net Income and I have been called names I would not want to repeat on this or any forum one hundred times over, over the last decade, by "die hard" Nets fans. If that's what makes someone a "die hard" fan, then, no, Gamblero was not that.

His fiancee, Kristi Evans, as reported by Andrew Keh, that Gamblero was a "different person" after the MSG incident. He was afraid, horrified and "delusional." He was treated like an animal by the MSG security guards and treated like a fraud by many in our community. Even after his death, no less.

Moments later in a tweet to Gamblero's fiancee:

And here is how one "die hard" fan treated Gamblero, with Jeffrey's perfect response:

The "die hard" fan's response:

These attacks on his fandom, because he had Knicks season tickets, because he loved the NBA and because he wasn't "authentic" enough were far too common in this space. (Read them here).

It's not all, it's some, but it's a loud some. Far too loud.

The reality was and is, however, that we have a community of over 10,000 registered users and on the Gamblero story alone just yesterday we had nearly six times that number in visitors. Many, probably most, of those fans are not transplants from the "good ol' days" in New Jersey. Many, probably most, of those fans are Brooklyn Nets fans who supported Gamblero and were probably affected by him in a positive way. (Read those comments if you want to see how a majority of fans truly felt about him.)

I'll miss Gamblero and his spirit and energy. I'll miss the dude's big smile and warmth. I know, too, that most all of you feel the same way about him. And as Brett Yormark said, "I'm hoping we can find more Jeffreys."

Me too, Brett. I'd rather an arena full of Nets fans with Gamblero's passion and credentials than one filled with the cynical card-carriers who care more about their own standing as a Nets fan than they do about building an open-door community.

Jeffrey Gamblero may not have been a "die hard" Nets fan in the way you wanted him to be, but he was certainly one of the absolute best Nets fans and he'll be missed, by more people than you can imagine.