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Back at Barclays: Aussie fan remembers his first trip to Brooklyn ... and Hurricane Sandy

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Matt Encarnacion was the Australian Nets fan who decided to fly alone from Sydney to Brooklyn in October 2012 so he could be witness Barclays on Opening Night. But Hurricane Sandy intervened. His connecting flight from Honolulu to NY was canceled. Instead he flew to LA. While there, his wallet was stolen in Venice Beach and he was informed his air route to New York would have to go via Detroit to Philly then a Greyhound bus to Port Authority. But we were ready for him. Fans on ND encouraged him to try. After we told Irina of his and another fan's plight, she arranged the red carpet, including a tour of the arena, a meeting with Mikhail Prokhorov in his suite and even brief hellos with Jay-Z, Beyonce and Adam Silver. Not a bad reward. On Wednesday, he was back at Barclays, this time as a reporter with Australian Associated Press, a working journalist. And this time, he came with his wife. He reminisced with us.

Dennis Lin/NetsDaily

"The spotlight’s hitting something that’s been known to change the weather, we’ll kill the fatted calf tonight."

That’s what Sir Elton was telling me as we made our way towards the Lincoln Tunnel on season-opening day.

Chances were that we weren’t exactly going to make mince meat of the Chicago Bulls, but at least someone was telling me something.

Three years ago I was in precisely the same spot, roughly three hours into a bus ride from Philly, and no one was telling me anything.

That’s because I was all on my own lonesome. First time in The Big Apple. In The States. In fear of whether this dramatic gauntlet would gulp me up and swallow me whole.

Wait, that’s not entirely true. My NetsDaily family had taken every single step with me. Sandy might have taken over the air, but a poster said she hadn’t taken over the roads. The Great NI had friends in high places. The Beautiful Irina had friends in higher ones.

It was Game Day back then, too. Or at least it was supposed to be. The spotlight of "Hello Brooklyn" changed the weather enough for our fateful meeting to be postponed a couple of days.

But that didn’t stop me from dragging my tired self to The Barclays on Opening Night back then. There was something hauntingly romantic about making it to a closed front door days after leaving my friends early, getting robbed on Venice Beach, and Game One being cancelled halfway through.

My wallet might not have been ripped from me on this trip, but it might well have been the night before. Similar to 2012, I had watched another home-opener before Brooklyn. This time instead of watching The King, I was witness to the Curry-man, whose scoring repertoire is just as frightening as the streets of Oakland outside of that arena. (Note to self: drive with the windows up and the doors locked when in the wrong side of The Bay.)

I had to leave at three-quarter time for the red-eye flight but again, I made it. Oh boy did I make it. Not only was I returning to the scene of arguably the greatest moment in my fan-girl life, but I came back triumphantly armed with credentials.

All those years spent following Yahoo’s play-by-play on that buzzing 56k modem, all those after-college hours spent toiling away without pay in the dying magazine industry, all those emails begging editors for coffees to read my amateur efforts…. they all paid off.

I’m no Woj, but three years on and I had arrived as a sports journalist (mainly covering rugby league - see now San Francisco 49er Jarryd Hayne). Three years ago I sat courtside with a free velvet cake. Three years on and I walked into the lockers with a notepad in hand.

It wasn’t exactly work - I made sure of that when I asked Sarah Kustok to smile awkwardly next to a random Australian fan. But it wasn’t exactly all fun either - waiting on the Bulls' Cameron Bairstow for an hour isn’t dream-worthy.

I’d call it fun-work. Fun first, because while we didn’t exactly kill the calf (bull), we’ve unearthed a young one Rondae who I, thanks to some encouraging words from NI at halftime, firmly believe can be a cornerstone in this franchise alongside Brook. And it’s work second, because, hell, who really wants to read about Bairstow becoming the next Pau Gasol?

As we all know, my now-colleagues who get paid for alleged expertise have found any number of ways - analytical or not - to wave the Nets goodbye this year. But this one isn’t. Three years ago, the franchise looked after one of their own from Sydney, Australia. Three years later I’d like to return the favour. Like I said, I’m no Woj. But in RHJ, Young and Lopez, not all is lost. They’re a few pieces away from re-surfacing in a weak conference.

Or, as Sir Elton would say: "Hey kids, plug into the faithless. Maybe their blinded, but Bennie makes them ageless. We shall survive, let us take ourselves along."