Vince Carter received a call from his agent in June 2009 while he was teaching a basketball camp in Orlando. The call was to let him know the New Jersey Nets had traded him. Carter screamed at the top of his lungs and supposedly ran out of the gym jumping up and down while celebrating.
Jason Kidd forced his way out. First he wanted L.A., then Dallas, just not, not New Jersey. Deron Williams left the Nets without a peep, without a word. Under cover of darkness, so to speak.
In January of 2016 (only 18 months ago), following his decision to dump Lionel Hollins and Billy, Mikhail Prokhorov addressed the media —alone behind a simple table— to discuss the state of the Nets. The restructuring of the Brooklyn Nets was in its first stage. Sean Marks hiring was a month away.
Little did we know: Prokhorov’s words would foreshadow what was to come and what was needed to establish a culture in Brooklyn.
“I want to stress also one very important aspect, and for me it's really great lesson” Prokhorov stated.
“We are playing with the best market in the world. And of course, it is a market which makes great pressure, great, a lot of attention, a very active press. That's why we need players and a coach who can resist this pressure, who can survive. So, we need not only players who, like, want to play for us, but they can play for us.
It may have been a subtle dig at Williams, who (infamously) had talked this way about the city…
“I grew up in an apartment in Texas where you could send your kids outside like, ‘Yeah, go play in the sun.’ Here it’s more challenging,” Williams said in an interview with the New York Daily News.
“The process of getting them into school (in New York) is a nightmare. Even private schools where you pay are an ordeal. In Utah, you just send your kids to the first public school in the area because they’re all great.
“Truth is, we enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle and going back to Utah every summer. It’s a relief to take that timeout. No traffic. No crowds. My daughters still have their friends there. There’s a big backyard. They go to the pool; the playground and they jump on the trampoline. Kids running wild and free here…? I don’t think so.”
… OK, then. Not a New Yorker.
This script is tiresome, but it provided a learning lesson for the owner, a city guy himself, even if the city was Moscow. And it’s something worth appreciating now: the Brooklyn Nets, under Sean Marks; under Kenny Atkinson are filling up with players that want to be here.
And that is what’s going to make or break this whole culture thing and the success that comes with it. You need players that want and can handle playing in a city where all they do is eat, sleep and drink basketball. You need coaches that want to be here.
Newest Net Allen Crabbe was introduced Thursday and had a smile on his face the entire time. Almost every sentence ended with the word “excited”.
“It’s going to be different around here,” Crabbe said. “It’s not going to be the same as last year. They did a great job this off-season and I’m just excited.”
“I feel like once that culture is built everybody is going to buy in,” Crabbe added.
And that’s what makes the young Brooklyn Nets so refreshing. Regardless of wins and losses, they’re a team that’s worth getting behind because they’re proud to represent Brooklyn, New York. They’re excited to embrace the culture and what the future has in store.
Crabbe took less money to play with the Nets! He was so excited, that he said when his agent called him Wednesday at Miami International Airport with news of the trade, he had to decide whether to waive his track kicker, which amounted to $5.6 million. He agreed ... happily. "Doesn't hurt too bad,” he said, noting that it was the Nets who inserted the kicker in the first place.
Then, there’s the cornerstone of the future, D’Angelo Russell. He, Crabbe and LeVert are vital to Brooklyn’s vision. Some with the Nets say they’re untouchable. Russell says he’s bought into – not hype – but what’s in front of him: structure, balance and hunger. The desire to create something special in Brooklyn.
“Me coming to Brooklyn and everything's new; Sean Marks has his credibility, Kenny has his credibility,” he said in this week’s interview with Woj. “Me, I'm trying to find myself in this league, and I'm under these guys' wing.”
“He’s [Atkinson] a great dude,” Russell added. I’m really looking forward to working with him. I know he’s a hungry coach. He has something to prove and I have something to prove, so I think we’re going to work well together.”
That’s been a key piece in players wanting to be here in Brooklyn: Kenny Atkinson. Take Jeremy Lin for example. He said several times that he signed in Brooklyn because of Atkinson. He took less money than he would’ve received on the market. But like Crabbe, like Russell – Lin wants to be a part of something special.
Or even take 22-year-old Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. When he was traded to the Nets on draft night, he stood in front of reporters and rapped on how he felt about going to Brooklyn. It went like this:
"Look out Brooklyn, here I come. You can’t hide, you can’t run, I’m coming, baby!" It’s a totally new makeup since then, but he’s been grateful to be in Brooklyn from day one.
Even DeMarre Carroll has already said numerous times how excited he is to leave Toronto and come to Brooklyn. “Yeah man, it’s a reunion,” Carroll said of joining up with Atkinson in his first interview with the local media. “It’s basically like going off to college and coming back to your family. I feel like it’s my family. This is where I belong, and where I’m comfortable at.”
The list goes on.
Could you ever say the same in the past when the Nets traded for Paul Pierce – whose head was stuck in Boston until the first round of the playoffs. Most recently, Pierce wore Nets shorts to his final signing with the Celtics saying, “Hey Danny [Ainge], see this?”, tugging at the silver and black of the Nets. “This is where you sent me!”
That was a leader? Somebody who wanted to be a Net? Nah.
There’s no sense in dwelling on the past or the players that came by. But at the very least, the Nets appeared to have learned their lesson from creating a toxic culture.
Prokhorov laid it out and knew what it took to create a successful culture the second time around. Marks is filling in the pieces to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Instead of almost disliking your own players, the Nets are filled with players that Brooklyn fans can get behind.
Cohesiveness, communicating, empathizing and hard work have all been highlighted in this culture change. It’s new and it’s refreshing. In 50 years of Nets basketball, it’s hard to recall more than three players that genuinely wanted to play here.
Now it seems like the entire roster is proud to be a Net.