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How The Brooklyn Brigade became a building block in establishing Nets culture

Chris Milholen talks to The Brooklyn Brigade’s founder, Bobby Edemeka, about how the group evolved and how proud they are of the team.

As players scuffled in Game 4 of the Nets-76ers match-up and refs and coaches tried to restore order, a chant arose from Section 114 at Barclays Center.

“BROOOK-LYN, BROOO-LYN” Soon, the whole arena joined in as loud as it’s ever been. The BK Block, home of the Brooklyn Brigade, was marking its territory and what a territory it is.

Section 114 in the Barclays Center has established its place as the heart of an increasingly rowdy Nets fanbase. There, denizens of The Brigade, with their signs, their big heads and, of course, their chants personalized and directed at opponents, stand and cheer and cheer.

But the group is not just another example of a section of an arena filled with fans supporting their team. The Brooklyn Brigade has been a big building block in establishing a Nets culture.

If you’ve never been to Barclays, The Brigade is a group of Brooklyn Nets diehards styled after the raucous supporters’ groups that are popular within soccer culture. Founded by fans in November 2012, it continues to be organized and independently run by Nets fans, but is officially recognized by the Brooklyn Nets organization. The Brigade’s current membership stands at nearly 250 fands and new members can join at any time during the calendar year.

What was different this season was that the Nets set aside a whole section of the arena as “The BK Block” (or just “the Block”). Section 114 is located in a corner of Barclays Center, next to the media, a permanent home for The Brooklyn Brigade and other Nets fans who share The Brigade’s energy, passion, positivity ... and wit.

The Nets have had a total of eight home arenas in two states since they have been an NBA team in New York, then New Jersey and now back in New York. Over the past decade, there’s been a repetitive theme: in big games, opposing fans have out-numbered and out-screamed Nets fans in the stands. This year, The Brooklyn Brigade has started to revise that theme. From now on, operating from their perch high above the floor —and fueled by Modelo supplied on more than one occasion by Sean Marks— they’ve done their best to rally the Brooklyns.

And it all started with a fan on a mission.

Bobby Edemeka is the founder of the Brooklyn Brigade. He got the idea after attending a few early home games in November of 2012. The Nets were a novelty in Brooklyn. They were like an expansion team looking for its identity. Edemeka, an investment banker with a degree from Harvard and a proclivity for action, decided it was time for a change.

”As an NBA fan who has all the Brooklyn pride that comes along with being a Brooklyn native, I knew I wanted to be there from the Nets first day in Brooklyn,” Edemeka told NetsDaily. “So once it seemed certain that Brooklyn was going to have its own NBA team, I bought season tickets for the Brooklyn Nets the season before the move and started doing my homework on the team by reading NetsDaily.”

Bobby is not just known as the founder. He put his money where his mouth —and those of his fellow fans— are. He got a small group of fans, 20 people, to come together, at his cost, for a regular season game against the Clippers. The catalyst for his idea was the Loud and Proud section from the New Jersey Nets days in the Prudential Center.

”After attending the first few home games at Barclays Center during that first season in Brooklyn, I noticed that the crowd atmosphere was quiet and a bit sterile,” Edemeka told NetsDaily. “I had read some NetsDaily articles about the ‘Loud and Proud’ section that the Nets had established in Newark but I learned that there was no plan to replicate that section in Brooklyn.

“I thought it could be cool if we could do a self-made version of ‘Loud and Proud’ at Barclays Center in order to inject some energy into the crowd. So I made a fanpost on NetsDaily and invited 20 people to come join me at a game. I bought the tickets and gave them away for free and everything worked out really well - we even won the game! I thought it was going to be a one-time thing but it was so much fun that we just kept it going and for the first two seasons we bounced around from section to section, depending on where I could get enough tickets.”

The fans he brought to the games shared the Brooklyn native’s love for his home borough ... and his organizational skills (not to mention patience.)

“He’s like the God Father of the Brigade, the head honcho,” said Doug Bearak, a longtime Brigade member. “He is one of us but at the same time he is a major benefactor to the culture.”

“I think the time, effort, and dedication he has put into the group that shows no only how big of a fan and supporter of the Nets he is, but also how much he cares about everyone he’s came across through the group,” said a fan who only wants to known as “Tao” .

Hopping from section to section in the Barclays Center, in 2013, the Brigade began to get some cred from the Nets organization. It was initially a slow process.

Edemeka credits our Net Income for making that initial introduction between Bobby and Irina Pavlova, the former CEO of the company that holds Prokhorov’s ownership interest in the Brooklyn Nets. Pavlova got the possibilities and she and Edemeka began plotting a bigger role for the Brigade. That’s him and her in the upper right.

Bobby Edemeka (upper left) with Irina Pavlova and members of the Brooklyn Brigade.
The Brooklyn Brigade

“Irina Pavlova is essentially the Godmother of The Brooklyn Brigade because, right after our first Brigade outing, Irina invited me to an introductory meeting with several senior executives within the Nets organization,” Edemeka recalled. “A tremendous display of highly influential support for our nascent group for which I’ll always be grateful. While Irina was on board with us from the beginning, it took a couple of seasons for The Brigade to truly gain traction within the Nets organization.”

”During the majority of the first two seasons in Brooklyn, although Irina Pavlova maintained a keen interest in us, there wasn’t much coordination between The Brigade and the broader Nets organization,” Edemeka added. “That partnership and coordination began during the second round of the playoffs in our second season in Brooklyn, the season we had Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett together.”

Things first started to pick up during season 3 in Brooklyn. That was when the Nets organization started assigning The Brigade seats in Section 114. Ironically, the section they were assigned was located right near the press box, giving the rising Brigade a platform to rise. It’s hard to ignore a screaming, standing, beer-guzzling group of men and women next door.

”The third season is Brooklyn is when they [the Nets organization] began to carve out seats for us in Section 114 so we wouldn’t have to roam from section to section anymore. We didn’t have the entire section yet but they reserved a couple of rows for us. We didn’t pick the section but, looking back, it was clearly beneficial to seat us next to the press box -- that definitely helps in terms of amplifying the reach of our cheering and chanting, particular for people who are not in the arena.”

“It was almost as if it was planned,” said one smiling Nets executive of putting The Brigade cheek-by-jowl with the press.

Brett Yormark, the CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center, began his relationship with the Brigade at the tail end of the 2013-14 season, the Miami Heat playoff series. Yormark would come by before every first home game and say hello to the section. In addition, Yormark gave Nets swag gear to the section prior to the game. There was a reception for the group in one of the plush lounges under the arena.

There were temporary setbacks. While executives got it, security guards sometimes didn’t get the message, telling the Brigade on more than one occasion to sit down and remove their banner.

Then, the final catalyst arrived.

Sean Marks immediately understood where the Brigade fit within his plans for a new basketball culture in Brooklyn. He brought the Brigade into Mikhail Prokhorov’s double suite at center court and to HSS Training center, took questions, even answered a few. He also brought them into the mainstream of the organization.

Marks has been hands on, whether helping formalize the relationship between team and fans or offering one-on-one encouragement at games. From simply stopping by to sit for a while ... say hello to the individual fans to personally handing cases of Modelo’s up to the group, Marks has made it known he respects The Brigade. For Edemeka, having that respects from the Nets organization is critical. It is also an additional point for the Brigade to keep driving what they have been doing.

“Those relationships have been incredible,” Edemeka told NetsDaily. “From a fan’s perspective, it’s incredibly humbling as well as inspirational when the CEO and the GM of the team that you support acknowledges you as a group or as individuals and express any degree of recognition and appreciation for the contributions that you are making as a fan.”

It’s not just executives either. Nets players have expressed their gratitude to Section 114. From head coach Kenny Atkinson to D’Angelo Russell and his teammates, the Brigade has received support throughout the season. For Edemeka and the Brigade, hearing those compliments mean the world to them and their mission is being accomplished.

“And without those strong relationships, The Block would never have been created as a home for The Brooklyn Brigade.”

Then, there’s the other recognition, like when the Brigade tortured the Knicks back in January. Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic described it in a tweet, one of many times a reporter took note of the Brigade’s drollery...

So now, the Brigade is part of the progress the Nets make. On top of bringing the heat to the Nets culture, the Brigade established a method to keep their culture and identity consistent.

“Tickets in The BK Block section are not available on Ticketmaster; you have to audition for free season passes prior to the start of the season or you had to join the Brigade and buy single-game tickets through the Brigade,” Edemeka told NetsDaily.

“The point of that approach is to ensure the consistent culture that we bring to that section. You don’t want opposing team fans in there, you don’t want people who are just going to be quiet and be on their phones through the entire game, so what we are trying to do is protect that culture of energetic, passionate, and positive support for the Brooklyn Nets.”

So far, it’s worked.

“For me, and for sure the rest of The Brigade, it reinforces how important it is that we keep bringing that energetic support that we provide every game,” said Edemeka.

The group is as diverse as the city and borough the team represents. Aside from the investment banker, there’s a personal trainer, a museum curator, a professional photographer, a rookie New York cop and construction workers, not to mention Bobby’s sister and triplet brothers.

“Its very much like a family,” said Bearak. “Not everyone knows each other one hundred percent but when we get together, we are definitely family. When they (Nets) are on the court, most of us I’d like to say, ‘give it all’ and it’s a very surreal type of feel. We always get loud and you really feel that connection. We stand up, we get loud, we joke around a lot, especially with our chants we like to slip in some humor, respectful humor at least.”

Since the Nets moved to Brooklyn, they have always been classified as the other team in New York. The Nets and their fans have experienced some rough years including three consecutive seasons of less than 30 wins. This past season, the Nets changed that losing perspective and was one of the N.B.A’s surprise teams.

That success is not just highlighted on what happens on the court. Brooklyn has built a culture many teams cannot relate to. All the players this season, except for Jared Dudley, lived in the borough and their fan base is on a rise. The numbers show it. Before the All-Star Break, the Nets were averaging 14.407 paying fans per game, but as the playoff dream became reality, attendance jumped. After the break, the Nets attendance jumped to 16,397, including sell-outs the last five home dates plus two more in the playoffs.

”From the fan culture perspective, I think the Brigade has been helpful in highlighting that Nets fans DO exist in New York City: we are here, we are proud to be Nets fans, we will be loud about being Nets fans,” Edemeka said.

“We provide something of a lightning rod for other Nets fans: our visibility at Barclays Center, our chants, and our passion attracts other Nets fans to us. Nets fans can look at The Brigade and say ‘here is a group of people who I can relate to, who I want to hang out with, and who I want to go to games with.

“I do not need to go to the Barclays Center and be quiet and be embarrassed about cheering for my team just because we have fans of visiting teams sitting all around us’. They can look to The Brigade as a group that’s getting bigger every day and welcomes other proud Nets fans to join in on the fun we have together.”

The feedback from the players and coaches —as well as the GM— is a big reward for the fans.

“Whenever we hear feedback like that, it means the world to us because that is what this is all about,” Edemeka told NetsDaily. “Our mission is a pretty simple one. What we are trying to do is to create a true home court advantage for our players by supplying maximum energy and passion and positivity at every game we attend. That is the mission.

“So whenever we hear feedback from players or coaches that they hear us and that they value our contribution to the crowd atmosphere, that is everything we are about. It means a lot to us whenever we hear that...

”As a Nets fan, I couldn’t be more excited about the future of this team. Between the front office, the coaching staff, and the talented core of young players, the Nets have created a winning culture and laid a strong foundation for future successes. As a member of The Brooklyn Brigade, I’m also very excited about of the future of our group. I believe The Brigade’s strong culture of fanatical support for the Nets combined with our close partnership with the Nets organization sets us up well for continued growth.”

And he hints, they may take over other parts of the arena.

“As The Brigade continues to grow, maybe one day you’ll see us taking over even more sections at Barclays ... you never know!”