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Hello Brooklyn! Nets in the borough strengthen links, both subtle and direct, to community

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Brooklyn Nets

It’s a throw-back, in a way, to the Dodgers of old. They weren’t just the home team. They were at home in Brooklyn. Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Jackie Robinson, etc. all lived in the borough, were part of it.

Now, the Brooklyn Nets —their players, their coaches, their staff— have taken up residence in the “city.” At first, it was strongly encouraged by management. Now, it’s more organic and as Joe Vardon writes for The Athletic, there are benefits to it all that were not envisioned.

Getting involved in Brooklyn, through charities and community events, is the more visible of the community involvement. But being seen walking the streets, having coffee in a local shop, grocery shopping may be having at least as big an impact.

Vardon writes, for example, about how Kenny Atkinson walks to work, a mile and a half jaunt, that takes him through neighborhood after neighborhood in the late afternoon, about how Jarrett Allen is well known to the employees of a local grocery store around the corner from his apartment and about a lot of players either play or watch the game at Brooklyn Bridge Park where the Nets hold their annual outdoor open practice.

“It’s lively, it’s dynamic,” Atkinson told Vardon. “It calms my nerves before the game. I breathe. Just kind of weaving. It’s a cool walk.”

The native New Yorker appreciates what he sees.

“Like my wife always jokes, when I first get in the door, I never talk about the game,” he said. “I talk about the taxi driver, this guy I met, a guy who was from Pakistan. What a super nice guy. We talked about whatever. It’s a New York experience, it’s really the Brooklyn experience. It’s not grandiose, it’s not spectacular, it’s your daily stimulation that you might not have if you’re living in a different place, living in a suburban place.”

Allen who lives in Gowanus habituates a local grocery ... he loves to cook, and the people who work there know him.

“We’re all getting involved in the community and people can see the effects of what we’re doing. I think people are taking note of the things we do and how in tune with Brooklyn we actually are.”

The employees at Whole Foods Gowanus agree.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Najee Upson, 26, a Brooklynite and employee at the Whole Foods grocery store in Gowanus, where Allen shops. “The fact that they choose to stay here in Brooklyn compared to everywhere else, it’s a pretty cool experience, honestly, to just see them walking out in the open. We’re so used to seeing them on TV, so when we see them on the streets or just roaming around or coming here into the store, it’s like wow. That’s something.”

“They could have people shop for them, but they do it themselves,” adds Darius Liauto, 22, another Whole Foods employee. “It’s pretty cool.”

And nowhere are they more seen, particularly in good weather, than at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The men who clean the park, and those who play basketball there, all seemingly have a story of having seen Irving or Durant milling about, Vardon writes.

“They come out here, it means they’re like, down to Earth, you know,” said Camden Malik, of Brooklyn, who was hooping on one of the courts. “They inspire me. They’re both NBA champions. They’re role models. I would love to play with them. Actually I want to give them my music.”

Of course, there’s the comparison with the Knicks, who practice in Westchester, but also the Lakers and Clippers whose facilities are near L.A. beaches and the Cavaliers whose Independence, Ohio, facility is a jewel but is far away from downtown Cleveland.

“You hear about the Knicks, they don’t live in Manhattan,” said Allen. “It’s expensive as shit (in Manhattan),” Allen said. “They live in Westchester. We’re here living in Brooklyn and close to the practice facility.”

Dinwiddie, a Net and Brooklyn resident since December 2016, told Vardon that living so close to so many teammates “helps you feel more connected, not only to the team, but also to Brooklyn.

“Also, it helps the team feel like Brooklyn is behind it,” Dinwiddie said. “When you’re all kind of in one spot, you’re fighting for like a common goal in a sense. So it’s a little different than if you live 30 minutes this way and that person lives 45 minutes that way and this person lives 30 minutes the other way in four different directions.

“Even if it’s like a placebo effect or something weird, it’s something we all feel.”