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On Election Day, Nets CEO says Barclays Center is ‘appropriate place to gather’

New York Begins Early Voting Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Much has been made of Barclays Center and its entrance plaza emerging as Brooklyn’s “accidental town square,” a place where residents of the borough and beyond can gather to protest police killings of Black citizens or alleviate hunger at “pop-up” pantries or, as in recent weeks, vote.

In an interview with Brian Lewis published Tuesday — Election Day, John Abbamondi, CEO of the Nets and Barclays, says that the arena, team and ownership not only welcome the role, but consider it an honor.

“The fact the citizens of our borough felt this was the appropriate place to gather … we’re honored to be associated with that,” said Abbamondi, noting as well that Nets players activism played a big part. “We have a long history in this league of social activism, particularly around issues of racial equality.

“That’s a history all those who work in and around the NBA are proud of, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The players have spoken out on issues that not only did they care about but resonate with many, many, many of our fans and fellow citizens. Those two things coming together is behind what you saw this summer.”

The entrance plaza first became a center of protests at the end of May when thousands gathered to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, then in subsequent months the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Kentucky officials’ refusal to charge those responsible for the killing of Breonna Taylor.

BSE Global, the parent company of Joe Tsai’s teams and arena, issued a statement at the time of the Floyd killing, saying “Enough is enough” ... addressing the broader issue of racism.

“We mourn the senseless and devastating loss of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others who lost their lives because of racial bias,” read the statement signed by Tsai and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, as well as executives of the Nets, Liberty and Barclays Center.

“Today, we stand up and speak up against all forms of racial discrimination —overt or subconscious— especially against the Black community. We want to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Subsequently, in an exchange with Kristian Winfield of the Daily News, Tsai said “become a place for people to assemble and have their voice heard.”

Barclays Center also displayed quotes attributed to Martin Luther King and activist Angela Davis on the large LED signage at the entrances to the arena and subway station, the latter paid for by an “anonymous donor.” And four times, the plaza has hosted “pop-up” food pantries set up the Food Bank of New York and other groups hoping to alleviate hunger.

And since October 24, the arena’s broad atrium has become the site of a City Board of Elections polling place. Although the number of Brooklyn residents who have cast their ballots won’t be available until after the end of voting Tuesday, the number is in the tens of thousands with lines often circling the arena in the rain.

Part of an NBA player-led initiative to provide large, open locations for those who want to vote early and safely, the balloting was the result of BSE approaching the City Board of Elections.

“We were thrilled we were able to step forward and assist with that effort so that [Brooklynites] could come to [the arena] and exercise their right to vote,” Abbamondi told the Post. “Just because the building is shuttered, and we weren’t able to entertain fans the way we’re used to, doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in the community.”

In fact, Abbamondi in an interview with NPR a week ago said that the voting was the largest public event held at the arena since the NBA shut down in early March.

“We welcomed the role that we played this summer when people felt that this was a place to come and express their point of view and advocate for social justice and that’s a cause that we support as well,” Abbamondi told NPR, again making the connection between protesting and voting. “So it seemed only natural that a place that had become the community gathering spot to seek change would now be a place where people could come to exercise their vote, as well.”

Meanwhile, Norman Oder, critic and chronicler of Barclays Center and the larger Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, reports that several retail outlets (but not all) near the entrance plaza are boarding up their windows out of fear of violent demonstrations. Moreover, barriers have been placed throughout the plaza to limit access,