“Honestly, it was a little weird,” Caris LeVert answered. “I’ve never played against him before. In my first year, I was injured with my foot, and, obviously, the second year he came here. So it was a little different, but it was good competing against him for sure.”
This was a heavy-hearted night for both Russell and Nets fans, who chanted “Thank You D’Lo!” almost every chance they got. Russell was shown on the big screen for a tribute video at the beginning of the second quarter. Whether it was intentional or not, he didn’t show any emotion.
D’Angelo Russell tribute video.— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 6, 2020
It’s not that Russell didn’t care. It’s that he cares a lot. He was the face of Brooklyn’s successful, up-and-coming organically built franchise. He is now a 23-year-old who was dumped for superstars… again. Too young and too talented to be a journeyman.
The game itself didn’t turn into a “revenge game.” Instead it was merciless blowout by the Nets and DLo struggled all night, scoring 17 points on 7-of-20 shooting.
Moreover, he had other things to think about: The trade deadline was less than 24 hours away. And he’s the center of conversation, with the Warriors on pace for a 25-win season at best. They had showed Wednesday that they’re ready to pull the trigger at any moment. Just like they did with Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson right before the tip. They were told to sit and then, post-game, it was revealed they were headed to Philly in a cost-cutting move.
So, on top of all of this, Russell comes back to the place he once called home. It was short lived, and the team was a first round exit, but nobody knows how the youth of that team would have blossomed – or fallen – together. For the captain of the ship, it probably hurts the most.
He didn’t even speak to media — till long after the game when most of the media had departed.
Nets and Warriors fans were all out for Russell, mostly kids and millennial types. “D’Angelo please, please sign my jersey!” one fan clamored after his pregame workout. On my Instagram page, I ran a fan poll asking fans to submit their favorite Nets point guard in history. D’Lo won by a good margin – in large part due to his millennial attraction with the younger Brooklyn Nets fanbase.
It goes beyond that. Before he even got to the tunnel, he sees Mr. and Mrs. Whammy – two older folks known around Brooklyn and quite frankly – around the NBA. He said hello to the couple before every home game at Barclays Center. And that didn’t change on Wednesday.
DLo talking and hugging Mr. and Mrs. Whammy before the game. pic.twitter.com/eyYobeupgG— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 5, 2020
Mr. Whammy held a sign that read, “D’Angelo Russell please come home!! We miss you! You can stay at our house with the cats! We love you: From Mr. and Mrs. Whammy.”
Show love, it’s the Brooklyn way. The guy was embraced, loved by a growing fanbase. If that interaction with the Whammy’s, with the kids, represented anything about D’Angelo, it was that he felt like he was back home, with his people.
Russell was asked about his visit to Brooklyn one day before the game. He praised Kenny Atkinson several times, brought up Brooklyn’s “core” and told reporters, “Hell yeah, I watch League Pass so if they’re playing, I’m watching.”
There’s this special connection that occurs between players and a growing team; guys that have really bought into an organic culture. Russell grew up as a person and as a player under Atkinson and Sean Marks. Plenty of guys have, some that are still on the team.
As far as those who have departed, I’ve interacted with three Nets players who have returned to Barclays Center: Ed Davis, Jared Dudley and D’Angelo Russell. Ed had a timid vibe. Dudley was Dudley. D’Lo was himself, but somewhat timid, too, embracing the spotlight but with an inevitable feeling of nostalgia.
“Honestly, it was a little weird.”
There were other embraces Wednesday, too. The Nets are Warriors are interconnected now.
It was a little weird. And it will be, but only for a little while.
On the other side of things, Kevin Durant finally got to see some of his former teammates and coaches. There’s a connection when you’re a part of a culture, something you work hard in building for years. KD won two rings in Golden State and went to the Finals three times. He was as happy as could be when he saw Steph Curry and his guys.
Eventually you move on. for whatever reason. It is a business after all. People come, people go, like the old cliche says. It simply is what it is. But people will never forget what D’Angelo Russell did for Brooklyn, and that’s a big reason why he’s always going to be the most popular guy in Brooklyn.
He said goodbye to a few people, including myself, then drifted off into the deserted bowels of Barclays Center, uncertain where his next stop might be. One thing he should take from Wednesday night: the Nets and its fans will always welcome D’Angelo Russell with open arms, the Brooklyn way.