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A FAN’S PERSPECTIVE: James Harden, the new Nets, and bright lights, big city

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Brian Fleurantin, who grew up in Canarsie as a Nets fan, looks at recent events and points to the BIG change ... in perspective.

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

There’s no turning back. Last Wednesday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets went for the gold and traded for former MVP James Harden. In the process, they sent out Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and a bushel of draft picks over the next seven years. The move represents one of the most consequential trades in NBA history and for Brooklyn specifically, their biggest trade since the other big one in 2013 that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn from the rival Boston Celtics.

On the court, the move is looking solid so far. Harden was his usual triple double self in his Brooklyn debut, the team is 2-1 including an impressive win against the Milwaukee Bucks on MLK Day and now that Kyrie Irving is back, the offense promises to be one of the most dynamic we’ve ever seen.

Their maiden voyage as a Big Three ended poorly last night, but that was to be expected for opening night and there was enough good to provide optimism going forward. The team employs three of the game’s most dangerous and creative scorers in the game today and once everybody gets fully acclimated with each other and their tendencies, they’ll become an impossible puzzle for defenses to solve.

As the Nets were bulldozing the Golden State Warriors on Opening Night, I asked Bob if this was the most national attention the Nets have ever had, and here’s what he told me:

It’s definitely a different world. From now until the end of the first half of the season, the Nets will be on national TV 11 times, second only to the 13 for the Los Angeles Lakers. And considering how much attention the team now gets in media coverage across the league and on the talking head shows and podcasts, the team is truly national in ways that they have never been before. It’s an adjustment for fans and local media (like us) who have been around for ages and know the team on a deeper level than some of the national talking heads.

With this change in the program, everything we had known about the team over the past five years has changed. All the talk and coverage about the culture in Brooklyn may have seemed to be a bit much at times, but it really was true! For as much as we can say this about a professional sports team based in New York City, they kinda were a little engine that could in some ways.

With the Harden move came a yearning for what once was in some circles. I came across Jeff Pearlman’s article on the move and these parts stood out to me:

What comes with rooting for the losers is the unbridled joy when a spark happens. Meaning—you’re the Nets. You never make the playoffs. Then, one year, you sneak in as an eight seed and steal a first-round win. That’s a magical moment, one that goes terribly unappreciated in this win-at-all-costs-and-nothing-less culture.

and

And, with that final step, the Nets are no longer my Nets. They are the bully. The favorites. The expected-to-stomp kings of the Eastern Conference. And while I actually understand the deal from the organization’s (wrongheaded) perspective, it reminds me far too much of the Knicks’ 2011 acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, when the organization sent Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, New York’s 2014 first-round draft pick, the Warriors’ 2012 second-round pick, the Warriors’ 2013 second-round pick and $3 million in cash to Denver. The end result of that trade: The arrival of a selfish, dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot me-first superstar, the departure of a young, fun, spunky gaggle of players who ran the court, moved the ball and kept fans glued to the TV.

I had two takeaways when I read those passages. The first is that I completely understood where he was coming from. It’s somewhat noble to see the guys you were fans of when the team sucked be there when you finally get good. It’s a part of the journey in being a sports fan in a lot of ways. You watch players grow and develop into contenders and you naturally develop a connection to them and when it’s time to reach the upper levels of competition, you want them to be there with you. You stick with it with the dream of breaking through and getting to the top. For a lot of Nets fans, the team that made the playoffs in 2018-’19 was special because it was the first good team in a while and watching them overcome the odds and surprise the league was rewarding in about a million ways.

The other takeaway I had ties to the question I asked on Opening Night. When the Nets pulled off the Clean Sweep in 2019, everything changed. You can’t be a plucky underdog anymore when a top three small forward of all time chooses to work for you and partners with another All Star caliber player and former champion. Combine that with the cache of playing in a place like Brooklyn and the star power now here, and it makes even more sense to swing for the fences and make a play for a Hall of Fame talent still in his prime. When you have a chance to get to the top of the mountain, you owe yourselves and your fans the best chance to get there.

This grand experiment in Brooklyn is off to a decent enough start and now that there is even more pressure on the team to excel, the lights are only gonna get brighter. There are going to be plenty of bumps in the road and with those bumps will come noise, drama, and all the extraneous things that come when you’re one of the most watched teams in basketball. It’s up to everyone around the team and the big guys in particular not to overreact to bad losses or rely on the chatter coming from elsewhere. For everybody else, it’s time to get ready to having all eyes on you. Welcome to the life.