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NETS 2021: The evolution of the Brooklyn fan now 10 seasons on

On Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the Nets will open their tenth season as Brooklyn’s team, then after a short stop in Philadelphia, they’ll be back at Barclays Center for Opening Night. There, it’s expected a full house, 17,732 fans, will greet them and hope this is it. Waiting till next year, that tired Brooklyn slogan that began with the Dodgers. will finally have reached its expiration date.

As Ian Eagle told reporters earlier in the week on a YES Network conference call, the Brooklyn Nets fan has evolved and matured, literally as well as figuratively.

“From my perspective, everything has been trending up,” Eagle said. “The move to Brooklyn was a mystery for many of us that were holdovers from New Jersey because we had no idea how the team would be embraced. And each year, we’ve seen this buildup of interest.

“Now this 10-year period you’re talking about, it’s a generation, potentially, of fans, kids that were 5, 6, 7 years old that are now 15, 16, 17 and have basketball opinions and have formed a passion for this team. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it being around the arena.”

So has Sopan Deb who writes of that transition in his Nets season preview for Sunday’s New York Times.

“I really feel like this is the final act in the renaissance of Brooklyn and giving Brooklyn its rightful place in the world, and that has tremendous importance for the city going forward,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Brooklyn resident, told Deb last June while sitting courtside at Barclays Center. He was talking about a hoped-for championship last year, but the words will work just as well in 2021-22.

Getting there, as Deb writes, has been a long journey, filled with angst on the court and off (We see you, Kyrie, or maybe we don’t.) When Barclays Center finally opened for that first season, after nearly a decade of shifting politics, undercapitalization then a rescue by an unlikely champion in the person of a Russian oligarch, ownership didn’t know what to expect.

“We didn’t have a fan base for New York or Brooklyn at all,” said Irina Pavlova, then a top executive in Mikhail Prokhorov’s ONEXIM holding company. “It was zero. It was starting from scratch, especially in a city like New York, where the Knicks are such an institution.”

So, even though the team held trademarks for both “New York Nets” and “Brooklyn Nets” (still do), Pavlova said they went with Brooklyn, even creating what is now the team’s unique chant, “Brooook-lyn,” (trying it out for the first time in a preseason game in of all places, Atlantic City.)

Now, as Eagle said and Deb wrote, the Nets have their own native fans. The Brooklyn-as-cool theme worked and as the Brooklyn Brigade, the 96 of the most loyal fans, proves, is its manifestation in the arena — Section 114 in the past, Section 1 from now on.

A motley crew if there ever was one, their unifying principles are loyalty to the team ... and creativity, Brooklyn creativity, in putting together made-for-TV chants. The group isn’t limited to Brooklyn residents. New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island are represented, too, but it’s very much Brooklyn, or “Brooook-lyn.”

Deb interviews several of them, starting with its founder, a Brooklyn-born Nigerian-American investment banker with a degree from Harvard and as good an understanding of Brooklyn’s essence as the original marketers. He is what they hoped for.

“You can travel the whole world and you’re not going to find people more proud of where they’re from than New Yorkers, and I think that goes especially so for people from Brooklyn,” Edemeka said.

At first, Edemeka mined the comment section of NetsDaily offering tickets to games, tickets he paid for. He was about Brooklyn, not so much the Nets.

“I don’t have any of that emotional baggage,” Edemeka told Deb talking about what came before in New Jersey. “I didn’t live through 12 and 70. I’m unburdened by that legacy.”

Deb also introduces his readers to those other denizens of the Block, where the Brigade hangs, as well as others around the building. There’s Giovannie Cruz of Elizabeth, N.J. who admits that he had to take a long walk after the Game 7 overtime loss to the Bucks. “I didn’t want my son to see me too animated and use too much colorful language.”

And Dawn Risueno who splits her loyalties between the Nets and Yankees and annually makes road trip across country with her husband, keeping in touch with her Brooklyn-based family of fans that now includes seven grandchildren as well as her two children.

“They didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Risueno told Deb, speaking of her children and grandchildren. “Since they came literally out of the womb, I’ve had them in Nets outfits.”

There’s also Richard Bearak, who works with the likely future mayor, Eric Adams at Brooklyn Borough Hall. He was at the last Nets championship game, out on Long Island, when the New York Nets won the ABA championship in 1976 with Dr. J, Julius Erving, leading them. He has literally seen it all.

When Barclays first opened to the public, Bearak told the Times, the arena was a “tourist attraction” that drew fans of winning, opposing teams.

“A third of the crowd could have been supporting Golden State,” Bearak, 63, said. “At Madison Square Garden, it’s really hard to be a fan of another team and expect to be there in droves.”

Now, that’s changed as anyone who sat through the pain of Game 7 back in June knows. Ian O’Connor of the Post who attended his fair share of big games at Madison Square Garden, wrote that even the most vaunted Garden crowds were never louder. Afterwards, those same fans, a little subdued, filled the entrance plaza and side streets, wishing each other well until the next time, so many of them wearing black-and-white (which is now the second best selling team gear in the NBA. Not bad or a team that was 31st back in New Jersey, behind the defunct Seattle Supersonics.)

There is, as always in any story on Nets fans — a growing genre by the way — mention of the competition between the two New York teams, the other one being the New York Knicks who play in another borough, Manhattan. There are enough metrics to argue convincingly that the Nets are moving on the Knicks. But John Abbamondi, the CEO of the Nets and BSE Global, Joe Tsai’s holding company, thinks while that competition is nice, it may soon become passe’.

“We don’t want to be just the most popular N.B.A. team in New York City,” Abbamondi told Deb in an interview at Barclays before that Game 7. “We want to be a global sporting icon on the level of a Real Madrid or Barcelona. That’s our aspiration.”

Fans, of course, would be happy with just the Larry O’Brien Trophy.