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Searching for the Nets fan: Who are we?

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NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Wolf, a writer for GQ (formerly and forlornly Gentlemen’s Quarterly), went in search of the Nets fan this week, hoping to examine what Knick fans, among others, don’t believe exist.

From Ethan Hawke, the actor, to Bobby Edemeka, the founder of the Brooklyn Brigade, to Kristin Ferrara, the Knicks convert, to Mina Kimes, ESPN reporter and self-described Nets “superfan,” they share what made them fans and what sustains that fandom in spite of the constant diss left over from the bad old days.

As Wolf notes, the Nets fan is an easy target, recounting a recent segment of the Lowe Post, Zach Lowe’s podcast.

“I want the Nets to win the championship and I want the pandemic to be over because...I want to see what a Brooklyn Nets championship parade [looks like]—are there 100 people at it?” ESPN reporter Zach Lowe fretted on his podcast in late March. “I know, like, seven Nets fans.” Bill Simmons was even more skeptical on his podcast: “Who is at that parade? Is that the most depressing championship parade in any of the four professional sports ever?”

Sad. And it’s not just a calumny but a commentary that’s simply not borne out by the data. Nets fans do exist and in increasingly larger and larger numbers. There’s the TV ratings which have doubled since last year in New York alone and are now nearly five times what they were five years ago. Millions are watching the Nets and their superstars on national TV and following them on social media.

“The team’s Instagram page is followed by three million people—more, as salty Nets fans are quick to point out, than the crosstown rival New York Knicks,” Wolf points out.

Buoyed by “Big Three,” Nets gear is now the second most popular in the NBA and Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are all in the top 10 of jersey sales in North America with even better numbers around the world. In the last count, no Knick player made the top 15. Nor did Knicks gear crack the top 10.

As Wolf notes those are just numbers. Who are the flesh and blood people who are enthusiastic Nets fans? So he profiles a few, some familiar, some not so well known.

Hawke, he notes, is no bandwagon fan. He was the first celebrity after Jay-Z, Beyonce’ and Rihanna to embrace his hometown team and while the others are rarely seen anymore, Hawke is there at Barclays.

“I live in BK,” he wrote Wolf via email, “and the excitement around the Barclays Center has a gravitational pull. When they opened up, I put aside my [New York Knicks Patrick] Ewing jersey and decided to follow my heart and pursue the dream that Brooklyn could regain the honor, integrity, and glory that Jackie Robinson brought to town.”

Then, there’s Edemeka who started out buying blocks of tickets and encouraging fans (using NetsDaily as his platform) to join him at games. Brooklyn pride. From that emerged the Brigade and “The Block,” the section set aside for the rowdiest fans, from New York City beat cop to investment banker to hospital worker to physical therapist. They even have a national sponsor now! Red Bull.

In the first year, 2018, the team had 50 season tickets to allot—but only 40 people showed up. The next year, the number tripled or “maybe quadruped,” Edemeka told Wolf. People wanted to be part of something special.

There are the Knicks exiles of course like Kristin Ferrara who after years of suffering picked up the phone on January 31, 2019 and called the Nets ticket office. Enough, she believed, was enough. Now, a Twitter presence whose life’s work is tweeting and tweaking at those she left behind. (Do NOT cross this woman There is no zealot like a convert!)

“Frankly, I’m embarrassed by how long I lasted,” she wrote Wolf over email. “I looked across the river and noticed that the Nets were doing absolutely everything the Knicks talked about: player development, developing a culture. They had a plan. They were enjoyable to watch!”

She also liked the way she’s been treated since crossing the river and getting to the other side. “As a half-season ticket holder, we are treated like gold,” Ferrara wrote, noting that the flow of swag and perks seems never ending. “The team sent her hand soap, a contactless door opener, and a personalized bottle of red wine. She receives regular dispatches from the front office and is looped into Zooms calls with executives,” Wolf recounts.

Then, there’s one of the newly minted and self-admitted Nets “superfans,” Kimes, the ESPN reporter who has stepped up her Brooklyn love since converting earlier in the season. (She also has shouted out ND on national media. We like that.)

ESPN analyst Mina Kimes became a “Brooklyn Nets superfan” as a bit, but told Zach Lowe she eventually found herself becoming legitimately defensive after the team signed LaMarcus Aldridge, when people accused the Nets of greedy overloading. She calls the moment her “Joker story.” What started as a joke blossomed into true fandom.

So what might a Brooklyn championship parade look like? There’s only one precedent, what happened when the Dodgers won World Series in 1955. Vince Scully, the venerable Dodger broadcaster, has described his return to Brooklyn that October afternoon. Following “Dem Bums” win in Game 7 which took place at Yankee Stadium, he drove down the East Side Drive and into the tunnel, coming upon a scene that he variously described the “Mardi Gras” or “V-J Day and V-E Day rolled into one.”

“There were thousands of people on the sidewalks leading to the hotel,” he said of the location of the Dodgers’ official celebration. “There were policemen, and parking attendants who took your car about a block from the hotel. Walking down that street to the hotel, that was an unforgettable scene.”

That may or may not happen this time. Winning a title in baseball or basketball is hard and things can happen along the way that are unexpected, an injury, the ball goes the wrong way. But be sure, Messrs. Lowe and Simmons, there will be a lot more than seven people at Flatbush and Atlantic should we get that fortunate.