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A record turnout of 8,000 for Nets Practice in the Park

NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Practice in the Park Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

Long lines are never a delight for anyone ... particularly when they’re buffeted by winds that bounce around Lower Manhattan’s skyline and off the East River! They’re commonly met with groans and rolled eyes. Half the time lines are so daunting, they discourage the less hardy, make them think twice about the event. The other half of the time, they annoy, exhaust, and generally feel like a waste of time.

This Sunday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets provided a rare exception to that. More than 8,000 fans gathered at Brooklyn Bridge Park forming a line that stretched beyond Pier II, where the annual Practice-in-the-Park was set up, and around the adjacent pier. For those unfamiliar with the area, that’s nearly a half mile, a lot of it adorned in black-and-white.

Even after acquiring big names like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the knock on the Nets has been — and continues to be — they “don’t have fans.” But the scene at Brooklyn’s practice offered a strong rebuttal to that notion.

Indeed, the 8,000 fans of all ages on hand set a record for the six-year-old event — and filled Pier II to its stated capacity.

The positivity on the long lines was mirrored inside, as Durant, Irving, Ben Simmons, and all the other Brooklyn Nets hit the black top for drills, firing both shots at the baskets and Nets branded merchandise into the crowd.

The team’s time in front of its fans lasted only an hour and because of the time needed to get fans inside things were delayed by an hour. There were other elements including a performance by Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ and a game featuring “influencers.”

As expected, Durant, Irving, and Simmons earned the loudest cheers from the audience once emerging from the tunnel. Of the three Irving drew the loudest cheers with Durant’s a bit subdued, perhaps a hangover from the summer’s chaos. Simmons, obviously new to the team, got a lukewarm reception...

One one dark cloud visible at the affair hovered above Steve Nash. There were a few boos heard during his introduction. They were impossible to ignore. Regardless, the Nets coach seemed to enjoy his afternoon, speaking to the fans and cheering on his players. His two young children were in attendance as well ... both wearing Durant jerseys...

“The guys have worked really hard, they’re locked in to all the details. We’re trying to form an identity and understanding each other, coming together,” Nash told team color commentator Tim Capstraw. “It’s a challenge but they’ve worked really hard. If we stick with it then we’ll be a great team.”

Once introduced, the team split up into different grouping, first challenging each other in a shooting challenge game similar to the All-Star Game’s Shooting Stars contest. The team broke up into different squads again, this time to play knockout. Simmons won the Nets’ knockout tournament!

A team captained by Joe Harris won the first game and Irving’s team won the second. Neither played. Between the contests, players signed merch, threw towels, shirts, and mini-basketballs into the stands, producing a sea of youthful smiles around the park.

Some dance moves from rookies RaiQuan Gray and Alondes Williams ... as well as Durant (!) added to the overall entertainment...

There were some oddities: new father Irving didn’t wear his jersey and one of the announcers repeated, “There’s no mandate this year!,” a reference to the COVID vaccine mandate that kept Irving out for all but 29 games. Also, unlike previous years, the Nets made only Nash and one player, Day’Ron Sharpe, available to the media.

Even in the limited time players were on the court, there were some notable observations: while T.J. Warren has yet to suit up for Brooklyn due a nagging foot injury, he showed some mobility during the event, dribbling the rock with some pep in his step and rising up for shots. He’ll be re-evaluated in November and both he and the team are optimistic about his prognosis.

The same could not be said for Joe Harris though, who stayed grounded at the event, not participating in the practice. Harris has been experiencing some soreness this week after playing in the Nets first preseason game and was kept out of the second. He is expected to travel to Milwaukee and Minneapolis this week, itself an optimistic sign.

Of course, Practice-in-the-park is not exactly a test of basketball readiness. Contrary to marketing, it’s not real “practice” and wasn’t something where you’d expect to see players going all out. It’s more for the fans, all 8,000 of them!