clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

THE RIDE: The dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets have defined my 20s. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Today, we begin an occasional series looking at our writers’ journeys, personal looks at how they got to where they are. Matt Brooks, the “Film Guy,” kicks it off.

Sacramento Kings v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

It’s been a wild four years covering the Brooklyn Nets. That’s probably a good place to start.

I’ve never really gotten into my background with the Nets, my connection to the franchise, nor really how I got here. To many of you, I’m guessing I just appeared one day cranking out film studies, making dad jokes, and sharing music opinions that no one asked for.

So we’ll start here. I was not a Nets fan growing up. I knew very little about the franchise before covering the team. In fact, I’m not even from this coast.

My journey in basketball begins in 2017. At the time, I was living in San Diego, California, working in sales with no clear direction for my future. I was a talker, but I was not a salesman. I was friendly and had the ability to build strong interpersonal connections, but I was not a closer; I didn’t want to overstep. In fact, the only thing that really motivated me at the time was those precious hours I got at home after work. Turning on the TV, sitting back, and enjoying basketball was all I really looked forward to day-to-day — something I’m sure many of you can relate to.

But I also always had a love for creating content.

I started a basketball podcast with a close friend shortly after I graduated from college. That show was my life, man. Here I was hammering out spreadsheets with win predictions, writing up detailed note decs, and parsing through stats on my lunch breaks in preparation for my next episode. What started as a fun hobby quickly became a passion project that consumed me. Naturally, I began to start exploring other avenues of content. YouTube videos came shortly after. I even wrote my first article just before the start of the 2018 playoffs on a website I paid for out of pocket. I was entranced by the feeling that creating sports content gave me. I just felt free. Alive. Nothing had really ever made me feel this way before. And truthfully, since then, nothing really has.

In July 2018, I moved out to the Big Apple. That was never a part of the plan. In fact, I had my sights set on relocating to Austin, Texas. But alas, with a place to stay for a few months and dreams of cracking the field of sports, I took a leap of faith and chased a dream. I know. How cliche. I’m the cookie-cutter big-city dreamer.

Just before moving to the city, I secured a gig doing social media work for Knicks OmniFan (ladies, I hope you’re doing well!). There, I crafted my first couple of film studies for the company’s website. I quickly realized social media was not my passion whatsoever nor really something I’m very good at. So using those articles, I applied and landed my second sports gig at Elite Sports New York just before moving to Brooklyn, and here’s where my Nets journey begins.

Upon landing at ESNY, I was given a choice. Which New York basketball team did I want to cover? With no ties to either organization, my response was fairly simple: “Where do you guys need the most help?”

“The Nets. We barely have anyone covering them,” my editor at the time told me.

“Cool by me,” I responded. Little did I know that I had just made the best decision of my career.

So off I went. The learning curve of covering a new team was steep. I had to familiarize myself with the players and their tendencies almost immediately to create content for a fanbase that had watched these youngsters grow incrementally over the years. I was writing about the team when I could, working in restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn to generate a reliable enough stream of income to afford rent in Brooklyn (which is something I still do to this day). At the time, I obviously wasn’t credentialed, but I knew I wanted to immerse myself in the Nets and their culture as much as possible. And so, the extra money I worked for went straight to Nets tickets.

Given that I was new to the area, I didn’t know a ton of people. In fact, the one friend I had in the city — coincidentally, the same guy I hosted my podcast with in California — moved to freakin’ Germany. And I worked A LOT, especially on weekends, so building friendships was initially pretty difficult. Thus, I went to many of these games alone, notepad in hand, with a computer in my backpack so that I could share what I learned.

It might sound lonely, but I’ll never forget those days, man. It felt like I was living out a dream. I was going to professional basketball games consistently, a luxury I had never experienced, and creating content for a very small reader base. I still have screenshots of my first couple of “great article!” comments from Twitter. I’ll never delete those photos.

It’s all but forgotten at this point, but the 2018–19 Nets were BAD to start the season. We’re talking, like, being held under 90 points by the 9–14 Washington Wizards and starting the month of December on an eight-game losing streak. It was the perfect place for me to learn the ropes—working out the kinks as a writer, growing into my voice, and digesting what did and didn’t work as a content creator. Some of my early articles were way too over the top. As a talker, I had a major problem with brevity (Editor Matt: LOL, that still appears to be a problem). Grabbing film clips was new, as well, and recognizing which plays were notable was a lot tougher than expected.

But around January, I found my lane. Stats and film. My writer’s voice crystallized. A couple of larger Twitter accounts came across my stuff and shared, which helped tremendously (Bruce, I appreciate you, brother). Coincidentally, the Nets themselves hit their stride at about the same time, opening the start of 2019 by winning nine of twelve games. I went from writing articles about the prospects of drafting Zion Williamson to covering… a possible playoff team? Huh???

We know how the rest of the journey went. The 2018–19 squad went on a delightful Cinderella run to the playoffs, where they played in a 5-game series that was more competitive than the average person might remember (I promise!).

Like many of you, I cherish the 2018–19 Nets for similar reasons — they were an underdog story, and they played for each other. The dancing on the bench. The overtime win against the Houston Rockets in which Spencer Dinwiddie dropped 33, or when D’Angelo Russell nearly willed his team across the finish line all by himself in triple-overtime against the Cavs. The Sacramento comeback. The Goddamn Sacramento comeback. Shit, man, that team was so easy to root for.

But that season also represented the start of my journey in this space. I grew alongside them. The Nets gave me a home. They gave me a purpose, something I had never really experienced until my 25th year on earth. They made this dauntingly large and imposing city feel cozier. That squad was where it all began for me. I still remember getting off my restaurant shifts at 3 AM and sprinting home to edit my big feature-length column for the morning. Or sweating out March games in my studio apartment that could decide the team’s playoff future. Or waking up at the crack of dawn to catch up on the game I had missed the night before while working. I cherish all of these moments.

As fun as that first year was, I was also driven. I wanted to be credentialed. I enjoyed going to games and taking in the environment, but I knew I needed more. While attending games as a fan, I stared longingly at the media section, Section 115, dreaming of the opportunity to become one of them. That summer, the Nets landed Kyrie Irving and Kevin freaking Durant, whose Oklahoma City jersey was the first basketball jersey I ever purchased. Holy crap. The Nets were big league! Now I REALLY wanted to be credentialed.

Long story short, that opportunity came on Media Day 2019. You could argue it was the biggest day in franchise history, the first time we saw two of the top-10 basketball players in the world in Brooklyn Nets threads. It was also BY FAR the biggest day of my career as first-time credentialed media. A new chapter. Come to think of it, it’s funny how closely my experiences have aligned with the team I cover.

Here I was, walking around with a paper lanyard and asking NBA players questions. My questions! I didn’t go to journalism school nor even study anything remotely close (I got my BA in psychology), so my interviewing experience was next to none. Some of my questions flopped, some were okay! Plus, I met a bunch of reporters I looked up to and had read extensively over the years while learning the craft. It was enthralling, nerve-racking, euphoric. I nearly crashed the rent-a-scooter I rode on the way home from the event because I was so damn excited.

This brings us to the next stage of Nets basketball — and a new chapter in my personal journey. At Media Day, I met Net Income, head of NetsDaily. Shortly after, he reached out and asked if I wanted to write for the site. Holy shit, I thought. Those guys had some big-name writers. Pooch. Billy Reinhardt. NI himself. All guys with huge presences in the Nets community.

By this point, I had a pretty clear vision of what I liked to do. I was the self-proclaimed “Film Guy,” which, yes, is incredibly corny that I gave myself my own moniker, but alas. NetsDaily had a need for film studies, so it was a natural fit.

But man, the 2019–20 Nets season was such a drag. Sure, Spencer Dinwiddie was a near All-Star. The David Nwaba thing was cool, if not a little short-lived. But it just felt like purgatory. We were waiting for the real thing: 7/11. Every game, win or lose, was one step closer. Let’s be real.

I can’t even begin to describe how strange it is to cover a team that’s essentially twiddling its thumbs. They weren’t exactly tanking, as there was no incentive to just lose quality role players with championship basketball on the horizon. But the 2019–20 Nets didn’t have the talent to hang with the big dogs. The team just sort of… existed. They played games with no real meaning to their outcome. Plus, with multiple guys ahead of me in the pecking order at NetsDaily, my dream to get credentialed felt more distant than ever. But I knew I had to put in the time to get there. I hadn’t really earned anything. It was time to show and prove.

And alas, my time came in March 2020. I was credentialed for my first NBA game! A 30-point blowout at the hand of the Memphis Grizzlies, and the second-to-last game Kenny Atkinson ever coached in Brooklyn.

My guy Pooch showed me the ropes. How to A) not get lost in Barclays Center (not that easy!), but also B) educated me on the code of conduct for covering NBA games as a real-deal reporter. I wasn’t just sitting in Section 219 taking notes and writing quick 400-word recaps on my computer. Now, I was participating in scrums, asking players questions in the locker room, and sitting in the media section I had stared holes into for almost a year and a half. It was a lot to take in, to be clear, but oh my goodness was it everything I had ever hoped for. It felt like just the beginning.


Then Corona hit.

I got sick with COVID-19 shortly after the Grizzlies game, and boy it sucked. But that’s a story for a different day. The NBA season was quickly suspended for the foreseeable future. That summer, I marched in the Black Lives Matter protests in the city and wrote the best article I’ve ever written about my experiences with accompanying black-and-white photos taken by my closest friend, Jordan Roy. And then… the NBA season returned! Boy, the Bubble Nets were fun.

We’re going to fast-forward a little bit to the start of the 2020–21 season. Pooch secured his first big-time job, and Reinhardt began law school. I was incredibly proud of both of them and still am to this day. At NetsDaily, we suddenly had a pair of openings. And so, for a season that was carried out almost entirely over Zoom, I was NetsDaily’s credentialed media alongside my dude Chris Millholen. Another milestone.

God, what an awesome year. I can safely say that was the last time we experienced truly enjoyable Nets basketball. The team acquired James Harden, another superstar I grew up idolizing, in January and went on an absolute tear. The west coast trip in February was a dominant showing, in which Brooklyn ripped off victories against the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings, the eventual finalist Phoenix Suns, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and the LA Clippers. It was some of the best basketball I had ever watched from a team with barely any reps together. It was also the season I started experimenting with YouTube videos, which quickly became my most popular style of content among fans.

But even that season was tainted. There was always someone hurt. COVID-19 ravaged the team throughout the year. The injury report was a way bigger story than anyone could have expected. It felt like we were constantly waiting for one of the stars to return.

When Brooklyn’s “Big Three” did play… my lord. The dominant five-game series win against the Boston Celtics was basically basketball ecstasy, and it felt as if the Nets were barely trying. The first two games against Milwaukee were just as ridiculous, and that was after Harden sprained his hamstring within the first couple of minutes of Game 1. To save Nets fans the pain of reliving how that season ended, I’m going to zip ahead again to the 2021–22 season…

A season that quickly went off the rails.

Brooklyn’s championship run was basically over before it started. Kyrie Irving was unable to attend Brooklyn’s Media Day due to the COVID-19 vaccine restrictions in the city, a daunting precursor for the times to come. His vaccination status quickly became the main story about the Nets, overshadowing the actual basketball. It felt like we were in purgatory again, waiting for the “real thing” when the “Big Three” shared the floor once more.

For as much as I may revel in my first season of Nets coverage, I shudder at the mere thought of the 2021–22 season. The work itself was stressful (I don’t even want to talk about how many times I had to look up NYC’s COVID rules), and the intersection of covering the needs of a basketball team (that was quickly losing steam) with human rights conversations was equally uncomfortable. There are many things I would’ve done differently had I been given the opportunity to cover it all again. Though let’s be clear, I am very happy I don’t have to relive that chapter of my career.

Irving’s absence weighed on the team tremendously, to the point that Harden requested out in February. Once a troika of superstardom, now the Nets were back to being the 7/11 show. My life, meanwhile, came to an utter halt. I’m going to refrain from delving into specifics, but from February to April of this year, I completely and totally lost my will to create content and cover the NBA because of things in my personal life. It kicked my ass. My depression intensified; my writing dwindled. The video content that had become a tremendous part of my brand was all but shelved. My Twitter account was effectively dormant. I didn’t get that spark back until just before the playoffs. 2022, especially that first half, was the hardest year of my life. Worse than 2020.

Brooklyn squeezed into the playoffs as the 7-seed with a now-reinstated Irving, who was starting to catch some rhythm. The dude dropped 60 against the Orlando Magic! He looked like himself! I, myself, was excited to “ramp up” my coverage (sorry Nets fans, I couldn’t resist) with a hunger I hadn’t felt in months. I had to prove myself again, I thought, after letting myself and Nets fans down to start the year. The Nets matched up with the longtime-rival Boston Celtics in a series rematch that was due to be a classic. Game 1 was exactly that — a nailbiter that went down to the wire and was lost on a Jayson Tatum game-winner. I put together my first video since February on key takeaways from Game 1. I was back, I thought. And the Nets were, too.


The stresses of that season — Irving’s absence, Kevin Durant’s knee injury, and Harden’s trade request — caught up with Brooklyn at the worst time. “The Clean Sweep” was cleanly swept. Damn. Just when I was getting my groove back, the season was over. What a joyless, forgettable season that was.

That sets the scene for this season. HOL-Y-HELL did the offseason feel long. I was itching to get back to doing what I loved, counting the days down until the Brooklyn Nets returned. I did some fun stuff over the summer. A couple of videos. The Nets were certainly newsworthy, with Kevin Durant making a surprising trade request. I did more radio shows in July/August than I’ve maybe ever done because of the turmoil in Brooklyn, so that was nice.

But still, I was just waiting. Biding my time until the real fun began. I had so much to prove. It was the most driven I’d been to cover basketball in almost two years. I couldn’t wait to create things for Nets fans — the same fans that are the only reason I’m able to do this in the first place. Thank you guys, by the way. I don’t say that enough. That’s the beauty of writing for me: it helps me express things I’m uncomfortable saying out loud. This franchise and its fans allowed me to live out a dream that began all the way across the country in San Diego, California.

At long last, the endless summer finally ended. Here I was in attendance for Nets Media Day 2022… in the same suit I wore the first time I was ever credentialed for a Nets event (yep, Media Day 2019). This year felt different. I was established, I suppose, and I had built friendships and relationships with the Nets beat during my two years of being credentialed. It felt like a high school reunion or something, dapping up friends, telling stories of summer adventures. It just felt great to be back.

Media Day was fairly normal, hooray! No shenanigans. No unexpected pressers over Zoom. In fact, there was a sense of maturity and humility found widespread across the team. I tepidly bought low on the Nets. Preseason only intensified those feelings — the offense was absolutely delectable, and Brooklyn’s defense mixed coverages fairly seamlessly. Could this be it? Were the Nets finally going to put it together?

What a fool I was for ever believing that could be the case.

The Nets began the season lifeless, losing by 30 points to the New Orleans Pelicans on opening night. Kevin Durant looked disinterested, and the team itself was disjointed. A 1–5 start raised questions about the team’s future, and Steve Nash — the coach that had helmed the Nets during my first two years of being credentialed — was quickly canned. That was just the start.

Within two weeks, my coverage shifted to anti-semitism and workplace harassment. Kyrie shared a documentary that contained anti-semitic tropes to his social media channels and was suspended from the team, and the Nets were considering hiring Ime Udoka, who came with a boatload of controversy after being suspended by the Celtics for the full season due to workplace harassment.

My approach to these sensitive issues was much different this time around. Rather than just interjecting my views into my coverage from the start, I sought to have conversations with individuals around me first: Jewish friends, Black friends, women in my life. What Kyrie did was wrong. It was also a symptom of a larger problem in society, I learned — the polarization of two historically marginalized groups, both of whom experienced genocide.

As for Udoka, the average person (myself included, initially) doesn’t know a ton about workplace harassment, and consensual relationships at the workplace do not function the same as they do in the real world, especially when it comes to subordinates. As such, I believe the Nets dodged a bullet by not hiring Udoka even just based on what’s been reported.

It was stressful, sure, but I felt my process was better this time around when it came to covering politics as a sports reporter. I did the research. I had conversations with people more knowledgeable about the subjects at hand. That’s the best I can do, I suppose. Hopefully, it improved my coverage.

This brings us to the last three weeks. Brooklyn elected to promote Jacque Vaughn from within instead of hiring Udoka, and holy shit! The Nets were, like, actually playing fun basketball!

Brooklyn cruised to the #1 defense in the league out of the gates with new head coach Vaughn. The offense was fairly simple with cagey role players like Joe Harris, Seth Curry, and Royce O’Neale cutting and making plays off Kevin Durant’s gravity. Speaking of KD, he’s been just electric all season. He’s averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists on near-50/40/90 splits since Vaughn took over, and his defense is the best it’s looked in his Brooklyn tenure. Given the rocky start to this season and his trade request this summer, it’d be tough to blame Durant for looking completely checked out. Nope. He’s been engaged as ever with Vaughn in charge. Kudos to him for that.

Still, Brooklyn’s performance sans Irving was never going to be sustainable. The initial energy that teams tend to show while playing under a new head coach was always a finite resource, and relying on a 34-year-old Durant to this degree was unsustainable. Now, it appears Irving could be reinstated as early as the weekend after a brutal 30-point loss against the Sacramento Kings. The need for that second star was always the end game. The playoff crucible would’ve shown that.

Truthfully, I’m not really sure what happens next. Would I bet on the Nets to win a championship this season? No, probably not. So much has happened to this team, (*sigh*) so much. There’s a lot of baggage here in Brooklyn, to put it lightly. If I had to guess, Brooklyn falls short this season, and Irving and the Nets go their separate ways this summer. That relationship seems irreparable. Durant will likely follow.

But until then, I’m going to enjoy the ride. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the future of this team — possible trade packages for the stars and role players, and future draft picks. Right now, I’m enjoying the greatness of Kevin Durant. Marveling at Kyrie Irving’s basketball wizardry. That’s what I’ve learned these last couple of years: to savor the good times. You never know how fleeting they’ll be.