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On the Brooklyn Nets and Accepting the Joy of Watching Fun Basketball

On Monday, veteran NBA writer Kurt Streeter of the New York Times wrote a story on the Nets, predictably headlined, “So Much Talent, So Little Charm.” It’s been that kind of year. So we asked our own wordsmith, Lucas Kaplan for his take. Buckle up, haters!

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I get it, I really do. Kurt Streeter’s job is not to watch tape of the Brooklyn Nets, nor any NBA team. His Muckrack profile will tell you that he’s written two NBA-related articles in the past four months, a September piece on Robert Sarver, and one questioning if the Nets really should have fired Steve Nash when they did, as opposed to ridding themselves of Kyrie Irving. Which, sure. It wasn’t an uncommon sentiment at the time and Streeter is a writer focused on the cultural phenomenon of sports, rather than its X’s and O’s.

Yet on Monday, the New York Times published Streeter’s new article on the Brooklyn Nets, titled, and subtitled: “So Much Talent, So Little Charm: The Nets are again one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant leading All-Star voting. So why is there so little joy in watching them?”

The crux of the article that Google estimates is a four-minute read (half of which is spent on recounting the events of the past three seasons) is that the Nets have “no charm” and “no identity.” What’s unique here is that Streeter wasn’t talking about the franchise and its place in Brooklyn (an article that has already been written hundreds of times); he was talking about the team, this collection of Nets.

Normally, I find response-articles to be dumb. You gotta have something to say in order to write, and not every thing-to-say needs a “But!”... but I couldn’t let this one go, and not out of Brooklyn Nets homer-ism. Rather, Streeter’s article relies on the most irritating and harmful basketball-writing tropes, and I wish a publication of the New York Times’ stature didn’t run it.

Streeter’s job and audience don’t require him to be familiar with more than twelve or so NBA players. But they also don't require him to write about the intimate, daily experience of watching a team day in and day out, because if you do that, familiarity with the other 95% of the league helps. The article did not state that these Nets are unlikable (to each their own). but rather that there is “so little joy in watching them.”

Streeter does not mention the Yuta Watanabe experience, nor the T.J. Warren story, nor the Nic Claxton leap, all of which have been joyful to watch and check the cliché this-is-why-we-love-sports boxes. A lovable journeyman throwing daggers at the team that gave up on him, a comeback from a career-altering injury, the emergence of a young, athletic, electrifying player. (Also, there’s Kevin Durant.)

The nerdier stuff is there, too. The Nets lead the league in blocks despite not playing one traditional big man, and I mean that as a compliment to the agile, ever-skinny Claxton. It’s a bunch of long, lean athletes flying around to protect the rim. They talk consistently on defense and zip around to cover for each other. Not only is it good defense, but it is fun defense, unlike, say, Rudy Gobert bailing out four bad-to-mediocre perimeter defenders on every play. Since November 1st, the Nets are eighth in the NBA in assist percentage. The ball zips. (Also, there’s Kevin Durant!!!)

I would hate for this to sound like a “Why don’t you like the team I like?” article. Because this type of coverage plagues teams beyond the Nets. Forget Kurt Streeter and the New York Times, just turn on Kendrick Perkins and ESPN, or Shaquille O’Neal and TNT. These types of articles rely on not answering like simple questions like “Why is this team winning?” while, again, ignoring the other 95% of the league that many New York Times readers, or even ESPN watchers, are unfamiliar with.

This wasn't an article that only Nets fans could “well, actually!” National basketball analysts all over the place are podcasting and writing about what’s driving the Nets’ drastic turnaround. It’s not that Streeter has to write with the wisdom of Phil Jackson, it’s just that the article is so welded to its conclusion it fails to consider the evidence that anybody who’s watched Brooklyn play basketball in the last two months knows it’s missing. He should have simply Googled “Nets” before writing this.

There was no evidence to back up the claim that it is not “joyful and exciting to watch them.” That’s how you get anecdotes like “‘M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P!’ rang the chants, aimed not at one of the Nets but at Jayson Tatum, Boston’s feather-touch, do-it-all forward,” presented wholly unaware of the irony of suggesting MVP chants for a feather-touch, do-it-all forward in the Barclays Center could only happen for a Brooklyn opponent.

Or “No, the Nets don’t leave you with the warm and fuzzies — not in the way, for example, that Golden State...[does].” Please don’t Google “Draymond Green punch,” or Anthony Lamb’s Wikipedia page by the way!

And, on Ben Simmons: “Problem is, Simmons arrived in Brooklyn so saddled by injury and self-doubt that he had become allergic to one of basketball’s most essential and elementary skills: shooting the basketball.” Later: “There were times when Simmons was near the basket and attempted awkward layups. Clang. He tried again. Clank. All game, Simmons did not score a single point.” Forget that Simmons was Brooklyn’s best player and finished, somehow, a game-high +10 in an 11-point loss.

Obviously Simmons’ game can be be critiqued. Heavily. But maybe the story on Simmons working his way back from traumatic mental and physical setbacks for the East’s two-seed is more intriguing than a New York Times’d NBA_MEMEZ joke.

I’m fully aware that I’m losing the battle against sounding like a homer. That’s what I am. No matter how many press conferences I attend or articles I write, I can’t shake rooting for the Nets. It’s an ingrained habit, so I’m either willing or forced to look past what I have to look past. That is part of being a fan. I’m not saying Brooklyn is a morally superior team to all others, and Kurt Streeter is wrong for not liking them. That because Draymond Green punched a teammate, or because X team employs sex criminal Y, the Nets are inherently good. They are not; this is the unwritten contract we all agree to when rooting for a division of the monolithic corporation that is the NBA.

Agreeing to the contract that forces you to shut down the part of your brain that controls critical thinking comes with being able to fully appreciate crisp ball movement and poster dunks. Why would I argue with you if you don’t want to root for the team that employs Kyrie Irving? Fine! You don’t want to support the NBA at all, no matter how mesmerizing the athletic feats are? You have plenty of reasons to do so!

But the athletic feats NBA players are accomplishing right now are incomprehensible, and the Nets have been accomplishing them at a higher level than any other team in the league for two months now. Write that you refuse to root for Kyrie Irving, or that you refuse to appreciate a New York team that isn’t the Knicks. Cool. Calling them boring to watch is just irritating.

Basketball is a gift, and it’s not going to be given to anybody else if a casual New York Times audience reads that a winning team with so many fun players is boring to watch because James Harden requested a trade a year ago. That’s what bothers me the most, that this crop of NBA players is mind-numbingly talented but the discourse is so negative. Brooklyn just happens to be in the crossfire this time.