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Kevin Durant returns to the Barclays Center, forever a Brooklyn Net

The tribute video pettiness is both beside the point and entirely the point of Kevin Durant, the Brooklyn Net.

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

There are now Nets fans younger than I.

I first confronted this in the summer of 2019, nearly a month after Adrian Wojnarowski decided 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan signing a $10-million-a-year contract was enough to constitute aClean Sweep of that summer’s prized free agents. I was once again working at a summer camp, but for the first time, there were little Nets fans running around.

Many of them, I would learn, were first or second-gen New Yorkers whose parents had given them no reason to root for any one team, whose local fandom extended as far occasional birthday tickets to Nets or Knicks games until the former franchise signed two of their lifelong basketball icons.

I loved it. I knew one other Nets fan grown up, the Jersey-born owner of a restaurant on our street that my family liked. But beyond the camaraderie, it signaled to me that Brooklyn’s plan was feasible, that they would make a dent in New York City, led by raw star-power.

After all...

We are fans of the team who blacked out the stands upon moving, a move that not incidentally obscured how few people attended games. We are fans who ask, with bated breath, how the crowd looked or sounded on any given night.

Other teams want championships. We, deep down, first need someone to celebrate a championship with.

All borrowed quotes courtesy of Never Hungover’s Who Are Nets Fans?

I no longer love it. Young Nets fans don’t make me feel old (I’m not) or force me to question if I am indeed still a fan doing a journalist’s work (I’m short).

Rather, I’m witnessing the frightening but natural next step in Nets-induced pathologies. Here is how Never Hungover categorized Nets fans, united in a predominantly online existence:

There are New Jersey fans, predestined to a non-New-Yorker inferiority, permanent little brothers who can’t even affect an ironic home-state pride because the team moved out. There are Brooklyn fans, a sliver of whom predated the team and the majority of whom harbor the same gentrifier-anxiety as the organization itself ... There are the transient fans, the “stans” as regrettable as that sounds, who bring a disembodied but mercenary energy to this island of misfit toys. Maybe some people got into the team because they once liked rooting for underdogs. I did because I got to meet Anthony Morrow for $8 through Groupon. All of these fans, almost as a rule, cannot afford in one way or another to go to the Barclays Center. They meet instead on the internet.

Brooklyn’s newest crop of fans do not fit into any of the above categories, other than being even more online than their predecessors. They most closely resemble the stans, but those that have stuck around to support the newest iteration of the Nets are, of course, not transient nor disembodied.

They’re now fully woven into our fabric, calling me an agenda-pushing puppet on X when I post a clip of Cam Thomas missing a rotation, telling me to remove Sean Marks’ extremities from my...body when I point out Mikal Bridges is an improved passer.

Their accounts — named “ClaxFanatic” or “CTinHisDuffy” — don’t exist to connect with other Nets fans in their spiritual enclave, but to influence change. To fight their version of the good fight by reposting their favorite player’s best moments. Ultimately, to be noticed.

This was inevitable, and applicable in some extent to every NBA fanbase. But think about what these Nets fans grew up watching, the toxic vibes their developing lungs inhaled. Today, they’re only missing their leader.

The Brooklyn Nets will give Kevin Durant a tribute video in his return to the Barclays Center. Get real. It won’t be a two-minute tearjerker, nor will it be a 15-second pleasantry. How far in the middle it lands, we’ll see. Do the particulars matters? Of course not.

Durant has insisted he doesn’t deserve a tribute video, first in responses to various characters of Nets X, then in a longer chat with Duane Rankin of Arizona Republic. As to his reasoning, KD said his Nets teams didn’t accomplish enough, that he wasn’t in Brooklyn long enough, and that he didn’t connect with the fans.

In the above video from Rankin, Durant reflects even further on his time in the black-and-white. He praises Brooklyn, talking about how much fun he had at certain moments, especially during the 18-2 stretch last season and watching players like Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner step up alongside him.

It’s enough to ask why he requested a trade in the first place, if he was having so much fun. The sudden compliments a year after the breakup make the scorned lover want to remind Durant that his trade request ended that fun, that he decided the time that wasn’t enough was over.

Only for a second, though. There’s no need to do the big fight again; we’ve already reached the acceptance stage. Now, it’s Tribute Video Discourse for Nets fans of all ages, and even the young stan-descendants — hell, fervently negotiating individual accomplishments in a team context is their area of expertise — can roll around in the mud.

You know else is rolling around in it? Kevin Durant. He loves this stuff. Just look at him talk about his former team.

At first glance, it’s a bitter twist of fate that he won’t retire in Brooklyn, but really, his status as The One That Got Away is much more fitting.

Durant is, conservatively, one of the 20 greatest players to ever lace ‘em up. He’s the only one of them without a true home, instead opting to claim the notifications tab of unsuspecting posters as refuge. The Nets are similarly fleeting.

The Nets’ anxiety is a gentrifier’s anxiety: the self-loathing borne from spending oneself into “authenticity,” the grasping at connections to justify one’s new positionality, the stylized fetishization of Biggie Smalls. In perfect gentrifier posture, the Nets want to matter, which is what makes the overarching doom clouding the experience of Nets fandom feel more than anything else like cosmic punishment for the steps skipped on the road to relevance.

Should Durant have been the organization’s North Star until he retired, spawning more and more kids at summer camp wearing the team’s jerseys? Sure, if you commit to the belief that each side deserved such a satisfying, monogamous ending. But you’d be denying the essence of the Brooklyn Nets and what makes Kevin Durant tick.

Whether his tribute video delays the game, whether it’s five seconds long, whether the Barclays Center erupts with cheers or gives him the cold shoulder, it doesn’t change that Kevin Durant is a Net at heart.

That’s why he's not here anymore.