An open letter to new Nets fans
Dear New Brooklyn Basketball Fans:
Notice how I didn’t say hipsters? I’m aiming for nuance here. Also: I am one. Don’t believe me? I’m playing The Antlers on Spotify as we speak. Really.
Anyway, you must be pretty excited. Hell, so am I. November 1st – the night your beatific borough officially baptizes the arrival of its first professional sports team in 55 years – is right around the corner. Nets and Knicks, opening night, ESPN broadcast, Beyonce National Anthem (900000% chance this happens). I’m already getting randy.
More than anything, though, I’m happy for you, new Nets fan. After years of watching your city – native or adopted, doesn’t really matter – succumb in its basketball fandom to the orange and blue-clad hordes, your joint (The Barc? Let’s roll with it) promises to be packed from floor to rafter in blacks and whites and cap-knit Bs.
And the lord hath beckoned from this palace a resounding noise. And it was good. – A Bible passage I just made up.
When the NBA’s official schedule was released last month, I’m sure you were as excited as I was, new Nets fan, by the fact that our pens hadn’t needed to hover past the first day before making their first red circle. Shit, I circled it so hard I whittled through the table. Here we have one of the league’s original, most loyally followed franchises (my Knicks, may someone other than God please bless them, because God is clearly a Celtics fan) against one whose little brother status – just accept it, bro – has found renewed purpose in a market teeming for a team to call its own.
The ratings will be through the roof; the city intrigue thick enough to cut with a Metro Pass. When the dust settles, it promises to be a great night for both our teams the NBA – a great season, even, if both of us make it to May, which could very well happen.
As far as offseason moves go, yours were pretty solid: You’re still paying five Joe Johnsons for the price of one (THE KNICKS NEVER DO THIS AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE BUT IT MUST BE AWFUL), but with All-Star point guard Deron Williams and dirty work specialist Gerald Wallace at the helm, your management brass has cobbled together a roster poised to be a legitimate factor in the Eastern conference – this despite narrowly missing out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes (shitstakes, really). You’ve got a brand spankin’ new, state-of-the-art, $13 trillion arena (rough estimate) with doors that are probably worth more than my house, a hip-hop legend of part-owner-part-hype-man in Jay-Z, and an eccentric billionaire Russian owner – Mikhail Prokhorov – whose willingness to spend is rivaled only by the kind of lavish, libido-feeding extracurriculars you’d expect from a guy who prints his own money from machines made of precious metals mined by one of his other companies.
Your Nets have the building, the fan base, and the market to make a serious splash. What’s more, you could easily manage to peel off a significant cadre of Knicks fans grown dog tired of an organization perpetually pin-balling between mediocrity, truck sex, and borderline criminal ineptitude. And really, that’s kind of understandable; compared to the abusive, joyless relationship of convenience that would be rooting for the Knicks, your Nets are the new girl on the block, the natural beauty with the black-eyed glint that screams fun, innocence, a reason to start over.
The Nets have the momentum, the hype, and the juice of millions on their side. But what lies beneath the tough colors and seasoned hype machine, the gilt digs and maverick ownership? You might say it doesn’t really matter. Thing is, I don’t really believe you, new Nets fan. In fact, I’d argue that, by pulling for the Nets – whether from go or out of sheer, Dolan-honed desperation – you’re rooting for a team with even more closet skeletons than even my ‘Bockers, and fresher, far-from fully rotted ones at that. A more sinister team, and not necessarily in the Oakland-Raiders-remember-that-our-fans-will-literally-kill-you-and-dump-your-body-where-no-one-will-ever-find-it-charming kind of way. And maybe that’s your thing. But hear me out anyway, because I think I can convince you, new Nets fan, to abandon ship at the dock.
First, a little background.
The Nets’ exodous from Newark (lovely exactly zero times of the year) to Brooklyn made sense on every conceivable level. Not only did Prokhorov hit the Brooklyn real estate boom head on; he also heeded the borough’s very real yearning for a team to call its own. In the 55 years since the Dodgers left town – under a thunderhead of ill will, it should be noted – your growing ranks were forced into allegiances more geographic than cultural, or even economic. Indeed, much of your borough’s older salt had learned to cope with rooting for a baseball team in L.A. (the Dodgers) or squads with roots in neighboring enclaves (the Yankees or Mets). Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s recent youth influx was helping build a critically hip mass of casual fans – YOU – looking for some kind of psychic anchor to their adopted Valhalla. What better than a sports team – a sport whose courts pepper the landscape of this, its spiritual home as bountifully as churches – to rally around; to call your own; to root for forever?
It certainly didn’t hurt that Prokhorov’s nemesis, Knicks owner and Cablevision magnate James Dolan, had through a combination of free-spending ignorance and petty, paranoia-laced vindictiveness done everything in his power to alienate and shame a once-proud fan base. With just a single playoff victory in the last dozen years, our Knicks – overpriced and overhyped at just about every turn – haven’t exactly made public relations their chief forte (I still have my Steve Francis Appreciation Night figurine – basically it takes the money in your pocket and then its head falls off). All the while, fans clung to halcyon days – the Clyde, Willis, and Dollar Bill-led banner hangers of the 70s, or the perpetually brink-busted Ewing teams of the 90s – rendered legitimately mythic by virtue of a present-pained hindsight.
So when it came to Knicks fans jumping ship, defections were, and remain, all but expected – the only questions being: How many, and how quickly? Now, there will be plenty of all-weather fans that have rooted for the Nets through the years – through the decades, even, from Dr. J to Drazan to dashed title hopes a mere 10 years ago – and who see no reason to alter allegiances. Hell, maybe you’re one of them. To these long-suffering throngs I can only say, “good luck,” “Godspeed,” and “I still loathe your faces and will partake in any crass chant that features you on the receiving end.”
But anyone who thinks that by switching from the Knicks to the Nets – or, if you’re from somewhere else completely, just moved to Brooklyn, and are looking for a team to root for – means somehow shifting their sports manna to a nobler, more virgin vessel is, quite frankly, shitting themselves.
Why? Three reasons.
Reason Number One: Ownership
James Dolan might be a spoiled rich kid and one-time booze-bag whose idea of leading a productive, sober life has been to grossly mismanage two professional sports franchises – all the while bilking fans for higher and higher bounties – high on a cocktail of pettiness, vindictiveness, and poorly-calibrated loyalty. But compared to Prokhorov, the toxic fume-spewing beneficiary of post-Soviet nepotism, with specious ties to some of Russia’s most nefarious political factions, who is currently in the midst of running against Kremlin stooge Vladamir Putin, despite evidence that he’s actually helping pave the way for Putin’s re-“election”? When stacked against his Moscovite rival, Dolan looks like, well, just a spoiled rich kid. And get the hell out of here with your “Prok’s a self-made man” bullshit. The idea that anyone who made billions in the wake of the Soviet collapse did it by picking themselves up by their Valenki bootstraps is as specious as saying Chris Smith earned a Knick roster because of his 7% summer league shooting.
Sure, Dolan’s nickel-and-dimed you or someone you know on cable, championed nepotism over merit (albeit on a more micro level), and assaulted the public airwaves with some of the worst blues this side of cornflower. But Prokhorov was a registered communist for, like, years – and not the cool, Cuban kind, either. Sure, so was literally everyone else in Russia, but still. I have no idea what James Dolan’s politics are, but it seems to me the only authoritarian stance he’s ever really made – outside of pure basketball decisions, anyway, which have been more inbred-royal than Gestapo vicious – have been to demand there be a P.R. denizen in every rafter beam, and that Garden personnel show up to his concerts. Which, I mean, I’m sure it’s well drinks on the house anyway.
So honestly, after taking stock of the two respective owners, whom do you trust more? Actually, don’t answer that. Who do you trust less? Still not convinced? Travis Outlaw. Not yet? Johann Petro. Both in a little over a year. I thought so.
Reason Number Two: Real Estate
Fret all you want about the eight-dollar hotdogs, crumbling stairwells, and eau de piss aroma, Madison Square Garden – the Mecca, the World’s Most Famous Arena… some other self-serving, self-given titles of grandeur – remains an architectural and cultural totem on an island flush with them. Compare that to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which required the forced removal (Eminent Domain, you’re the bestest!) of thousands of residents before the project even broke gold-shoveled ground. And what pisses me off the most, Nets fan, is that…. You know what, just go ahead and read this. And this. And this. I’ll go bake a ham and come back.
Reason Number Three: History
Look, I’ve watched the Knicks these past ten years. They’ve been awful. But at least there’s a history, however fleeted, of success. Your Nets? They’ve won 50 games or more – the benchmark of a good season – once since 1979. Sure, they went to the Finals two consecutive years, in 2002 and 2003. But they lost both — badly – and have kinda sucked ever since. For as agonizing and mirage-laden as their near 40-year drought has been, at least the Knicks boast something of a basketball gold standard to serve as their spiritual anchor. I’m talking, of course, about the aforementioned Clyde-Willis-Bradley-DeBusccherererere teams of the 70s. You know, back when cars got better gas mileage than they do today? Seriously, go watch a full game’s worth of footage of those guys. It’s poetry.
Sure, the Nets can claim an admirable ABA run, as well as more than a few compelling post-merger teams. But there’s something gloriously sadistic about knowing that your squad will never quite reach that high white note of a bygone era, like the Knicks in the Holzman years. There’s an odd kind of comfort in that, I think… Actually there isn’t at all. But merely mentioning any of those guys will get you a free drink in hundreds of New York City bars. So there’s that. Most girls won’t know what the fuck you’re talking about though.
What this all adds up to, Nets fan, is a simple moral equation: The Knicks, for all their Chase-sponsored failures, are less evil than the Prokhorov-owned nets. Now, before you get your scarves in a twist, let’s be clear about one thing: All basketball teams are corporations. No corporation is 100% benevolent. Therefore, no basketball team is 100% benevolent – don’t matter which one you’re talking about. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t degrees of evilness when it comes to pro sports ownership.
Part of rooting for a sports team, particularly for the politically inclined, is looking past all the factors that make the team the pure business entity that it is. Take the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, the players are young, talented, and eminently likeable. But its owners also built their temple on the bones – or the spirits, anyway – of those who came before. Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka all draw their checks from a pool filled by a company whose business practices risk, in no particular order, faucet fires, ecological degradation, and earthquakes. Line up 100 Thunder fans, I can almost guarantee that less than ten of them will say they’ve either made that connection, or care, if they’ve even thought about it at all. That’s most basketball fans, and none of them are alone in their propensity for looking past the hidden gears that make their team – their toy, really – run. That includes me. So if Cablevision or any of its subsidiaries has lit your faucet on fire or polluted your stream lately, I certainly want to know about it.
Chances are you already knew all of this, new Nets fan. Because you’re intelligent, plugged in, with it. Lots of you probably have The Encyclopedia of New York City on your Kindle. Many tune in to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, compost, eat hormone free steak bombs, and have your ears trained to latest from the 2012 Presidential campaign. Maybe your company works in an office with exposed brick, where everyone brings in their own Kleen Kanteens and gluten free cupcakes on birthdays. You like your craft Saisons and Russian Imperial Stouts. I know this because I am you, just in a different zip code.
But you also love Pabst Blue Ribbon, even if it makes you shit water for days. You love tortured art, tortured music, tortured fashion, and tortured relationships. You love irony and tragedy, but only if there’s the omnipresent silver lining – the hope for better days ahead. And, if you’ve made it this far into this otherwise banal diatribe, you love basketball. If you’re a Brooklynite who’s lived there for years, has been jaded by the ineptitude of both your city’s supposed “teams,” or have simply bided your time in hopes that, one day, you’d have a team to truly call your own, nothing I say’s gonna change your mind anyway. Then again, maybe you’re in the puppy love phase with these new-look Nets – maybe the true Jones is still around a couple corners. Hell, you might already have your black and white B-tipped cap trucker’s cap rubber banded over a cup for one last trip through the dishwasher (all of you have done this — admit it).
Like any good politician, the strategy of the Nets brass is, and will continue to be, to woo the undecided basketball voters. More than anything, that means Brooklyn’s teeming masses of young urban professionals – you and your seven roommates, basically. But I’m here to tell you that The Knicks are here for you, wavering new Nets fan. Sure, they’re eminently dysfunctional. But so are we! That’s what makes the whole thing work in its never-works-ness! Have you ever been to a Knicks game? There’s scarce an enterprise more indicative of America’s schizophrenically melting pot than heading to 34th and 7th and circus smells and circus atmosphere that makes the Garden what it is. Hell, just hang outside MSG for an hour or two – you’ll see what I mean. Point is, Knick Knation is for you because it’s for everybody – white, black, Indian, Jewish, Muslim, professor, convict, Jewish convict (do these happen?), Indian professor, white Muslim, Jain hotdog vendor, whatever. You know the old saying “it takes all kinds?” Pretty sure dude was talking about Knicks fandom. I think it was Dan Brown.
Which is why you need to ditch the Nets digs and come on over to the the orange and blue. It’s not pretty – not gonna lie. You’ll yell; you’ll cry; you’ll spend half of your waking hours completely confused by what they claim to be trying to do. You’ll quickly realize you wouldn’t trust James Dolan to run a thirty-second 10-yard dash, let alone a professional basketball team. You’ll end up hating Knick opponents – probably a few dozen Knicks – more than any genocidal dictator. Rooting for the Knicks will likely cost you at least one job, three relationships, and thousands of dollars in shitty merchandise (You know how you can buy a toaster that burns your team’s logo right in the center of the bread? My Knicks toaster burns an Arby’s logo). You’ll drink twice as much as you do right now, get into more basketball arguments than you could ever be prepared for, and will never see an NBA-TV Hardwood Classics where the Knicks actually win. If history is any indication, Brooklyn will probably win a title before we do. That’s how our universe works. Most of the time, it’s miserable. But holy shit is it ironic! Really, as far as masochism goes, it doesn’t get any more fun than this – really.
What say you, new Nets fan? Ready to jump ship? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but our fair vessel loves the water. Believe me, you’ll be swimming in no time.
Tortured Knicks Fan
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.