Saturday, October 20, 2012

On Grantland: the Nets "take over" Brooklyn; the Jay-Z concert; the "Brook Lopez problem"

Grantland writer Rembert Browne, apparently bowled over by that New York Times spread/slideshow in August on Nets merchandising, writes Brooklyn Zoo: How the Nets took over BK in six easy steps, published yesterday:
But as time passed and the Atlantic Yards project went from a developer's dream/resident's nightmare to a giant hole in the ground to a half-completed structure that would never be finished to a copper-colored Independence Day alien craft to the nicest arena I've ever stepped foot in, the response to a new franchise in Brooklyn and the Barclays Center (It's just so shiny and clean and they have sushi) has been giddy with excitement and pride.
Oh, thanks for clearing that up.

Focusing on Brooklyn

Browne rightly point out that the Nets and the Barclays Center have focused on Brooklyn. But he buys the Nets' promotional story just a little too easily.

The argument:
  1. Brooklyn First, Nets Second (e.g., Modell's is devoted to Brooklyn gear)
  2. A Reflection of Brooklyn's History (redemption from the Dodgers, the rising underdog)
  3. A Reflection of the People of Brooklyn (advertising players like ordinary guys: "father of four," "Batman's biggest fan," etc.)
  4. Celebrations: Brooklyn-Style (Marty Markowitz's promotional rally at Borough Hall was earthier contrast to the Miami Heat's celebration at the team's arena)
  5. Jay-Z: Partial Owner, Caretaker of the Logo ("They needed a homegrown cosign... there is no public, living human who represents Brooklyn as thoroughly as Jay.")
  6. The End and the Beginning ("In two weeks, we'll have some answers. Until then, Brooklyn has been convinced to go hard for these Nets. Let's just hope, for the emotional stability of the borough, that the players follow suit.")
A Modell's spread does not a borough make; the Dodgers trope is tired; the Borough Hall party was a dubious use of public resources; and telling us Gerald Wallace is an "offseason fisherman" goes only so far.

The issue of trust

Browne writes:
During his show, Jay said that it was his dream to "give Brooklyn its own franchise." He's not quite the "Black Branch Rickey," as he once described himself, but he's done his part. It's no shocker that the men whose power more closely resembles Rickey — owner Mikhail Prokhorov, developer Bruce Ratner — have been relatively quiet in the past few months, handing off the reins to Jay-Z or Markowitz. The latter are men who are inextricable from Brooklyn. Logically or illogically, people trust them. Yes, they care about the Nets franchise, but their care for Brooklyn supersedes all.
"Relatively quiet" because that's part of the strategy. Marty Markowitz's care for Brooklyn doesn't supersede all. Marty Markowitz's shtick for Brooklyn supersedes all. (Can anyone say EB-5?)

Jay-Z's effective at claiming love for Brooklyn, but he's still a hustler.

On the Jay-Z concert

Grantland's Hua Hsu wrote 10/1/12, The Colossus of New York: Jay-Z ushers in a new Brooklyn era at the Barclays Center:
There's no real precedent for a rapper playing these various stages and somehow maintaining a vague power within the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that the minuscule stake he holds in the Nets hardly makes him an "owner," and a cynic might point out that his image has been leveraged to make someone else money. But there was nonetheless something special about the Barclays concerts. How often does a rapper open an arena with eight largely guest-free, sold-out shows? Forget the lyrics; when was the last time a man who lookedlike Jay-Z was worth leveraging in that way?
No, a cynic wouldn't point out that his image has been leveraged. Rather, a clear-eyed look suggests that both Jay-Z and his partners are profiting.

The 'astonishing tale"

Hsu writes:
That's why Friday night still moves me, even if I found myself daydreaming through long stretches of it. There were reasons to be cynical — for starters, the screens inside the arena welcoming fans to "the house that Bruce [Ratner, the arena's controversial developer] built" seemed a tad self-serving and a reminder of the opaque deal-making necessary to get the arena built. It was a reminder that we were all there to celebrate different things. But in Jay's moments of nostalgic semi-rambling, there seemed to be an earnest awe at the narrative of his life — a narrative that far surpassed whatever he was once capable of dreaming. However you feel about the particulars of his career and whatever choices he had to make to arrive here, it is an astonishing tale... There's Jay's immediate legacy, from the music to the industry to his participation with the Nets. And there's that nebulous, symbolic effect we won't understand for a lifetime. The kid who doesn't bother parsing the distinction between "part-owner" and "owner" and believes it is all possible. The one who listens to "99 Problems" and grows curious about the law. The one who wonders what happened to Ratner's plans for local housing and applies his or her "genius-level talent" to holding him accountable.
Except that was Jay-Z's responsibility or, rather, it was Jay-Z's role to distract the public and the press from that accountability.

Hsu might have been less moved if he recognized the deviousness in Jay-Z's incorrect claim that the arena site was where the new Ebbets Field was to be or the faux complaint about "diminishing your accomplishments," given that the rapper's tiny stake in the Nets/arena has actually been leveraged into huge publicity.

On the Nets

Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote 10/16/12, Brooklyn's Brook Lopez Problem: The Nets' big man is the biggest reason New York's new team isn't a real contender:
[Center Brook] Lopez's issues are more boring. That's the thing about the Nets. They're a sexy team because of Brooklyn and Jay-Z and those black uniforms, but their problems are totally unsexy. They will determine their own ceiling based on how well they do all kinds of little things that happen dozens (hundreds?) of times in every NBA game...

They should develop into a very good offensive team, with enough post-up threats, passers, and shooters among their rotation guys to attack in a variety of ways. They can go small, with Wallace at power forward. But if they can't build an above-average defense, they'll never win a championship with this core. That project has just begun, and it will require constant vigilance and tweaking from everyone involved. The uniforms, arena, 40/40 Club, and Calvin Klein VIP entrances are all very nice, but the Brooklyn Nets are a basketball team now, with the same challenges every other basketball team faces.
Lopez, actually, had a good offensive game last night, as the Nets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, due to, yes, lousy defense. Note an open practice tomorrow.

The announced attendance last night in Brooklyn was 13,270, solid for pre-season but less than the first two home games and, arguably, still less than might be expected for a brand new team. But the Nets should sell out--or come close--for a good number of regular-season games.

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