Though it has been under construction since 2010, the Barclays Center is still seen by many in Brooklyn as a Trojan Horse, a kind of unexpected gift that they’re vaguely afraid of. Outside the arena, the crowd was oddly silent. Passers-by pointed and talked in semi-spooked inside voices. The arena’s main entrance felt like La Guardia on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There was dread, there was foreboding, there were metal detectors but there was also the whiff of excitement people get when they’re about to escape from their everyday lives. For on one side of those metal detectors was Brooklyn — a borough of tree-lined streets and quaint coffee shops, sure, but also big-box stores, empty lots and the Gowanus Canal. (On average, Brooklyn residents are roughly half as wealthy as Staten Islanders.)I think Kelly missed a couple of angles: "Brooklynland" also includes Jay-Z's Brooklyn, sanitized perhaps for in-building consumption, but certainly a different angle than Dunham.
On the other side of the metal detectors was the Barclays Center, but also something bigger: the promise of Brooklynland, that utopia of renovated brownstones, craft beer, rich people, farm-to-table restaurants, pencil mustaches, Wesleyan sweatshirts and now, its very own basketball team. In Brooklynland, the Crown Heights riots never happened, and people grow up to become Lena Dunham. In Brooklynland, everything seems new, but sprinkled with a bit of that old-timey stuff — like reclaimed wood, fedoras, the Dodgers — that makes it feel authentic.
The Barclays Center is uniquely connected to this vision of Brooklyn. It’s a brick-and-mortar tribute to a miraculous rebranding campaign of both a borough and a largely mediocre basketball franchise. More than that, though, the Barclays Center is a shrine to Brooklynland.
And the Barclays Center is also uniquely, inextricably connected to all the brands that have bought sponsorships.
Embracing the Nets?
The Manhattan-born Kelly, who moved to Brooklyn, several years ago, began to think about becoming a Nets fan:
For decades, I accused the Nets of just being a knockoff version of the Knicks. (We got the good Bernard King, Mark Jackson and Pat Riley; they got the old Bernard King, Mookie Blaylock and John Calipari.) But never before has it been so evident. The Knicks, who also failed to land LeBron, created their own blueprint for building a team around a contingency plan of expensive second-tier superstars (Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire), a couple of overpriced decent players and cheap veterans...I think that the distinction between authentic and inauthentic unpredictability/detestability is a pretty minor one on which to hang an argument. (It's about as petty as Jay-Z complaining about how people always want to "diminish your accomplishments," while actually reports of his slim stake in the Nets/arena lauded him for having outsize influence.)
The crucial difference is that while the Knicks might be unpredictable and occasionally detestable, they are at least authentically so. The Nets, in all their carpetbagger glory, are the exact opposite. They are a team of pricey stars and Kardashian exes that hasn’t had a winning season since 2006, trying to fool fans, with big salaries and cool new uniforms, into thinking they’re getting a different product than the one that bombed in Jersey.
The Nets and Brooklyn
Kelly comes to a conclusion:
the Nets are less a team than they are an idea of a team. In this sense, they are the perfect team for Brooklynland.Um, that's because they stopped using metal detectors.
Two weeks after the Globetrotters game, I headed back to the Barclays Center for a preseason matchup between the Nets and the Washington Wizards. It was the Nets’ first game of any kind in the arena, and the fans’ excitement outside was obvious. No one seemed to be staring at the stadium as if it were out of place any longer; they just rushed in.
And they're selling the borough:
During halftime at the Wizards game, I wandered into the concourse and started mulling where the Nets would be at the end of Mikhail Prokhorov’s five-year plan. They might make a deep run into the playoffs, or egos might combust in spectacular fashion. In the end, though, it wouldn’t matter. All that mattered was that, like Ikea and Fairway before them, they were here. Amid this swarm of team iconography, it was clear that the Nets had erased their past and hitched themselves to Brooklyn’s manifest destiny. The borough may have been rooting for the Nets that night, but it was really cheering for itself. And the Nets, a vagabond team with an unspectacular history, deserved that applause. I just couldn’t be a part of it.The question is: for how long can Brooklyn be sold to itself?