Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Nets, fandom, and being "too busy" to miss the old Brooklyn (and what about the felonious Barclays?)

The nature and up-down intensity of Brooklyn Nets fandom has been the subject of much discussion, as noted 5/1/14 on NetsDaily:
In a tweet from their own account, the Nets disassociated themselves from Lenn Robbins tweet of Thursday night in which the team's in-house beat writer advised Nets fans to "set your DVD and take notes" on the Raptors home crowd, noting "this is what a playoff crowd sounds like."
Robbins later apologized, and Nets fans in a subsequent game were reportedly quite loud.

Fandom in Brooklyn?

Then again, intense fandom has not exactly penetrated Brooklyn, however much Brooklyn Nets gear pops up around (and beyond) the borough. The night of that subsequent 2014 game, I wandered up Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue just blocks from the arena. The game was on in most bars and restaurants, but only a fraction of people were watching attentively. 

A week earlier, I was in Pittsburgh, the day of a Penguins hockey playoff game. One main strip of bars and restaurants, East Carson Street, was inundated with people wearing Penguins gear. Every bar was advertising the game.

Pittsburgh is a small city, with a deep sports history. Brooklyn is a big borough, larger than most cities, with a new team and lots more things to do. 

So the Nets are not the Dodgers, the home team of an underdog borough in an era when baseball dominated sports fandom.

But it can't matter much to team owners and arena operators: they can draw fans from not just Brooklyn but the rest of the city and the nearby suburbs. The Brooklyn fan base is not as big a deal. And Brooklyn is big enough that some fraction of the borough can suffice as fans.

That was proven again in the past season, and it looks to be proven by the New York Islanders, which is rejiggering its fan base with Brooklyn and New York City fans.

The new fan base

The emergence of the Brooklyn fan base, and the new Brooklyn was the subject of David Roth's 5/2/14 SB Nation essay, THE HOME TEAM: TWO NOT-VERY-QUIET NIGHTS AT HOME WITH AN NBA TEAM THAT'S FIGURING OUT WHAT IT IS, AND WHAT IT WILL BE. As in the past, he was skeptical about the team's branding:
It is no slight to the team to note that this feels almost incidental in Barclays Center. The game experience is antiseptic and scrupulously leveraged. Various brands wink and blink and blurt and blunder up throughout the game, presenting things or simply being them.
...This is not unique to Brooklyn, of course; it was even more oppressive during the Nets' last years in New Jersey, when the team relied on marketing gimcrackery to wring revenue out of lousy teams playing in mostly empty arenas. But that is sort of the problem.
Becoming a home team

"It takes time to feel at home," wrote Roth, who recalled how 13 years earlier he found a skeevy apartment near Fifth Avenue and Dean Street, a block from the later arena site, at a time before Brooklyn got buzz, and a time when he willingly traveled to New Jersey for Nets games. Now there's "nothing else I would have recognized."

He suggested that fandom is emerging, that the "bars empty some before tip-off, but they were never quite full to begin with." But he thought the kids going to games will grow up into something more, and "Their cheers will be what drowns out the front office's relentless false-bottomed marketing language."

Maybe, maybe not if the team keeps flipping personnel, bringing on--for a high price--aging stars, then losing them to rebuild. The team this season will be significantly different from the one two years ago.

And I'm not so sure "the former O'Connor's is now a perfectly respectable place called McMahon's Public House." I know people who loved O'Connor's who now disdain McMahon's. But there are, yes, new people.

Time and change

Roth, who I respect as an eloquent writer, then strained:
There is nothing terribly natural or good about the variously underhanded and high-handed incidences of micro- and macro-scale corruption that brought the Barclays Center into being or brought the Nets to Brooklyn. All of that was terrible, and continues to be -- the slow and predictable revelation of all the various lies told casts a long shadow on the hopeful thing rising at Flatbush and Fifth. It is all business as usual, but that is never a compliment.
But there is nothing more natural or good about the Brooklyn I lived in -- which is gone, gone, gone -- than there is about the one that's there now. The new one is different, but of course it is. I am welcome to miss or mourn the Brooklyn I knew; the people who live there now are too busy living in this new one to care, and that is as it should be.
(Emphases added)

Well, maybe there is nothing more good--if that's a subjective judgment.

More natural? Well, cities are never natural. The redlining, highway subsidies, and low-interest loans that helped create the suburbs and empty out 1960s Brooklyn, the policies that earlier enforced the Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto, or the combinations of clearance and subsidies that created MetroTech were hardly natural.

Still, I'd submit, the various instances of "corruption" hinted by Roth were not merely "business as usual." That is too simple, and too pat. And so, I'd submit, the Brooklyn he lived in--as did many of us--has been soured by the deceptions of various parties.

The arena is ever tainted by what I call the Culture of Cheating, not legally corruption but a sequence involving deceit, misdirection, and unfair privileges.

People may be "to busy... to care" about much. That's understandable. Still, in a culture when sports fans care very much about fairness on the court (or the ice), amnesia is selective.

Today, there's even more concrete evidence about cheating: the Barclays Center is named for a felonious (as of March 2015) bank. Yet the name "Barclays Center" is pronounced without qualm of skepticism.

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