I have often been ridiculed by friends for being a bandwagon NBA basketball fan because I root for the Miami Heat. My response is, “the NBA isn’t about rooting for teams; that’s college basketball. The NBA is about players and following their careers. Lets face it—the NBA is a cut-throat business where teams are refaced at the drop of a dime with blockbuster trades. I’m a LeBron James fan, so therefore I’m a Miami Heat fan.”
I’m sure this hesitation to back an NBA team is a byproduct of growing up in Maryland where the closest team is the Washington Wizards (formerly Baltimore Bullets)—for the last 20 years, they've been about as bad as Brussels sprouts. Yet, I couldn’t help but get that old-team-feeling when I stumbled upon the Brooklyn Nets story. And what’s not to love? Brooklyn is a deeply prideful city that believe respect is something earned through hard work. Brooklyn is a cultured city that's only recently been discovered by tourists and become more congested with the Manhattan spillover. Brooklyn is a sports city tortured by an abysmal void since the Dodgers uprooted for L.A. over 50 years ago and left fans without a professional sports team to cheer for.
But unlike other cities (a la Philly), Brooklyn was not pissed off at the world. They spent that half-century working in Manhattan’s shadow, all the while waiting for their sports savior. Their prayers were finally answered this past fall, when Mayor Bloomberg cut the ribbon unveiling the Barclays Center—home of the Brooklyn Nets. So long Jersey, hello Brooklyn.
I can’t believe I’ve made it three paragraphs into an article about the Brooklyn Nets without mentioning rap icon Jay-Z.
The Brooklyn Park rapper/drug dealer turned business man/CEO has helped create an image that draws in pretty much everyone, especially a roaming, confused NBA fan like myself. So with Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles courtside and all the necessary PR in place, will the Nets be able to overcome a history of ups, mostly downs, and a couple of unsuccessful NBA Finals trips?
On paper, they battle only their crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks, for a position to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Deciding which NYC borough has the better chance to challenge the Miami Heat is like deciding between the Manhattan slice and the Brooklyn pie… it’s hard to do, but in the end we know neither face up to the South Beach fish tacos.
I digress. The Nets have had a less-than-stellar start (2-2) and will take time to mesh, and figure out exactly how the new pieces fit. At their helm is Deron Williams. He is one of the NBA’s best point guards, but has no championships and a bit of a touchy past. Nevertheless, I love Deron’s game. The way he paces the tempo with crossovers and key-play making ability is more than worth his $16 million annual salary. The Nets' recent aquisition of Deron’s backcourt mate Joe Johnson is scary to me as a newfound Nets fan. See, Joe is the antithesis of the Brooklyn demeanor. He is uber-talented, but lazy and has a lackadaisical work ethic. He is passive and talks with a slow southern drawl. Yet, he is a six-time all-star and one of the best there is at his position; now let’s just put him in a room with Rosie Perez for a few days and see if she can yack some Brooklyn sense into him.
Fans have to like the Nets frontcourt as well, especially the athletic jail-ball-playing Gerald Wallace who brings a strong defensive presence to a unit that was sorely lacking in that category. By Gerald’s side is Chris Humphries who you remember as one of about 50 professional athletes the Kardashians used to date. Chris was the only one to actually get married into the Kardashian family then realize what a terrible mistake he’d made and backed out—breaking nobody’s heart, but boosting ratings. Sorry Lamar. The math is simple: No Kardashian means better athletic performances, just ask Lamar Odom, Reggie Bush, or Miles Austin. Rounding out a nice starting lineup is center Brook Lopez. Lopez is very skilled, but boring to watch, both good things for Nets Nation.
On a final note, Squeaky Avery Johnson (squeaky referencing his high-pitched voice, but not to be confused with “Squeaky” Johnson of the ’04 Sweet Sixteen UAB basketball team) is a flat-out-fabulous leader. Avery has always known how to get things done in the NBA, be it coaching in Dallas or playing in Seattle—the guy has been and always will be an over-achiever.
And best of all, the “Jerry Sloan snowball-effect” from Utah, is not likely to surface in Brooklyn because Deron actually respects this coach, which seems a bit of a rarity in this league.
As LeBron and Mario Chalmers shoot jumpers in a Miami Heat practice gym, a waft of full-hearted Brooklyn-style pizza finds its way into the King’s nostril. He pauses for a second, a look of concern inches across his face, but just as quickly loses its way to a King’s chuckle. The Nets give way to an LBJ jump shot as the shootaround ends.