Proper after the ultimate buzzer sounded on Recreation 7 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets through the N.B.A.’s Japanese Convention semifinals final spring, Giovannie Cruz needed to go away his home in Elizabeth, N.J., and go to a close-by park. Cruz, an avowed Nets fan for many of his 39 years, had watched the sport along with his 4-year-old son and “acted like a lunatic” till the tip, when the Nets misplaced in heartbreaking vogue.
“I actually walked round that park for nearly an hour from the sheer disappointment,” Cruz mentioned. “I didn’t need my son to see me too animated and use an excessive amount of colourful language.”
Final season was alleged to be the yr, the season when the Nets and their followers — each the lengthy struggling and the newcomers — would now not be an afterthought within the N.B.A. The final time a professional sports activities staff from Brooklyn gained a championship, Jackie Robinson was sporting a uniform for the Dodgers in Main League Baseball. It was 1955.
However there was extra at stake for the Nets final season than merely successful a championship. In a metropolis dominated by Knicks followers, a title may have allowed the Nets to plant a basketball-shaped flag (and lift a banner) of their efforts to shift the steadiness of energy away from Madison Sq. Backyard and put Knicks followers of their place. Simply ask one of many Nets’ most distinguished backers, the mayor of New York.
“I actually really feel like that is the ultimate act within the renaissance of Brooklyn and giving Brooklyn its rightful place on the earth, and that has large significance for the town going ahead,” Mayor Invoice de Blasio, a longtime Brooklyn resident earlier than his 2014 inauguration, mentioned in an interview earlier than Recreation 3 of the semifinals sequence, when the Nets have been up 2-0 and a championship run appeared inevitable.
The renaissance must wait. This summer season, the Nets retooled their roster, someway managing so as to add expertise to among the finest on-paper assemblies in N.B.A. historical past. With veterans like Patty Mills and Paul Millsap now coming off the bench and wholesome variations of Kevin Durant and James Harden able to take the ground, the expectations for the Nets shall be sky excessive. That’s true even when Kyrie Irving, barred from video games till he will get vaccinated, doesn’t play for some time. But when the Nets don’t win not less than one ring, this period almost certainly shall be thought of one of many greatest flops ever — and the Nets could have blown their finest likelihood to chop into the abruptly resurgent Knicks’ maintain on the town.
“We don’t wish to be simply the most well-liked N.B.A. staff in New York Metropolis,” John Abbamondi, the chief government of the Nets, mentioned in an interview at Barclays earlier than that Recreation 7. “We wish to be a world sporting icon on the extent of a Actual Madrid or Barcelona. That’s our aspiration.”
9 years in the past, the Nets performed their first season in Brooklyn, after being in New Jersey since 1977 following the merger with the A.B.A. The staff had some success with the fast-paced groups of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin within the early 2000s, but it surely spent most of its historical past within the basketball wilderness, hardly ever attracting stars or taking part in in essential video games.
“It was sort of tough at the moment,” mentioned Trenton Hassell, a guard who ended his profession with the Nets in New Jersey from 2008 to 2010. “We had true followers nonetheless coming, however we have been doing plenty of dropping in order that was powerful.”
Shifting to Brooklyn was a brand new begin on many ranges. That they had a shiny new area, new branding and a spotlight-grabbing minority proprietor in Jay-Z, who was usually on the sidelines along with his megastar spouse, Beyoncé.
Outdated and new Nets followers are mixing and forging a brand new collective identification. The cheers at Barclays Heart are sometimes most distinguished from 96 or so followers who sit in Part 114. The die-hards there, known as the Brooklyn Brigades, are sponsored by the staff and are recognized for his or her artistic chants. That’s a far cry from the early days in Brooklyn, when rival followers usually outnumbered these of the Nets and Barclays had middling attendance total.
Richard Bearak has been a Nets fan for the reason that Seventies and was on the championship in 1976. He’s the director of land use for Eric Adams, who’s the Brooklyn borough president and the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York Metropolis. When Barclays first opened to the general public, Bearak mentioned, the world was a “vacationer attraction” that drew followers of successful, opposing groups.
“A 3rd of the gang may have been supporting Golden State,” Bearak, 63, mentioned. “At Madison Sq. Backyard, it’s actually exhausting to be a fan of one other staff and anticipate to be there in droves.”
When the Nets first arrived from the Meadowlands in 2012, they did in order an outsider in some eyes. First, there have been the followers in New Jersey who resented dropping their staff. And in Brooklyn, there have been those that believed Barclays, which was a part of a $6 billion business and residential redevelopment, would do more harm to the area than good — significantly with issues about gentrification and congestion.
A 2014 study by The New York Times based mostly on Fb knowledge confirmed that after two seasons in Brooklyn, the Knicks have been the extra widespread staff in each New York Metropolis ZIP code, besides the neighborhoods surrounding Barclays — partially due to the brand new residents who had moved to the remade downtown space. In response, the Village Voice referred to the Nets as “Gentrification’s Team.”
“We didn’t have a fan base for New York or Brooklyn in any respect,” mentioned Irina Pavlova, then a prime government with the corporate of the staff’s proprietor on the time, Mikhail Prokhorov. “It was zero. It was ranging from scratch, particularly in a metropolis like New York, the place the Knicks are such an establishment.”
Pavlova mentioned the franchise targeted on utilizing “Brooklyn” as the primary calling card to recruit new followers as an alternative of the staff title, as different franchises do. The fruits of that advertising effort can nonetheless be seen at the moment, when the commonest staff chant is a drawn out “Broooooklyn!”
“That was finished to attraction to the residents of the borough since they didn’t have a staff to root for,” Pavlova mentioned.
The folks cheering for the Nets nowadays can typically be positioned in 4 bins. 1. Followers for the reason that Nets have been within the A.B.A. and playing in Long Island, like Bearak. 2. New Jersey-era followers like Cruz. 3. New, Brooklyn-era followers. 4. Those that root for particular stars, irrespective of their staff.
That final group is the toughest to trace and would be the most important for the way forward for the Nets within the N.B.A., the place star gamers are extra influential than in different staff sports activities. Irving, Durant and Harden introduced in an unsure variety of transient followers. Within the first and second halves of final season, the A-list trio had three of the league’s 10 highest selling jerseys.
Daybreak Risueno, 53, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, turned a Nets fan in 1990 as a result of her ex-boyfriend most well-liked them over the Knicks.
She has spent a number of years following the staff throughout the nation as a part of an annual street journey. She transformed her sports-agnostic husband of 18 years to the trigger, and introduced alongside her two youngsters and 7 grandchildren.
“They did not have a selection within the matter,” Risueno mentioned of her youngsters and grandchildren. “Since they got here actually out of the womb, I’ve had them in Nets outfits.”
Bobby Edemeka, 46, a portfolio supervisor who was born and raised in Brooklyn, mentioned he used to observe gamers as an alternative of groups. However the Nets’ relocation to his hometown instilled satisfaction, and Edemeka based the Brooklyn Brigades group, which was unofficial till the Nets started sponsoring it in 2018. (Edemeka used to purchase bundles of tickets and supply them free of charge to potential Nets followers.)
“You may journey the entire world and also you’re not going to seek out folks extra happy with the place they’re from than New Yorkers, and I believe that goes particularly so for folks from Brooklyn,” Edemeka mentioned.
For pre-Brooklyn followers like Cruz, loving the staff means “ready for the underside to fall out always.” Cruz lived by way of the 2009-10 season, when the staff went 12-70. Nonetheless, Cruz was upset to see the Nets go away New Jersey two years later. He stored rooting for the staff nonetheless. Many New Jerseyans didn’t.
For newer followers like Edemeka, their Nets recollections are principally highlights. The staff has made the playoffs in six of its 9 seasons at Barclays. There have been two playoff series wins. There hasn’t truly been a lot struggling, all issues thought of.
“I don’t have any of that emotional baggage,” mentioned Edemeka, a season-ticket holder for the entire Nets seasons. “I didn’t dwell by way of 12 and 70. I’m unburdened by that legacy.”
Outdated Nets followers and all however the latest Knicks followers know a factor or two about emotional baggage. And but the relative success of the Nets in Brooklyn, alongside the principally dreary days at Madison Sq. Backyard throughout the identical interval, has not damaged the town’s devotion to the Knicks.
There’s, in idea, a concrete solution to shut that hole. Followers go additional to affiliate themselves with winners, as documented in a landmark fan behavior study by Robert B. Cialdini in 1976 — a psychological idea referred to as “basking in mirrored glory.” The alternative — disassociating from dropping groups — is named “slicing off mirrored failure.” The examine discovered that followers are prone to say “we” in reference to their favourite staff’s successful however “they” if the staff loses.
Rick Burton, a professor of sports activities administration at Syracuse College, mentioned that if the Knicks remained the extra inept staff, youthful generations within the metropolis not but dug in on staff allegiances could precipitate a cultural shift.
“The Knicks may rule virtually by default,” Burton mentioned of the Knicks earlier than 2012. “However with social media, 500 tv channels, one million web sites, Brooklyn is just not that removed from any of the opposite boroughs, abruptly we now have to speak about the truth that the Nets seem to have rather more of a cachet than the Knicks.”
However the flip aspect to that’s, after all, not successful, which the Nets are intimately acquainted with. The promising, however in the end deflating, semifinal sequence final season confirmed that.
“It’s at all times been so exhausting to be a Nets fan,” Cruz mentioned.