The Nets Had a Chance to Win Over New York. Now, They’ll Try Again.


Right after the ultimate buzzer sounded on Game 7 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets throughout the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference semifinals final spring, Giovannie Cruz had 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 trend.

“I literally walked around that park for almost an hour from the sheer disappointment,” Cruz mentioned. “I didn’t want my son to see me too animated and use too much colorful language.”

Last season was supposed to be the 12 months, 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 crew from Brooklyn gained a championship, Jackie Robinson was carrying a uniform for the Dodgers in Major League Baseball. It was 1955.

But there was extra at stake for the Nets final season than merely successful a championship. In a metropolis dominated by Knicks followers, a title might have allowed the Nets to plant a basketball-shaped flag (and lift a banner) of their efforts to shift the stability of energy away from Madison Square Garden and put Knicks followers of their place. Just ask one of many Nets’ most distinguished backers, the mayor of New York.

“I really feel like this is the final act in the renaissance of Brooklyn and giving Brooklyn its rightful place in the world, and that has tremendous importance for the city going forward,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Brooklyn resident earlier than his 2014 inauguration, mentioned in an interview earlier than Game 3 of the semifinals sequence, when the Nets have been up 2-0 and a championship run appeared inevitable.

The renaissance may have to wait. This summer time, the Nets retooled their roster, by some means managing to add expertise to top-of-the-line 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 prepared to take the ground, the expectations for the Nets will probably be sky excessive. That’s true even when Kyrie Irving, barred from video games till he will get vaccinated, doesn’t play for a whereas. But if the Nets don’t win at the very least one ring, this period most probably will probably be thought of one of many greatest flops ever — and the Nets may have blown their finest probability to lower into the all of the sudden resurgent Knicks’ maintain on the town.

“We don’t want to be just the most popular N.B.A. team in New York City,” John Abbamondi, the chief govt of the Nets, mentioned in an interview at Barclays earlier than that Game 7. “We want to be a global sporting icon on the level of a Real Madrid or Barcelona. That’s our aspiration.”

Nine 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 crew had some success with the fast-paced groups of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin within the early 2000s, nevertheless it spent most of its historical past within the basketball wilderness, hardly ever attracting stars or enjoying in essential video games.

“It was kind of rough at that time,” mentioned Trenton Hassell, a guard who ended his profession with the Nets in New Jersey from 2008 to 2010. “We had true fans still coming, but we were doing a lot of losing so that was tough.”

Moving to Brooklyn was a new begin on many ranges. 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.

Old and new Nets followers are mixing and forging a new collective id. The cheers at Barclays Center are sometimes most distinguished from 96 or so followers who sit in Section 114. The die-hards there, known as the Brooklyn Brigades, are sponsored by the crew 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 general.

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 City. When Barclays first opened to the general public, Bearak mentioned, the sector was a “tourist attraction” that drew followers of successful, opposing groups.

“A third of the crowd could have been supporting Golden State,” Bearak, 63, mentioned. “At Madison Square Garden, it’s really hard to be a fan of another team and expect to be there in droves.”

When the Nets first arrived from New Jersey in 2012, they did in order an intruder in some eyes. First, there have been the followers in New Jersey who resented shedding their crew. And in Brooklyn, there have been those that believed Barclays, which was a part of a $6 billion industrial and residential redevelopment, would do extra hurt to the realm than good — significantly with considerations about gentrification and congestion.

A 2014 examine by The New York Times primarily based on Facebook information confirmed that after two seasons in Brooklyn, the Knicks have been the extra well-liked crew in each New York City ZIP code, besides the neighborhoods surrounding Barclays — partly 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 at all,” mentioned Irina Pavlova, then a high govt with the corporate of the crew’s proprietor on the time, Mikhail Prokhorov. “It was zero. It was starting from scratch, especially in a city like New York, where the Knicks are such an institution.”

Pavlova mentioned the franchise targeted on utilizing “Brooklyn” as the primary calling card to recruit new followers as a substitute of the crew title, as different franchises do. The fruits of that advertising and marketing effort can nonetheless be seen immediately, when the most typical crew chant is a drawn out “Broooooklyn!”

“That was done to appeal to the residents of the borough since they didn’t have a team to root for,” Pavlova mentioned.

The folks cheering for the Nets lately can typically be positioned in 4 packing containers. 1. Fans for the reason that Nets have been within the A.B.A. and enjoying in Long Island, like Bearak. 2. New Jersey-era followers like Cruz. 3. New, Brooklyn-era followers. 4. Those who root for particular stars, irrespective of their crew.

That final group is the toughest to monitor and often is 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 crew sports activities. Irving, Durant and Harden introduced in an unsure variety of transient followers. In the primary and second halves of final season, the A-list trio had three of the league’s 10 highest promoting jerseys.

Dawn Risueno, 53, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, turned a Nets fan in 1990 as a result of her ex-boyfriend most popular them over the Knicks.

She has spent a number of years following the crew 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 kids and 7 grandchildren.

“They didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Risueno mentioned of her kids and grandchildren. “Since they came literally 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 comply with gamers as a substitute of groups. But the Nets’ relocation to his hometown instilled delight, 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 totally free to potential Nets followers.)

“You can travel the whole world and you’re not going to find people more proud of where they’re from than New Yorkers, and I think that goes especially so for people from Brooklyn,” Edemeka mentioned.

For pre-Brooklyn followers like Cruz, loving the crew means “waiting for the bottom to fall out at all times.” Cruz lived by means of the 2009-10 season, when the crew went 12-70. Still, Cruz was upset to see the Nets go away New Jersey two years later. He saved rooting for the crew nonetheless. Many New Jerseyans didn’t.

For newer followers like Edemeka, their Nets reminiscences are largely highlights. The crew has made the playoffs in six of its 9 seasons at Barclays. There have been two playoff sequence wins. There hasn’t really been a lot struggling, all issues thought of.

“I don’t have any of that emotional baggage,” mentioned Edemeka, a season-ticket holder for all the Nets seasons. “I didn’t live through 12 and 70. I’m unburdened by that legacy.”

Old 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 largely dreary days at Madison Square Garden throughout the identical interval, has not damaged the town’s devotion to the Knicks.

There is, in idea, a concrete approach to shut that hole. Fans go additional to affiliate themselves with winners, as documented in a landmark fan conduct examine by Robert B. Cialdini in 1976 — a psychological idea generally known as “basking in reflected glory.” The reverse — disassociating from shedding groups — is called “cutting off reflected failure.” The examine discovered that followers are seemingly to say “we” in reference to their favourite crew’s successful however “they” if the crew loses.

Rick Burton, a professor of sports activities administration at Syracuse University, mentioned that if the Knicks remained the extra inept crew, youthful generations within the metropolis not but dug in on crew allegiances could precipitate a cultural shift.

“The Knicks could rule almost by default,” Burton mentioned of the Knicks earlier than 2012. “But with social media, 500 television channels, a million websites, Brooklyn is not that far from any of the other boroughs, suddenly we have to talk about the fact that the Nets appear to have much more of a cachet than the Knicks.”

But the flip aspect to that’s, in fact, not successful, which the Nets are intimately accustomed to. The promising, however finally deflating, semifinal sequence final season confirmed that.

“It’s always been so hard to be a Nets fan,” Cruz mentioned.