“I’ve never seen Brooklyn so alive.”
The Barclays Center starts to come into view from a few blocks away when you’re coming down Atlantic Avenue. I expected it to be brighter and to have more lights. It looks like a space ship that’s trying not to be noticed. You notice it, though- because all of these people aren’t here for Applebee’s and Best Buy. They’ll go to Target on another day. Tonight- it’s all about the Nets. The Mavericks are in town and we have two teams slightly ahead of the middle of the pack in their respected divisions. It most likely wouldn’t be the best basketball game ever witnessed by mankind, but it also wouldn’t be the worst.
But first- dinner. We found the The Burrito Bar & Kitchen, about three blocks from the Barclays Center. Worth the walk, but let’s be honest, family style tables suck if you’re sitting at one, but not part of a family. Still though, easily the best burrito I’ve had since the days of Granny’s Burritos back in sunny Portland, Maine. And I do enjoy a Mexican restaurant that embraces a Day of the Dead design scheme.
Back at Barclays, my hopes that Jay Z would be on hand, welcoming people into his house, were dashed and replaced with the overriding smell of someone’s cologne and a free backpack. Very small concourses at the Barclays- kind of feels like walking through an airport that’s under construction. It just doesn’t feel completed yet, but it definitely feels cramped. Good thing everyone was in such good spirits. Every concession stand line was at least 10 to 15 people deep and if you forgot you were in New York, you quickly remembered when you paid $10 bucks for a beer. But once your inside the arena, once you’ve battled your way up a single file escalator and through the borderline stifling hall, it is delightful. It doesn’t look like there is a bad seat in the house- something new baseball stadiums have been able to accomplish. We were in the second level- a level below us and a level above us and no one can really complain. Even the seats are comfortable and it’s an arena, once you get past the second level, anytime you stand up there is a feeling of doom that you’re going to fall down. It just comes with the territory.
Interesting crowd on hand. Literally a little bit of everything here. We have some colorful African Americans, we have some too cool for schoolers, we have some Dads towing kids along, we have some good ol’ American hoops fans- really it’s what everyone tries to tell you what Brooklyn is- a melting pot.
And oh yeah, you’re in Brooklyn. I’d say this in case you forgot, but there is really no humanely way possible to forget where you are as you are reminded at every turn and once every five minutes that you’re in Brooklyn. Jay Z comes over the PA, welcoming you to Brooklyn. T-shirts said Brooklyn amidst creative designs. The PA announcer kept telling the crowd- Brooklyn stand up! It gets to the point where I had to wonder- are we cheering for the Nets or are we cheering for Brooklyn? Sometimes it feels like its more about Brooklyn than the Nets and the Nets are just a reason for people to yell Brooklyn. The crowd started a cheer in the 4th quarter- it wasn’t let’s go Nets and it wasn’t N-E-T-S. It wasn’t even defense, which would have made sense at the time as the Nets were on defense. The crowd started chanting Brooklyn- with a heavy emphasis on the ooooo part. It’s civic pride at it’s absolute best, but it’s also why this all won’t last unless the team gets good. Right now it’s all about Brooklyn. At some point, it needs to at least be a little about the Nets. Just a little. All of this enthusiasm, all of this love, this outpouring of affection- it’s fleeting. You bring LeBron James here and then things will get real. You keep bringing middle of the road dudes- dudes like those who are currently on the team, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens moving forward. The shine will wear off. Jay Z can’t even stop that.
But back to the present and back to the good times- why is their a knight walking around? Did Jay Z sign off on that? Because if so, I’ll let it slide. But either way, I’m confused. He looks like the cousin of the Rutgers’ Scarlet Knight and I wouldn’t put it past the dude in the costume to moonlight as a knight at Medieval Times. Homeboy’s groupies are probably an interesting lot.
The game gets started and we’re off. The court has a shine to it. People are fired up. Dirk Nowitzki, the only Maverick to get some cheers during pregame introductions is a beast and a flat out joy to watch in person. He looks like he’s playing a different game than everyone else- as if all of this just comes easier to him. He’s smoother than everyone else; the ball leaves his hands differently.
First timeout- a hip hop carnival comes flying out of the back. Guys with sling-shots on their feet and sneakers with grease wheels. They’re all chucking t-shirts into the stands. The Knight has a t-shirt cannon. Is that a lion? Are all basketball arenas this hip hop-centric? Wait, that sounds really white. Never mind.
The cheerleaders are not court side and they come out as part of the timeout circus; then a little later during a timeout to dance to “Suit & Tie,” the new Timberlake jawn. The Brooklyn Nets are not to be confused with the Brooklynettes. The Brooklyn Nets’ shorts are significantly longer. I expected there to be at least one awkward hipster chick on the Nets’ cheerleaders. I mean, this is Brooklyn. You can Jay Z-ify this joint as much as you want, but Brooklyn still has that hipster shine. I can’t wait for the episode of Girls when Hannah tries out for the cheerleading squad and…Jay Z sighting! 10:00 minutes left in the second quarter. Okay. Lets go home. He’s sitting next to one of the Nets’ coaches. The jumbo-tron made a point of letting us know Larry King and Victor Cruz were in the house…no really, they told us that they both literally were in the house, but Hov gets no such treatment. Just a little something for the crowd- a flash on the jumbo-tron. But we all notice. His presence alone gives this game some cache, it gives us all some cache. We’re all just hanging out, watching a basketball game with Jay Z. No big deal. It’s just what you do in Brooklyn. Did I mention we were in Brooklyn?
The second quarter ends with the score close. Nothing overly compelling has happened besides the Hov-sighting and I’m not sure if long term for the Nets, if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. In a normal arena, halftime follows the second quarter but not here- not in the Barclays Center. It’s not halftime, it’s the Friday Night Dance party! It’s hosted by TJ the DJ. Who by the way, totally looks like a guy named TJ who would be a DJ. The sound in this place is legit. I noticed it from the jump. Everything just sounds better. I bet they borrowed the speakers from Hov’s house. He probably had Freeway install them to make up for that whole Made in America press conference thing.
Jay Z heads down the tunnel during halftime, but where does he go exactly? The locker room to chat up the players? The 40/40 club? I imagine Jay Z has his own office/bunker here that he goes to at halftime. I imagine this secret liar is somehow below ground, accessible only by secret passage, yet still has amazing views of the NY skyline. There’s no door. There sure as shit isn’t a password, but there’s definitely a well-stocked bar. Would there be a booth there in case he wants to lay down some verses? Is Jay Z still that much more of a rapper anymore? Is he still a rapper/mogul/businessman or is he know a mogul/businessman/rapper? Tough one.
Game’s back on! The musical introduction of “No Church of the Wild” loops while the players take the floor.
Dallas is playing with more heart, more pride and few of us here are having as much fun as Maverick’s swingman, Vince Carter. He’s having the time of his life out there- jawing with officials, Nets’ players, himself. There can’t be a person alive who saw this current incarnation of Carter ten years, or even five years ago. He has a beard now. Beards do weird things to people.
The Nets have a rough third quarter, only mustering up 14 points. They play sloppy; too cavalier. Dallas may stall out sometimes on offense, but it’s not for lack of precision and professionalism. It’s mainly because so much of their offense goes through the Big German and when he’s not out there, it’s up to OJ Mayo or Carter to get some buckets. Elton Brand sure isn’t doing it. But it’s all good, because neither are the Nets. Halfway through the fourth quarter, it’s starting to get ugly with the Mavericks up at one point by at least twenty points. A guy in our section starts yelling at Jay Z to get new players.
“Trade ’em all, Jay!” He yells.
The Nets do climb back into and make the last few minutes interesting, but they dug them too deep of a hole. The Mavericks win.
I won’t get into it, but leaving Barclays isn’t the most glamorous of experiences, as we all file down stairs that look better suited for an emergency evacuation. We end up back on Atlantic Avenue, but I’m not sure how. Despite the loss, the energy outside the arena is lively. I’m just saying- you add a true NBA star to this team (Deron Williams DOES NOT COUNT) then things could really get crazy.
We pile onto the bus. A guy pokes his head in.
“This bus going to Atlantic City?”He asks the bus driver.
“Nope,” our driver replied. “Rutgers.”
“That’s a shame. I need to get the money back I lost tonight.”
“You bet against the Dallas Mavericks?”
The dude laughed. “I did. But hey, we almost pulled it out.”
“Almost. They could have won it.”
“Doesn’t even matter, though,” the guy says. “It’s all about having this team here. I’ve never seen Brooklyn so alive.”
The guy disappears into the masses. He’s right, though, this area is alive. I don’t know what it was like before and I don’t know what it’ll be like in five years. But tonight? It’s alive.
Now I just someone to explain why there was a knight there.
Vince Carter photo by Getty Images