/The Nets Are Looking Really Good, Even From London

The Nets Are Looking Really Good, Even From London


LONDON — In principle no less than, we perceive the phrases on the sports activities radio we hear incessantly — in taxis, on the fish and chips place, on the nook newsstand. But we’re foreigners right here and the tales are inscrutable, filled with happenings from cricket ovals and rugby pitches.

Our sports activities focus is confined to our darkened front room, the place my 7-year-old son, Leo, and I’ve currently been absorbing unbelievable happenings from the opposite facet of the Atlantic — one exhilarating victory after one other for our abruptly mighty Brooklyn Nets.

This has turn into our early-morning ritual. Wife and daughter nonetheless asleep, the boys watch the motion from the evening earlier than, the scores fastidiously hidden from our N.B.A. League Pass app lest we damage the ending.

We are basketball expatriates, two steps faraway from the preliminary supply of my N.B.A. obsession by a change of staff loyalties and a transfer to London.

Even my Knick fan friends back in New York do not want to hear about the Nets via email. My only real communion comes via obscure Nets-related podcasts I listen to while washing the dishes. When Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe devoted perhaps 3 minutes of a recent pod to the Nets surge, I confess to feelings of pride and validation I can only liken to a U.F.O. conspiracy theorist hearing that the government is probing the sighting of a flying saucer.

My embrace of the Nets began seven years ago when the Knicks — the only team I had ever rooted for — shunned a gift from the basketball gods by letting Jeremy Lin leave town. It was the final indignity after years of atrocious basketball. I dumped my Knicks season tickets and adopted the fledgling club whose arena had just risen over my Brooklyn neighborhood.

I did not do so lightly. As a born-and-bred New Yorker, I saw abandoning a team as a serious breach of the tribal code. I disdained fans from other cities who rooted for two teams in the same sport. I was unremittingly harsh to the worst transgressor of all: the bandwagon fan. (If that Steph Curry jersey you own was the first Warriors gear in your closet, yes, I’m talking about you.)

But I was hopping on no bandwagon. With the exception of a pair of distant trips to the N.B.A. finals, the New Jersey-turned-Brooklyn Nets were a pathetic franchise. I was living in Brooklyn. My father had grown up in Queens and traveled on a streetcar to watch the Dodgers at Ebbets Field I was not abandoning my tribe. I was returning to it.

This, I told myself, as I began reading about the odd collection of players I was now rooting for, trying to divine the narrative that would make it real; as I fought through a sense of exile in a slick new arena full of fans for whom the game itself appeared peripheral to the cool Brooklyn food, the dancing during timeouts, and whatever fascinating things were happening on their phones.

Barclays Center was a gorgeous arena with excellent sightlines and welcoming staff. The season tickets I bought the day the Knicks said goodbye to J-Lin put me in seats that were a 10-minute walk from my house in Prospect Heights. Madison Square Garden was a cramped dump reached via a creaking subway and a walk through the bowels of Penn Station.

Yet there was something about the Garden, even as the Dolan era yielded a lost decade of basketball. The crowd understood. Hustle plays drew appreciation in an arena that had revered Charles Oakley. The energy was electric.

In Brooklyn, the mostly mercenary fans got what we deserved: a team of past-their-prime castoffs imported by the bombastic Russian magnate, Mikhail Prokhorov, who had brought the franchise to Brooklyn. Vowing to spend whatever it took to eclipse the Knicks — a low bar — he built a bonfire of money at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic.

In came the wildly overpaid Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star. In came the mediocre Gerald Wallace in exchange for a first-round pick that Portland turned into Damian Lillard. The centerpiece was the sullen, out-of-shape Deron Williams who, in another lifetime, looked like the best point guard on earth, and whose passions no longer appeared to include basketball.

They fit uneasily around the likable 7-footer, Brook Lopez, whose sweet shooting came along with rebounding and defensive skills that seemed better suited for other pursuits, like calligraphy.

My history as a Knicks fan made the plan feel familiar. Win now, baby! The future was for losers. The oligarch was buying his way to competitiveness pronto. Leaving no doubt, the Nets soon traded every first-round pick until the sun dies for the remains of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

When it all unraveled and the Nets descended into an unwatchable state, I hung in. You can not renounce the team of your life and then walk away from your new one because they are terrible. Real fandom is forged in suffering. Even when my family traded Brooklyn for London in 2016, we remained Nets fans.

This happily coincided with another development: The Nets bucked the conventional wisdom that New York fans will not accept rebuilding and embraced patience.

Sean Marks, the general manager, somehow turned a collection of mostly indifferent veterans into a raffish crew of young, hungry players led by a first-time head coach, Kenny Atkinson. They run at a ferocious pace, share the ball with grace, and play with joy.

Since an excruciating eight-game losing streak, the Nets have won 18 of 23. Even from afar, we can tell that the intensity has changed at the Barclays, the Brooook-Lyyyyn chants filling our London living room.

And still, an intense New York team deserves better. Back for the holidays, I took Leo to see New Orleans and their marquee star, Anthony Davis, at Barclays. The place was packed with tourists who seemed intent on taking selfies and buying Brooklyn gear at the swag shop.

Whatever.

On Saturday morning, we will sit on the couch in our pajamas, Leo and me, and see what happened against the now-hated, if pitiful, Knicks the night before.

Please don’t tell us who won.



Source link Nytimes.com

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