By Jack Erwin (@JackEComplex)
Sports fans can’t simply change team allegiances, can they? It’s not like picking a different pair of sneakers, or moving across the country, or even ending a relationship. For diehard sports fans, it’s the feelings for a favorite team that actually get you through those other life crises. But I’m using the occasion of the first major professional sporting event staged in my adopted home of Brooklyn to become that most-hated breed of sports fan: the bandwagon jumper. After 25 years of rooting for the Knicks, and 15 years living in Brooklyn, I’m dropping the squad that plays at the World’s Most Famous Arena, and taking up with the team that plays in the world’s most blogged about arena. Yes, my name is Jack, and I’m a recovering Knicks fan. Hello Brooklyn.
First, my Knicks fanhood bona fides: I cried the night Charles Smith went three-for-three, at an age when I was way too old to be crying about professional basketball games. I used to stand in front of a mirror and practice that little curled lip snarl John Starks would do when he got particularly worked up, at an age when I was way, way too old to be mean-mugging in front of mirrors. I can tell you exactly where I was when Allan Houston’s jumper rolled in, and when Larry Johnson sank his three-plus-one. I was at a Luscious Jackson show at the Fillmore in San Francisco when Gabby Glaser announced that the Knicks had been knocked out of the 1995 playoffs on Patrick Ewing’s failed finger roll. I once regaled morning commuters on a Bay Ridge-bound R train, including young kids, with a prayer for the children of Indianapolis, who’d had their eyes burned out by Starks’ sharp-shooting in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference semis (which the Knicks lost, but whatever, LSD is a hell of a drug). Shit, I remember the Knicks’ six-game winning streak from the Larry Brown reign of error and terror, word to Clyde. (January 2 through January 13, 2006: look it up Justin!)
My name is Jack, and I’m a recovering Knicks fan. Hello Brooklyn.
For a contrary teenager growing up in the early ‘90s, the Knicks were the perfect antidote to Michael Jordan mania. There are only so many “Be Like Mike” commercials you can watch before you want to go carve some shit into the side of your hair. The Knicks were snarly and petulant and thought they were a little tougher than they really were (except Charles Oakley: he really was that badass)—in other words, they were a lot like me when I was 16.
The Knicks broke your heart every May (and those Junes in ‘93, ‘94, and ‘99), but even that was part of their twisted appeal. It was easy to root for the Bulls in the ‘90s—MJ used to ball with Bugs Bunny for fuck’s sake. Being a Knicks fan could be hard work, and always involved some blood on the floor (literally and figuratively) when all was said and done. But it was always worth it, even if every season ended with the other team celebrating.
And then James Dolan went and fucked all that up. The man shrewd enough to be born the son of the founder of Cablevision was bequeathed stewardship of the Knicks in 1999, and has been on a mission to make the team the most unlikeable franchise in North American pro sports ever since (and that’s saying something). It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the whole thing went off the rails—there are so many to choose from—but it’s the feeling of the Dolan era that’s the turn-off for me: a mix of ineptitude and spoiled delusion.
New York sports fans have an incredible sense of entitlement. According to them, any good player, on any team, no matter their contract status or personal proclivity toward the Big Apple, should play in New York. This attitude is extremely distasteful to the rest of the country (no shit you say), but it kinda sorta flies in NYC—as long as the teams actually get those players and they win. I’m not a Yankees fan, but if the Bombers spend $40 million on the left side of their infield, sign the top three free agents every offseason, and then win the World Series, I can at least respect that gangster. But the James Dolan Knicks are like the George Steinbrenner Yankees, minus the wins. And that’s just a pathetic shitshow of bloviation.
The Knicks wanted LeBron; they got Amare. They had a promising thing going with STAT and a bunch of kids, only to trade all the kids for ‘Melo a.k.a. the most incompatible superstar they could’ve possibly paired with Stoudemire. The Knicks’ playoff record in the past decade is well documented, but it’s worth repeating: three first round losses, one win total. The Knicks of the ‘90s got bounced from the Playoffs in all sorts of weird, sometimes dumb ways (if you’re gonna leave the bench, at least punch somebody Patrick), but they never got swept out of the first round.
There’s a lot not to like about the Nets in Brooklyn. The arena fits in the neighborhood like a bowling ball in a shoebox (literally—they tore down people’s homes to make it). The original majority owner made his bank building hideous offices in downtown Brooklyn; the new majority owner made his fortune doing shit we probably don’t want to even know about as an oligarch during Russia’s ’90s money grab. They’ve both found it very convenient to use Jay-Z, who owns less than one percent of the team, as a figurehead for the operation. Please don’t even mention the marketing campaign—it’s thirsty in a way that should make any Brooklynite of more than three weeks uncomfortable.
Then there’s the irony that Brooklyn, the most aggrieved city in the country when it comes to franchise theft (sorry Baltimore and Cleveland) is poaching another fanbase’s squad. Say what you will about the numbers of the Nets’ New Jersey fans, but those who actually went to the games, especially in the Meadowlands, were a hardy breed. It’s one thing to boo Eddy Curry at the Garden; it takes real love to troop to a swamp and cheer a 12-70 team led by Brook Lopez.
And let’s not talk about how the Nets represent the New Brooklyn, or Brooklynland, or whatever you want to call BK these days. I’ll put it as succinctly as I can, in my adopted Brooklynese: Fuck that noise. Brooklyn is an increasingly gentrified, increasingly stratified place with a lot of new residents who are relatively rich, and a lot of longtime residents who are pretty damn poor. It’s got a lot of possibility and a lot of problems, and the Nets are not gonna make much difference with either, no matter how much small-batch goat cheese craft ale they sell at the arena.
And yet... And yet... *calmy puts aside the ability to think rationally* I’ve got a pro sports team in my fucking neighborhood! I’ve been dreaming about that shit since I was eight, son! Like, I shop at that Target across the street from the Barclays Center; I play skee ball in the Chuck E. Cheese that overlooks it! I can now watch a live afternoon NBA game, have a cocktail at Applebee’s, and get a pack of Pampers at Pathmark, all without having to ride the subway! (You see, there are advantages to dropping a massive arena at the edge of a gentrifying neighborhood: budget shopping!) I love you America!
That's the thing about the Nets in Brooklyn (no, not the 300 water balloons you can get for three dollars at the Party City across Atlantic Avenue): they feel like they're mine, or ours. Madison Square Garden is the World's Most Famous Arena, even if it's not the world's most famous arena. I share it with a bunch of tourists from Germany and North Carolina. It's a block from the Empire State Building, a subway stop from Times Square. The Barclays Center is a subway stop from Fulton Mall. There are double-decker tourist buses running through Brooklynland now, but I remember when downtown Brooklyn was a little more rough around the edges. It's kinda cool that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant will be coming over to BK now.
And the Nets squad versus the Knicks squad? Get.The.Fuck.Out.Of.Here. Deron (dare-un) Williams >>> Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, the ghost of Jeremy Lin or whichever bum the ‘Bockers have toting the rock this year. Hell no Joe Johnson isn’t better than Carmelo, but is Iso Joe’s game any more boring than Iso ‘Melo’s? And yes, Kris Humphries is a douche, but he’s a) an underrated player, b) got a sense of humor, c) presumably smashed Kim Kardashian, and d) been cuckolded by Kanye West. Can you say that, Tyson Chandler?!?
There’s nothing in the New York sports world—not Yankees’ World Series wins, not Giants’ Super Bowl victories—that compares to the city in early June when the Knicks are still playing. That’s when the bus drivers bring their transistor radios to listen to the games during their shifts. I wouldn’t bet the ice cubes out of that Applebee’s “top shelf” Long Island Iced Tea on either the Knicks or Nets playing next June. And if the planets align (i.e. LeBron James decides to play minor league baseball) and the Knicks somehow are playing in June, I’ll be cheering them on. I think I’ve earned that right (I went to the Knicks’ free practice for ticketholders in 2005—get off me). But next fall I’ll be back with the Nets. It’s a new day, and I'm drinking the Kool-Aid (it's cool, I'll pour it into a nutcracker).