Friday, May 11, 2012

Brooklyn's New Team Drops The Ball

It's just about this time every year that I get interested in pro basketball, when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin, bringing with them the stakes needed to make both me and the players interested in the outcome of the games. (Unfortunately, my adopted New York Knicks just got knocked out, so my interest may waver until later rounds.)

Here in Brooklyn, though, pro basketball is generating a whole different set of intrigues: with the end of the regular season, the so-far-from-making-the-playoffs-they-may-not-even be-allowed-to-watch-them-on-TV New Jersey Nets have officially become the Brooklyn Nets, and will soon take up residence in the $487 trillion Barclays Center, which has been under construction for the last 19 years.

It has been very interesting to watch this stadium being built, a day at a time, as I ride my bike past it heading to and from work. There was a whole lot of controversy surrounding its construction, to put it mildly: some shady eminent-domain land seizure was needed to accommodate the proposed stadium/low-income housing/shopping complex, displacing more than a few people from their homes, and they did not go without a very loud five-year legal battle to obstruct the project.

Once the courts found in favor of the developers (can you believe it?), they apparently felt free to drop some of the pretenses they'd used to sell the thing in the first place: It would not in fact be designed by rockstar architect Frank Gehry. The shopping complex was put on hold. The low-income housing was first turned into 16 luxury condo towers, then reduced to eight (construction start date yet to be announced), leaving the only thing the consortium presumably ever wanted: the Barclays Center, which would have been far less likely to get through the gauntlet of protest and zoning laws and ethical concerns and god knows what else is required to build a stadium not accompanied by promises of housing and job creation. 

(Interestingly, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957 because the team's owner was unable to persuade City Construction Coordinator Robert Moses to seize the exact same patch of land and build a new baseball stadium there [which incidentally he would have paid for himself] to replace the deteriorating Ebbets Field -- now a deteriorating low-income housing project a block away from my house.)

It all seems a little shady and feels a little icky, what with the displacing of people from their homes and all, but the dust has pretty much settled and whatever you or I may think about it, the stadium is here and it's not going anywhere, so it's time to make friends with our new team, the first Brooklyn pro sports team since the Dodgers left.

The Nets made it official the other day when the team unveiled its new logo and colors, supposedly designed and chosen by minority team owner Jay-Z. Whether that's true or not, the new logos are a bit underwhelming; if Jay did indeed design them, he probably did so by dictating his ideas over the phone while getting a manicure and choosing between an array of crushed-velvet black tuxedos in the back of his limo, or at best, scribbled it on a napkin in the champagne room on a break from making it rain. It doesn't look like a lot of thought went into it is what I'm saying. I don't hate the idea of a team wearing black and white, because amazingly no other team is already doing that and we are fresh out of primary colors, and black and white is cool and kinda badass.

But mainly, this feels like a huge missed opportunity, because they kept "Nets." Why didn't they change the name of the team? Recent history shows how well this can work out: the Seattle Supersonics were abducted by a cabal of Oklahoma-based businesspersons a few years ago and relocated to Oklahoma City, over the strenuous objections of Seattle fans, so rather than rub salt in their wounds (and rather than keep a name that made no regional sense -- apologies to the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Arizona Cardinals, and Memphis Grizzlies), they changed the team colors and redubbed it the Oklahoma City Thunder. The results speak for themselves: the Thunder is now 13th of 30 in attendance (quite understandably behind the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, Heat, Spurs, Mavericks, and Bulls -- you know, the major-market and/or winningest teams of the last decade) and after a couple years' growing pains are among the elite teams in the league -- they just knocked last years' champ (Dallas) out of this year's playoffs. 

By contrast, the Nets ranked dead last in attendance this past season and finished with a dismal 22-44 record, losing their last six in a row. If the idea of keeping the Nets name is to keep continuity with the team's existing fans -- in hopes that they will perhaps make the short trip into Brooklyn to see the team, or more importantly, retain their season tickets -- that ship appears to have sailed. Whatever loyalty New Jerseyans may once have had for the Nets has been negated by A) the fact that they're leaving in the first place, and tripling ticket prices in the process, and B) their unbroken ten-year streak of sub-.500 seasons.

Also, "Nets" is a pretty terrible name for a team, no matter what the sport. Did they just stand at the center of the arena, cover their eyes, and then uncover them and name the team after the first thing they saw? They may as well have been the New Jersey Rims or the New Jersey Benches or the New Jersey Hot Dog Vendors for all the awe/intimidation/excitement their name inspires.

And badass black and white color scheme or no, two weeks after it hit the market, I have yet to see anybody wearing any Brooklyn Nets gear -- and Brooklyn is a place where people are quite enthusiastic about their Officially Licensed Team Apparel.

That's because no matter what, the Nets are always going to feel like someone else's sloppy seconds. They're not our team. Renaming them, ideally renaming them in a way that would resonate with the locals, would make them our team.

They could have called them the Brooklyn Dodgers. I imagine Magic Johnson et al would have something to say about that, which may be why it didn't happen, but that would have made a lot of people happy.

They could have called them the Brooklyn Brownstones -- not exactly terrifying, but very appropriate to the neighborhood.

They could have gone with the Brooklyn Bullets, but then they would have had the same image problem the team in Washington had (handgun murder rates being what they are). But that's still better than the Nets.

What about the Brooklyn Bombers? The Brooklyn Bears? The Brooklyn Bouncers? The Brooklyn Bees? The Brooklyn Blast? The Brooklyn Bodegas? Why not change the name to go with their new colors and be the Brooklyn Black? (This one feels oddly politically incorrect, even though it's totally innocent.)

Really, those all just came off the top of my head (though I do like a couple of them -- the Brooklyn Black is growing on me fast), and I seem to be attached to alliteration, but if I could drop that I bet I could come up with a hundred more. Brooklyn Hipsters leaps to mind. Brooklyn White Belts! Brooklyn Ironic Ts!

But there are two I've been hoping for for months, even though I know neither will never happen.

I really love the Brooklyn Zoo. It also feels oddly politically incorrect, even though every pro sports team in the world is named after an animal.

But you know who would really sell some jerseys? The Brooklyn Ballers! THE BROOKLYN BALLERS!! Could that name be any more perfect? It's full of braggadoccio (in the best Jay-Z boast-rap tradition), it actually applies to the sport in question, and it sounds a little dirty even though it's not. I don't even wear basketball jerseys, but I can't say I wouldn't be tempted to pick one up with BALLERS across the chest. I'd probably resist the temptation, but it would be catnip wrapped in awesome and rolled in badass jimmies to all those guys that love their Officially Licensed Team Apparel.

If they had gone with the Brooklyn Ballers, I guarantee you there would already be a multimillion dollar budgeted rap video on YouTube with its star wearing a BALLERS jersey while standing on the hood of an Escalade and pouring champagne on some underdressed young ladies who never met their dads. Don't bother arguing, you and I both know it to be true.

Instead, we're stuck with the Nets. But look on the bright side: at least it rhymes with "Jets" and "Mets"! Ooh! That gives me another idea: The Brooklyn Pets! The Brooklyn Vets? Wait, I got it: The Brooklyn Regrets.
How about the Brooklyn Tags?

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