New Jersey bids good riddance to black sheep Nets
A good friend lives on Dean Street and has watched with dread as this stadium has gradually risen almost literally on her doorstep.
By John Riordan
“The nineteenth-century factories that churned up people and churned out goods and now were unpierceable, airtight tombs. It was Newark that was entombed there, a city that was not going to stir again. The pyramids of Newark: as huge and dark and hideously impermeable as a great dynasty’s burial edifice has every historical right to be.”
Philip Roth’s great novel American Pastoral doesn’t lie. Nor do those episodes of The Sopranos where Tony mourns for the city of his youth. Newark, New Jersey has been struggling for a while now and after this week, it’ll be even more desolate.
So much of humanity has passed through this town en route to a better place, a professional basketball team is the latest to up sticks, drawing a bitter “good riddance” from NJ governor Chris Christie.
The New Jersey Nets played their last home game on the western side of the Hudson River on Monday night before they relaunch as the Brooklyn Nets and move over the East River to their new arena in Prospect Heights for next season.
Of course, being a uniquely luckless club for over almost four decades, the majority of the beat-down residents of Newark will be apathetic, as will the spoilt-for-choice sports fans of the Garden State who have the Super Bowl champion Giants and the big-hitting Yankees to hang their hats off — the masochists stick with the Jets and the Mets through thin and thin.
Even before the Nets were accepted into the NBA in the late 1970s, their first decade in basketball was a nomadic one, moving from New Jersey to Long Island and then back.
And they were cursed from the get-go, forced to sell a player who would go on to become one of the all-time greats, Julius ‘Dr J’ Erving, to Philadelphia in order to offset the multi million dollar entry fee, the larger chunk of which was compensation to the Knicks for encroaching on their turf in the Tri-State Area.
Things settled down somewhat when they finally found a stable home in the Meadowlands near the football stadium, staying there until 2010 when they installed themselves in the holdover Prudential Center in Newark.
The move to Brooklyn was first mooted almost seven years ago, so there has been plenty of time for New Jersey residents to get used to it, not to mention the fact that most fans who live near so-called small-market teams in the US know that heartbreak is never far away.
American sport is notoriously efficient at churning up its own pyramids. The Dodgers and the Giants of baseball. The Raiders and the Colts in the NFL. The SuperSonics and the Hornets recently footnoted a long list of itinerant basketball teams going back as far as the 1947 Lakers, who arrived in Minneapolis and then escaped to LA 13 years later with six championship titles stowed away in their presumably mobile trophy cabinet.
Although governor Christie was entertainingly bitter on Monday just hours before the Nets bowed out with a 105-87 defeat against (of course) Philadelphia, the frostiest reaction has been on the other side where long-term residents of a generally middle class district of Brooklyn have lamented the fragmentation of their community.
A good friend lives on Dean Street and has watched with dread as this stadium has gradually risen almost literally on her doorstep. It’s a 19,000-seater and there’ll be a total of 220 events a year, including concerts. The progress the rest of us enjoy is not victimless: regulars at Freddie’s Bar chained themselves to their beloved pub 18 months ago, traumatised that their small place in the world was changing utterly.
A tiny sliver of the team is owned by Brooklyn-born rapper Jay-Z, who grew up not far north of the Atlantic Yards where the new venue will be accompanied by high rises and chain stores.
He is the face of the outfit, a draw for potential players who admire his music but probably more crucially, a vital cog during the arduous process of getting a stadium built in what is a precious area of the city. He is aristocracy around here, through his music and his charity work.
But the man who controls most of the team is a Russian tycoon named Mikhail D Prokhorov, a man who commands about as much affection as his Chelsea-owning compatriot in London. So it’s going to be tough going for the Brooklyn Nets; cynics are everywhere and a lot of them are wearing the Blue and Orange of the New York Knicks. But they have decades of experience of feeling like the black sheep. And there’s no place in the world more accommodating to misfits than Brooklyn.
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