The new mecca of NYC hoops?
Thanksgiving weekend has always been notorious for football match-ups, but the beginning of a great New York rivalry began last week as well. After being rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, the season opener between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets finally took place on Monday night at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
As fans from all over the city piled into the arena, there was a feeling of old school Knicks love paired with new school lust for the Brooklyn Nets. How can you not stand wide-eyed at the brand new arena complete with Jay-Z‘s stamp of approval and a team of young guns eager to put the Knicks to shame? Put these three things together; add an overtime thriller and you’ve got a great season opener.
Because Brooklyn is relatively close to Madison Square Garden, I expected there to be a good amount of Knicks fans sporting their blue and orange. As the game started though, I realized the crowd was pretty evenly split between Knicks and Nets fans. I sat in section 200 surrounded by groups of 20-30 year olds who were mostly Nets fans and realized the Barclays center opened on September 21st and initiated the most incredible increase of fair weather fans. I’ll admit I myself became a Nets supporter after just two weeks of their new season at the Barclays Center. Why? Because there was no team in the NBA that caught my attention and made me want to watch a game. I was a lost puppy, occasionally turning my attention towards NBA highlights from big games, but ultimately lost. In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself interested in more than just highlights when it concerns the Nets. My newfound interest has made me question what it is about the Nets that have made me think twice about the NBA.
Am I attracted to the Nets basketball team, or the Barclays Center? Did Jay-Z’s personal touches, the cold Brooklyn Lager, the eclectic crowd or even Brooklyn itself all add to my quick decision to sport black and white? As an avid sports fan, I’m ashamed to admit I think all of these things influenced my newfound interest in the Nets.
With the recent addition of the new arena in Brooklyn and the early success of the Nets, I suspect it will be only a few years before more teams start to renovate their old school franchises to match the Nets young and fresh vibe. In the NBA, now more than ever, there is room for fair weather fans whether we’d like to admit it or not. How many people do you know think college basketball is much more exciting because the kids “love to play” and bring a level enthusiasm that’s often lacking in the NBA? With younger NBA teams and franchises that have begun to realize the importance of making basketball a spectacle and not just a game, the industry is changing.
I use the term fair weather fans loosely. I may not even call these people “fans” but rather “entertainment seekers”. I believe the Nets had a better shot than let’s say the Oklahoma City Thunder at sparking some new interest in the game of basketball. Because New York sports fan have many other teams to follow and support, a sort of fandom ADD has allowed people to welcome new sports experiences. We’ve grown to be a generation that seeks the newest, best and better next thing. That next thing in the NBA is a wave of younger teams and franchises that can put on a show. Why is it easier for supporters to quickly jump on the Brooklyn Nets ship? Because it offers more than just a basketball game or a team. It offers the allure of Brooklyn, the allure of the new, fresh and never before seen.
Do I think this transformation to a younger audience, an audience that sometimes pays more attention to the nuances of the arena and the atmosphere than the game is the future of the NBA? Yes, because like I said, we are always going to want the next best thing. For the NBA the next best thing is the experience a game can offer. It’s what’s going to make people go to Brooklyn. Chances are most of the people at the game on Monday were more excited to see the Barclays Center than Brook Lopez put up 22 points and snap 11 rebounds.
The Knicks have struggled to keep loyal fans partially due to their underwhelming past few seasons (thank you Isaiah Thomas). The new home of the Nets has become a Mecca for those looking for the next best thing. I’d venture to guess the majority of people going to Nets games cannot consider themselves true fans. I do believe there are true Nets fans, but they’ve become outnumbered in recent weeks.
What does this all mean? If the NBA does take this transformation seriously, it will be hard to tell who’s there for the game and who’s there for the experience. If the Brooklyn Nets played at an old arena, with no celebrity endorsements or sightings, would people still show up? If they served MSG grade refreshments, would people still make the trip to Brooklyn? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to these questions- but what I do know is that the Nets have provided a source of unparalleled entertainment in the NBA.