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Article: Big Ups to Brooklyn

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Written by: Mike Epstein (@MikeENJ)

At 8 PM in Brooklyn last night, a New York City borough and its new sports franchise was changed forever. Last night marked the beginning of a fresh start for The Brooklyn Nets as well as a new beginning for its new borough. The Barclays Center officially opened last night and what better way to open it than with a concert by the man himself, Jay-Z? As minority owner of the Nets, no other musician has had a greater impact on a sports team than Sean Carter. From courting free agents, designing the new logo, and even the design of the new arena, Jay-Z has given his two cents in all important matters and has helped return the Nets to relevancy.

The opening of the Barclays Center and the transition to Brooklyn marks an exciting time for Nets players and their fans. With all the excitement surrounding the team and the new arena, it seems almost hard to remember how dismal this franchise has become over the past decade. Nets fans like myself remember quite vividly though how the franchise has steadily crumbled since 2002. After losing back to back Finals appearances in 2002-03, the team would come up short in four straight Eastern Conference Finals. Then in the infamous 2009-2010 season, the Nets lost their first 18 games and won just 12 games overall, quickly becoming the laughing stock of the league. If you were one of the Nets fans actually from New Jersey, you got hit with a double whammy. “Oh you’re from New Jersey? That sucks! AND you’re a Nets fan?” Insert ensuing laughter and/or walking away shaking head.

While Nets fans took their 12 wins in stride and looked to the 2010 NBA draft for hope, it was nowhere to be found. Instead of landing the #1 pick and drafting coveted Kentucky PG John Wall, the Nets ended up with the third pick and drafted Forward Derrick Favors out of Georgia Tech to a raucous of boos from the crowd.

After landing the third pick, New Jersey turned their attention toward the summer of 2010 and the biggest free agent class in history. Loaded with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Rudy Gay, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen among others, who did the Nets end up with? That’s right, you guessed it…Travis Outlaw! Even with a billionaire owner willing to spend tons of money and a marketing plan that impressed King James, the Nets missed out on a top tier free agent.

With Travis Outlaw as the big free agent acquisition, the Nets spent much of the early 2010 season courting Carmelo Anthony. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov used all the tricks up his sleeve and at one point it looked like the two sides were close to a deal that would bring Melo to the Nets. However, because they are the Nets and have a tremendous amount of bad luck, they lost the opportunity. Gloomy turned to downright irony when in mid-February of 2011 the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony. The Nets’ situation finally got some help, however, when just a couple days later they acquired All-Star PG Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first round picks and cash. With Deron Williams at the helm, the Nets went into the 2012 season with an outstanding point guard and a front office poised to make a run at Superman himself, Dwight Howard.

While the Nets may have come within inches of acquiring Howard on more than one occasion in the 2011-12 season, their luck remained the same. The Nets didn’t acquire the league’s best center and actually finished the season with 22 wins ( 2 less than the previous season) and went into the off season with concerns about whether Deron Williams was going to re-sign with the team.

This past off season, the Nets hit a stroke of luck, however, acquiring SG Joe Johnson from the Hawks and ultimately convinced Deron Williams to sign an extension with the team. As the revamped squad heads into the 2012-2013 season, the days of being the laughing stock of the league are over. The Nets basketball team has not only improved, their culture and image has as well. The transition to Brooklyn, which includes the new arena, logo, and overall mindset, has become something of a popular trend. I never thought I’d say this, but the Nets are actually a “cool” team to root for. With Jay-Z as a minority owner, there’s been a complete culture shock that has led other high profile celebrities to support the team with Jay-Z and Beyonce leading the way repping Brooklyn gear.

Hashtag campaigns of “Jersey Strong, Brooklyn Ready” have been trending on Twitter. Pictures of musicians/athletes wearing Brooklyn Nets gear are surfacing more frequently. Basketball fans from New York who once shunned the Nets are now on the fence and are actually considering rooting for the Nets.

The Barclays Center may not rival the atmosphere and intensity of Madison Square Garden, but the $2 billion arena is definitely a step in the right direction. It gives the people of Brooklyn an opportunity to unite by having their own sports team that they can support and call their own. While the Nets will always continue to remain Jersey Strong, tonight it seems like they are finally Brooklyn Ready.