The Home Team

A year with the Brooklyn Nets: a dull team, but the home team.
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Brook Lopez had just missed a 20-footer when Maria began to chirp. “YOU A LOSUH!” she hollered, not for the first time. There was something about him she didn’t like, something that transcended his breakout year, a season that included an appearance in the All-Star Game. He was good but he was gawky, and Maria is more into the quiet-and-smooth types. She loved Joe Johnson, but it wasn’t Johnson who saved this possession for the Nets. It was Lopez. He followed his shot and threw down a one-handed slam that reverberated throughout the arena, all the way up to section 229. I turned around and put my inverted hands against my head with straightened fingers, forming the number “11”—Lopez’ number—and waited for her to say it. That was one thing Maria didn’t have in common with Johnson: She was consistent.

“We’ll see,” she said, laughing. “The jury’s still out on him.”

Maria and I are cool, and have been since opening night at the Barclay’s Center against the Toronto Raptors, two days after the Nets’ Brooklyn debut against the Knicks was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy. On that night, some members of the last Brooklyn Dodgers team were in attendance and traded jerseys with Deron Williams, among others. It was a show years in the making, but only half of the cast showed up. In the end, it might have been better this way. If the Nets had played the Knicks, the lasting memory of their first night would have been an arena full of fans being drowned out by their new rivals across the river. Instead, we got a garden-variety victory, and your author got to enjoy the staging of a lifelong dream's first scenes.

I wanted to have season tickets to a professional sports franchise since I was 11 years old. I burned for the Red Sox, but it was the experience I really valued. I grew up on an island, with a single mom, and getting to games was harder for us than it was for the average pre-teen on the mainland, or at least those in range of a father figure or commuter rail. I wanted to go to the ballpark every night, which is not necessarily a novel way for an 11-year-old to feel. I couldn't, which isn't all that unusual, either.

But I live in Brooklyn now, and this summer the Nets arrived a 12-minute walk from my apartment in their rusted spaceship of a stadium. I hadn’t given much thought to season tickets until an early summer chill session with my cousin and mutual friends Jack Daniel and Sam Adams. He casually mentioned that Nets tickets were affordable; I was, let's say, receptive. We did some research, I gave an OK, and the next morning, my head all smoke and frayed wires, I asked him if the deed had been done. It had. The arranged marriage was on.

It has been better than I'd hoped. Everyone has a different idea of what it means to go to a basketball game, and I’ve used my access to bring a whole host of friends, even those who don’t like sports but are willing to go for the sake of the in-venue Fatty Cue and cheese-covered corn. I’m probably a typical Nets season ticket holder, in that I’m a so-so fan of the team—the Knicks fans absolutely slaughtered the Nets fans during their visits, and the Celtics, Lakers and Heat fans didn’t do too badly themselves—but this year was all gravy from the get-go. The Nets had finally shown up, and that was the important part. I had shown up with them. And so had Maria.

What the Nets lack in presence on the court, they make up for in the stands. This is a good thing, because this Nets team is rice-cake level bland. Johnson has the easy charm and sparkling personality of six feet and seven inches of plywood; Lopez is as graceful as a giraffe; Williams is as puffily aloof as a State Senator. When Carmelo, all swagger and id, dropped 50 on the Nets in December, Knicks fans filled fewer than half the seats but seemed to exist everywhere: in our faces, in our ear canals, in the air.

It didn’t matter. I am not the only one for whom the Nets are a childhood dream into which I’ve awakened fat and happy. The Nets dragged me through the winter; I gained 15 pounds and enjoyed myself doing it. The second generation of Nets fans will be crazier than the first, inspiring Spike Lee-like devotion and a new Brooklyn Zoo. This team, though, belongs to me.

Well, not just me. There are the Marias of the world, too. We’ve probably been to 15 games together. She has the seats directly behind me, in row two, though she’s trying to move down for next season. She sold her tickets to some games, but not for the Lakers or the Heat, who came to Brooklyn once, each, both making their mark: Kobe Bryant threw down an all-timer of a dunk to secure the game for the Lakers, and the defending champion Heat, up a paltry two points at halftime, finished with a 20-point victory.

All of this, Maria will tell you, was Brook Lopez’ fault. Sports hate is the purest form of hate, in that it does not require anything resembling a reason to be valid. Maria cannot stand Brook Lopez, for reasons of her own that she obviously finds very convincing. Prior to meeting her, I could take him or leave him. Now I’m one of his biggest supporters, even if his pronounced inelegance sometimes makes it as difficult for me to support him as it does for Maria. He’s a gummy Swiss Army Knife of offensive moves and a nonentity on defense; he sounds like a bro-ed out Lurch when he speaks. He’s also easily the Nets’ best player, if not their most talented, a title that still belongs to Williams, who is finally playing like Deron Williams at the best possible time.

The Nets will start the playoffs in Brooklyn against the Bulls soon. If they win, they’ll play the Heat, and their season will come to an end. With a starting five of Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace—his skills acrimoniously divorcing themselves from his body, seeking full custody of themselves—Reggie Evans and Lopez, they are the platonic ideal of an above-average basketball team, the basketball equivalent of a house in the suburbs, two kids, a lawn. They are safe without being exciting. They provide predictable entertainment, predictable sounds: “Let’s Go Nets!” Timberlake's "Suit & Tie." Maria's "YOU A LOSUH!"

Maria’s skipping the playoffs. She didn’t feel like shelling out the cash. I can’t blame her. This team was never about winning a championship. The championship was getting the team here, and getting ourselves into the building. I’ve been playing with house money since game one. It’s all I ever wanted, and it’s as much about Maria as it is about the Nets. On the court, the Nets are doing work. It’s all fun and games in the stands. I’ve had more fun than I deserve, and exactly as much as I’d dreamed. It's not their victories I'm worried about, and I suspect I'm not alone.


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