TSL Op-Ed: Native Son Nelson George’s Take On Brooklyn and Barclays

I was a hater. I signed petitions. I moaned with my neighbors. The Atlantic Yards development and the accompanying Barclays Center arena was going to be an unmitigated disaster for my Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area. Along with my neighbors, I feared the worst, as the city and state godfathers pushed developer Bruce Ratner's dream through regulatory agencies like Kobe through the Raptors.

Well, the Atlantic Yards housing complex is yet to be built, but the Barclays Center has opened and I, a sports fan and Brooklyn native, have already been to several Nets home games. That's several more Nets home games than I've attended since 2004. Until this fall, the last Nets home game I witnessed live was an NBA Finals where the Lakers dispatched Jason Kidd and company in the New Jersey swamps.

Not unexpectedly, I've already had Knicks fans aim mean Tweets my way for attending Nets games. Now, I've been an orange-&-blue Knicks fan since Clyde was hitting Dollar Bill with backdoor passes, but I love basketball, and NBA-ball six blocks from my door is too much to ignore.

So, a few observations about the NBA's newest playground. The Barclays Center is a day time eye sore. The rust colored steel exterior generated many "So, when are they gonna paint it?" queries from Brooklynites before we all realized its bruised hue was on purpose. At night, purple colored lights situated around the structure give Barclays a cooler ambiance. The great LCD screen that curls above its entrance is surprisingly unobtrusive since it’s only fully visible if you’re standing in the wide plaza in front of the arena.

One of the promises made by the Barclays backers was that it would be mass transit friendly and that fans would be discouraged from traveling by car. And, yes, the best way to the arena is by subway. By major arena standards there is virtually no public parking and few local garages. It really makes no sense to come to Barclays in your own car. However it doesn't mean you can't rent a town car for the night. Black sedans and SUVs have become the bane of the neighborhood, clogging side streets and irritating locals. Actually, the Nets fans have not been the worse offenders. When Barbara Streisand made her performing return to her native Brooklyn, there might as well have been red carpet on Atlantic Avenue with all the folks dropped off. The well-heeled crowd that pays big money to see Babs was not checking for the #2 train.

Inside Barclays, the black & white motif of the Nets' jersey's reign supreme, with lots of gray blended in. Compared to Madison Square Garden or the massive Staples Center in Los Angeles, Barclays is a smaller and more vertical than horizontal. There's an intimacy to the place that's surprising.

The trade off for this intimacy is that aisles are tight and leg room between rows of seats are probably fine for Justin Bieber fans but uncomfortable for a six footer like me. I ran into Jay-Z outside a show and decided to complain to management. He was momentarily sympathetic before advising me to "stop eating" and then laughed.

My feeling about the basketball on display in Barclays is equally mixed.  Everyone is excited about the backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Maybe that’s because starting forward/center combo of Kris Humpries and Brook Lopez are hardly Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. I watched an unknown Russian center for the Timberwolves bully Lopez in an embarrassing loss, while Anderson Varejao had a career high 35 points being checked by Humpries in the next home game. The Nets definitely have enough skilled wing men to make the playoffs, but they are as soft in the middle as Junior's cheese cake.

The biggest winners in the Barclays Center aren't in the Nets' locker room, but in the arena's gift shop. Brooklyn "the brand" has been in pop culture ascendance since Do the Right Thing in 1989, with enhancements via Notorious BIG, Jay-Z and scores of Williamsburg hipsters. That said, the Nets' gear is next-level.

This summer, before a game was played, the team's sleek black and white T-shirts, caps and jackets dominated the big Apple's streets, making the Knicks' orange and blue seem cartoony. While the Jay-Z designed logo was universally panned, the Nets merchandising team has created a medley of visible images, from ghetto-fab to old-school tradition. This team will not make the NBA finals, but its are a lock for the sports merch All-Star team.

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