Monday, June 27th, 2011 at 3:08 pm  |  14 responses

Sleep Till Brooklyn

Putting an NBA team in BK may not be a no-brainer business move.

by Dave Zirin / @edgeofsports

Rare is the time I would ever pity a man worth $14 billion. But Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian Master of the Universe who owns the New Jersey Nets, still thinks he bought a team destined for greatness in Brooklyn. He still thinks that Newark, empty seats, and his current dispirited losing team, is just a holding pattern until the New Jersey Nets become the Brooklyn Nyets and start winning championships. He thinks that in these tight economic times, $14 billion will open every door. He’s in for a rude awakening.

My father was born and raised in Brooklyn. I grew up just across the bridge in Manhattan, but spent more time in Brooklyn than an agoraphobic hipster. I know Brooklyn and I know its wary relationship with the world of sports. This is a place that’s never quite gotten over Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, abandoning Ebbets Field and Flatbush Avenue for Chavez Ravine and the movie stars of Los Angeles. Yet in the decades after the Dodgers betrayal, the area built its own sense of identity. It was the Bensonhurst Brooklyn streets where John Travolta strutted in Saturday Night Fever. It was the Bed Stuy—do or die—of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing that burned the hood in order to save it. It was Biggie Smalls and Mos Def. It was Brooklyn.

As Manhattan drenched itself in 1980s excess, its very existence as a cloistered protectorate of what the city once was, became its own peculiar point of pride. But as anyone who has set foot in Brooklyn over the last decade will attest, those days are dead as the quail-under-glass served at the corner bistro. The borough has become the new Manhattan: the place you can’t afford to live. It’s become a magnet for chain stores and fancy restaurants. Unlike Travolta’s Tony Manero, Brooklyn isn’t the place ambitious kids dream of leaving anymore. It’s where entitled college grads dream of moving to.

If you don’t understand this dynamic, then you can’t understand the dread felt by every last Brooklynite with whom I’ve spoken about the Nets’ impending move. It’s not just that the Nets—with the exception of a brief honeymoon courtesy of Jason Kidd—have been a dysfunctional mess since Dr. J left town 35 years ago, although that’s certainly true. It’s not that the Knicks, especially in what must now be called “the Amar’e Era,” have cornered the market on hoops mojo in the city. It’s the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project, with a new arena at its heart, courtesy of scandal-plagued developer Bruce Ratner and dragged over the finish line by Prokhorov. Despite promises by Ratner and his flacks that the project will create “an urban oasis” in the heart of Brooklyn, residents see it more like an exercise in ethnic cleansing—the ethnicity in question being people who are actually from Brooklyn. They see rising rents, shuttered local businesses, torn down homes, and a string of the chain restaurants that seem to circle all NBA arenas. They see it making continued residency impossible.

Maybe that’s Prokhorov’s and Ratner’s idea of an oasis: a Brooklyn without Brooklynites. But I can argue with certainty: It is a dream, disconnected from reality, to think that the people of Brooklyn will come out in force to support this franchise. It is a dream to think that this “project” will run roughshod through the borough without more resistance to come. I’m sorry none of his well-paid advisors told Prokhorov the news, but Brooklyn will never go gently into that good night.

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  • rkirby

    Great read.

  • seriousblack

    Finally, someone gets it! This stupid stadium is being built literally three blocks from my house. I don’t know one person who is actually from the surrounding neighborhoods who supports the Atlantic Railyards project. My neighborhood is barely affordable to most of the residents who actually grew up here as it is. This is yet another extension of lower Manhattan, and RATner, Markowitz, and this fool Porkhorov are doing their best to strip Brooklyn of it’s character.

  • Bobbo

    You should talk to people who aren’t white hipsters.

  • http://www.youtube.com/amazingracesq Mary

    I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn during the mid ’70s. I studied engineering. My mother was born in Brooklyn in the 1930′s. She told me when I was a kid, about the Jackie Robinson days as a Brooklyn Dodger. I am know the emotional makeup of Brooklyn okay. I think they should give the Russian Jackie Robinson a chance to make some money and New Yorkers too profit. I don’t see any of the iron workers complaining about the long money they are making now. I live upstate. We haven’t had a project like the Atlantic Yards since I came back to the state in 1988.

    I think they should import and sell the Prohkorov Yo-mobile hybrid car that gets 60 mpg from the site in a glamorous showroom. It’s cheap too. It has been pre-ordered five to ten years for the Russian domestic market. We need that kind of green energy here now let them do something with the foreign direct investment from Russia.

  • http://atlanticyardsreport.com Norman Oder


    Please don’t fall for the cliche that Brooklyn has not gotten over the loss of the Dodgers.

    As Michael D’Antonio points out in his book on O’Malley, in the 1960s, the NY Times editorialized that the wounds had healed, and Brooklyn even held a rally for the ’69 Mets. D’Antonio blames Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer” for the wave of nostalgia.

    More here:

    I think the reception will be mixed–there are certainly enough sports fans in Brooklyn and environs, and high-rollers buying luxury suites, to create a fan base. The sports media and local media will mostly sign on. And Jay-Z will draw rapturous crowds if, as expected, he opens the arena with a string of concerts. (Think Bon Jovi at the Pru in Newark, amped.)

    That said, despite the adjacent transit hub, they’re still putting an arena (at southern and eastern edges) into a residential neighborhood. It’s a very tight fit, and those in charge haven’t figured out solutions for the inevitable problems (like a surface parking lot that will cause people to walk down very narrow residential sidewalks to the arena).

    And there’s already a “rat tsunami.”

    The problems caused by that tight fit aren’t going away, and likely will galvanize even more residents in the area close to the arena.

    Norman Oder
    Atlantic Yards Report

  • http://twitter.com/smileyoufckers Bryan

    Not all of Brooklyn is like that. “Unaffordable,full of yuppies” to paraphrase. I don’t know what its like to live there full time anymore, I visit several times a year, but I can’t help but be a little stoked to have a team that belongs to Brooklyn. The Knicks have been screwing us over for years, even letting go of a good GM and everything. I can’t profess to know what its like for people in the area where the stadium is going, and as a native, but one who is far away, I’m just excite for the prospect.

  • MikeC.

    I feel like I’ve read this before. Was this already posted on SLAM or did I read it in the magazine?

  • vett

    baseball is a white man’s sport. this author is just racist.


    When it’s all said and done, Brooklyn getting an NBA team is good for Brooklyn. Bottom line.

  • Robb

    for the people complaining about high costs because of the project, cry me a river, I live next to yankee stadium.

  • Morgan

    Are people seriously going to complain about this? You have to be joking right?! There are towns near me that are virtually ghost towns due to the Recession closing down business and people having to move elsewhere for work – and your complaining about this being on your doorstep? I don’t think Mikhail Prokhorov is the one that should be pitied.

  • Jared

    I wonder if the author has even spoken to one person from brooklyn. I am one, and I and most of those I talk to every day seem to support the project. Yes , the traffic will need to be addressed. Though I do believe most people will take public transportation and will be walking to games. The location is perfect near all of the trains. Most of the area was unused train lot before so I fail to see how that is destroying any neighborhoods. This is developing Brooklyn, not destroying it.

    When the Nets win the championship, the flatbush avenue party that will unfold will allow all remaining haters to have some Brooklyn pride.

  • Tal Barzilai

    Unfortunately, you are one of the few who can see through Ratner’s plan when most just bow down to him. Ratner cares nothing about Brooklyn and just demolishes the architecture that defines it so well and replaces with his own like what he did with Metro Tech Center. As a matter of fact, all of his previous projects for Brooklyn couldn’t even help the neighborhoods but hurt them, plus government agencies locate in them such as MTC being home to most of them as well as his malls having the ESDC there. Brooklyn may still remember the Dodgers, but they have moved on without them, and the can without the Nets. Even if there are fans, they will still be a minority compared to the majority who will remain fans of the Knicks no matter what. Does anyone really think that fans just convert the moment they come? I think not. Many will still root for the Knicks even if they do worse because they have been around longer and had more winning seasons than the Nets did. BTW, it has been proven false that sports facilities actually help the neighborhoods they are in, but rather hurt them. If you don’t believe me, then read Field of Schemes by Neil de Mause as well as his blog, because he the proof for that.

  • David

    There is no question that the Brooklyn Nets will enjoy incredible support once they start playing games in the new arena. Anything that opens up in Brooklyn gets packed immediately like the Target next door or the Fairway in Red Hook. And basketball is almost a unifying religion in this borough of 3 million people. I expect the crowds to be the loudest in the league and tickets hard to come by. Lets not forget, the same people complaining about being displaced by the project displaced poorer residents previously. The arena is being built above a railyard next to practically every subway and the Long Island railroad. Really, could there possibly be a more perfect location for a basketball team?