Fifty-five years after Brooklyn had its heart crushed by Walter O'Malley and Los Angeles, the borough has a team of its own again. Saturday night's home opener of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets at the new Barclays Center was a sellout. The crowd chanted "Brooklyn" throughout the game. "It's really, really special," coach Avery Johnson said afterward. "I'm just so thrilled to be a part of it. This night meant a whole lot to a lot of people."
Before the game, there was a nice and poignant moment — the reason for this post. Former Brooklyn Dodger players Ralph Branca and Joe Pignatano, and the son of the late Gil Hodges, came down to the floor and exchanged jerseys with the Nets, including new face of the franchise Deron Williams. Well done, symbolically and actually. In a way, maybe the era since the Dodgers left has ended now.
Gil Hodges' widow, who lives on a street named for the Dodgers' star first baseman of the 1950s, said in the days before the game that it felt good to have a Brooklyn team again. "It’s very different, but Brooklyn will never die. When you got fans like you get here, it’s going to be pretty good....Wouldn’t it be nice if we became champions again?"
The arena is across the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues from the site where Walter O'Malley had once said he would build the world's first domed baseball stadium, designed by Buckminster Fuller, for the Dodgers. Instead, he moved the team to Los Angeles and Chavez Ravine in a move timed with the shift west of the New York Giants. For as much love as the Dodgers have enjoyed here, the relationship between the Bums and the community of Brooklyn has always sounded like something truly special in the history of pro sports. Until it ended abruptly after the 1957 season. We get it, friends. We're not sorry, but we get it.
The Nets win on to win their opener against Toronto, 107-100, in front of Brooklyn celebrities that included Jay-Z and Beyonce. The opener was supposed to be a giant celebration last Thursday against the New York Knicks, but that night was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. The party Saturday was muted by the damage and misery left behind by the storm. Some fans couldn't make it to the game — there were some empty seats. "You can’t just party away and ignore how many people are suffering,” Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz said. “How much sweeter it would have been if everyone in the borough were living the lives they were living before the storm."
Photo: NBAE/Getty Images via the Nets