Zgoda's Sunday NBA insider: Nets are trendy in new home

  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 11:18 PM

The team's home base moved only a few miles, but the new location suggests a universe of opportunities.

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Brooklyn Nets guard C.J. Watson brings the ball downcourt against the Washington Wizards during the fourth quarter of their NBA preseason basketball game at Barclays Center

Photo: Kathy Willens, Associated Press

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Timberwolves assistant coach Bill Bayno grew up in the village of Goshen 55 miles north, but he considers New York City and its boroughs his second home because of all the time he spent playing in the projects of Brooklyn and because of the "million friends" he has there, now picking up their lives after superstorm Sandy hit last week.

He played outdoors in the Coney Island parks and indoors at the Crown Heights project when he was growing up and has seen Brooklyn transformed from the "wild, wild west" and a "scary, dangerous place" in the 1970s and '80s into a stylish example of urban renewal these past 15 years.

Old factories and warehouses have been converted into luxury lofts, theaters and art galleries in that time, and now a borough that by itself would be the nation's fourth-largest city behind only the other New York boroughs, Chicago and Los Angeles welcomes back professional sports.

It arrived Saturday officially -- delayed two days by Sandy -- for the first time since the Brooklyn Dodgers bolted for California in 1957, a devastating move that quite possibly plunged Brooklyn into despair for decades.

The New Jersey Nets are now the Brooklyn Nets, and the Wolves on Monday will play the second regular-season game at Barclays Center, the $1 billion new home to a reborn franchise that has a new name, a new logo and a brand-new vibe.

"It's only mere miles, but the mentality is completely different," said Nets center Brook Lopez, who played his first four seasons with the franchise in New Jersey's swamplands and forgotten downtown. "We are in the city now."

The Nets are trendy now, with a sparkling arena and retro uniforms and logo designed in collaboration with part-owner Jay-Z.

"Brooklyn's just a great, cool spot now," Bayno said. "Crime has gone down. Real estate has gone through the roof. I just love New York for the diversity. It's like being in Madrid or Rome; every ethnicity you can think of lives there. There's just this energy."

And if the New Jersey Nets throughout their history have lacked something, it's a collective sense of energy, perhaps even when Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin led them to the NBA Finals a decade ago.

Now the franchise arrives in a place that gave the world Mae West and Rita Hayworth, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, George Gershwin and Marvin Hamlisch, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Spike Lee and many more.

The borough also has given the game of basketball Red Auerbach, Larry Brown, Bernard and Albert King, Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury and former Timberwolves guard Sebastian Telfair, among others.

"Brooklyn always has been a sports town, especially with young kids," Bayno said. "You've got great basketball there, great, young players, playground legends. High school basketball has always been great there."

And now Brooklyn has its own NBA team, a suddenly rebuilt one that now has the league's second-highest payroll, funded by Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov at a cool $85 million.

A season ago, the Clippers proved there indeed is another team in Los Angeles.

The Nets could do the same in New York, the town Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Jason Kidd call their basketball home.

"I love what they've done in Brooklyn," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. "The Brooklyn Nets are the best team in New York."

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