The bright sign of the Barclays Center on Flatbush Avenue glowed blue as a symbol of professional sports returning to Brooklyn. The new 18,000-seat, $1 billion arena is the home of the Brooklyn Nets, formerly of New Jersey, whose move has created quite a buzz in the borough.
“I think it’s fantastic, it’s exciting,” said Dave Beck.
“I think it does wonders for Brooklyn,” said Chris Capobianco.
Brooklyn had a major league team, the Dodgers, for more than 70 years. When the team left for Los Angeles in 1957, residents were largely working and middle class.
Julie Golia of the Brooklyn Historical Society said the Dodgers united the community.
“Brooklyn in the 1940s and 50s is a very diverse place, an ethnically diverse place, an increasingly racially diverse place, and it to some extent it is this ball team, this baseball team—it’s the Dodgers that really bring together a lot of people under this idea of Brooklyn identity.”
Borough president Marty Markowitz was 12 years old when the Dodgers left town. He kept his office decorated with team memorabilia, from photographs of Ebbets Field to home plate from the 1956 season.
“The Brooklyn Dodgers defined Brooklyn. A piece of our life was going. A piece of our joy was gone. There was a sense of disbelief and an emptiness in our lives.”
Markowitz said he loved how Brooklyn was its own city until 1898 and how the borough and its 2.5 million residents have their own identity as “Brooklynites.”
“I always say that we have this swagger or Brooklyn attitude but there is a pride of living in Brooklyn.”
After decades of decline, Brooklyn is resurgent. Neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Red Hook exude urban cool with artists, writers, and other young professionals calling them home.
“Back in the day many Brooklynites young people left Brooklyn to move to Manhattan because that’s how they thought they’d make it in the world. Now a lot of those young people are moving to Brooklyn because they sense that Brooklyn is the place where legends are made and dreams come true,” said Markowitz.
Now, once again, the borough has a pro sports team and it’s no coincidence that the name does not begin with New York…it starts with Brooklyn.
“One of the interesting things about the Nets being called the Brooklyn Nets and not the New York Nets is that it draws on a cache that Brooklyn has,” said historian Julie Golia. “But that draws on its own history. So it’s very much speaking in a very self-conscious way to that very beloved history of Brooklyn as a center for sports as the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
Golia said this move was a part of marketing the city as a “new Brooklyn” of the future.
“When I was growing up I would’ve never thought that we would have something of our own like this,” said Elahni Ocean, a 21-year-old hostess at a restaurant a few blocks from the arena. Ocean said she thought the Nets would promote the Brooklyn brand.
“Brooklyn is where it needs to be. It’s urban, it’s fun, we have restaurants and now we have our own team. I definitely think that it definitely brings greater identity to Brooklyn.”
The $1 billion Barclays Center is part of a major development that has divided the community over increased traffic, affordable housing and return to the taxpayers.
Some criticize the developments, but across the borough’s diverse neighborhoods, excited Nets fans range from natives of Bangladesh and Montenegro to Brooklyn-born sports fans like Dashawn Knight.
“So far I’ve been rooting for the Knicks,” said Knight, who regularly plays pick-up games in a local park. “But now I’ll be rooting for the Brooklyn Nets because I’m a Brooklyn man and I feel like the Knicks belong to Manhattan.”
As Brooklynites are now keen to point-out, the Nets give them yet another way to celebrate their beloved borough’s identity.
Brooklyn sports fans scored another victory this past week, when it was announced that the Barclays Center would get a professional hockey team. The New York Islanders will move to Brooklyn starting with the 2015-16 season.