As published in The Brooklyn Ink:
As the Brooklyn Nets play in their first-ever playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, the new Nets fans are defining what it means to be a Net. So far, one thing is for certain—wearing black is a must.
Playing into the Brooklyn Blackout theme, Nets fans poured into the stadium Saturday night for the first playoff game dressed in black as a drumming and dancing performance group called Cold Steel played for spectators outside. Fans posed for pictures with banners and jerseys, and only a handful of those present were Chicago Bulls fans, whose red jerseys stood out like sore thumbs among the sea of black.
As the fan culture quickly emerges around the team that once belonged to New Jersey, the Brooklyn Nets players are feeling the pressure to not let down new fans, like 13-year-old Daniel Mancusi, who lives in Eastchester, New York.
Wearing a Nets shirt, Mancusi, 13, smiled wide outside of Barclays stadium moments before he entered the state-of-the art arena for his first time for the playoff game in Barclays Center. Ready to cheer the team on with his dad, he was confident about the outcome. “They’re gonna win,” he said before Saturday’s game, assured that his favorite player, Deron Williams, would be a key component in the team’s victory.
Just as Mancusi predicted, the Brooklyn Nets won their first-ever playoff game in a surprising blowout victory against the Chicago Bulls. The game ended in a final score of 106 to 89, after the Nets dominated a majority of the game. Deron Williams was easily the best player, slamming a rare reverse dunk and scoring 22 points with seven assists. Brook Lopez followed Williams in the scoring, adding another 21 points. On Saturday, the Nets made it look easy—and the victory fueled a relatively new phenomenon in a city that’s been Knicks-centric for decades: Nets-fever.
“I like the atmosphere in Brooklyn,” said Mancusi. “It’s more slow-paced.”
Inside, ushers happily directed fans towards their seats, handing out light-up bracelets that read #helloplayoffs with the Brooklyn Nets symbol. Fans arrived at their seats to find t-shirts on the back of their chairs, and as they settled in for the game, Nets player Jerry Stackhouse surprised the crowd when he sang the national anthem, sparking cheers from the crowd. From beginning to end, the Nets won Saturday’s game in every way.
But the second game on Monday night proved it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing for Brooklyn’s newest sports team. The Chicago Bulls dominated the second game, which ultimately ended with a final score 90 to 82. The Nets’ Lopez again scored 21 points, but Williams only made a disappointing 10 points.
Nets season ticket holder Melvin Alvarez noted a big difference in the crowd from the first to second game. “There were more Bulls fans in the arena,” he said. “You definitely heard the Nets crowd, especially after blown and controversial calls from the referees, but by the fourth quarter you could hear loud cheers from the Bulls fans.”
Alvarez has been rooting for the Nets with his wife Priscilla since 2001. He knows they’re new to Brooklyn, but he says the team isn’t new to him. He wants to make a t-shirt that says, “Nets fan since Jersey.”
Michael Cullen, a resident of Marlboro, New Jersey, said that the players weren’t playing their best on Monday. “Basketball at any level is built on momentum,” said Cullen. “Players feed off their coaches energy. The fans wanted to be loud for the team, but Brooklyn fans need and want to see you work hard as a player and as a team! Last night’s’ effort lacked hard work.”
But despite his disappointment, Michael Cullen is sure to continue to be a Nets fan, as is his son, Zachary. A Nets fan since he was 7 years old, Zachary is now 17 years old and his family and friends say he has always been one of the Nets’ biggest fans. Watching the team through the good seasons and the bad, Zachary is happy to see the Nets move to Brooklyn and gain so much ground during their first year in the borough. This year, Zachary has solidified his patronage to the Brooklyn Nets; he’s gone to 15 games at the Barclays center.
“It’s a brand new team,” said Zachary. “So to be this good this quick is very surprising.”
Chris Patsos, 55, is yet another Brooklyn fan and season ticket holder who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He thinks the Nets can pull a win, but he knows it won’t be easy. “I think the series itself will go 7 games,” he said. “I certainly hope the Nets will end up winning the series, but I can see it going either way. The Bulls are tough.”
With seats packed, loud cheers and chants roaring through the new arena, Brooklyn’s new Nets culture doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. If nothing else, the confidence ticket holders have in the Nets is a sure sign of fans’ faith in their team. “Nets,” wrote Alvarez in an email message, “in 7 games.”