The Brooklyn Nets and the Plight of the Second-Favorites

Kyrie Irving is a coach-killing, chemistry-poisining, loud mouth. The Beard is a ball-stopping, selfish whiner, who will never take his team to the next level.

KD? Okay, it’s hard not to like Kevin Durant at least a little bit. We liked him a lot in Oklahoma City. A little less when he first arrived in Golden State. And even less than that when he landed in Brooklyn. But hey, he’s KD, so he sort of gets a pass.

So what’s a New York sports fan to do, when it comes to the New York/New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets? After all, they are my second-favorite professional basketball team.

Yes, second-favorite. I am a die-hard New York Knicks fan, which I believe after all these years makes me eligible for some sort of pension benefits through the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization… But I digress.

Because today isn’t about our favorites, it’s about the backup organizations. Those teams we feel good will toward, and will endorse with vigor come playoff time should the favorites be eliminated, but will never occupy that special place in our hearts.

For me, we are talking about MLB’s Oakland A’s, the NFL’s New York Football Giants, and the Brooklyn Nets of The Association when the topic turns to second-favorite teams.

The whole “second-favorite” category doesn’t get much ink these days, left forgotten on the playgrounds of decades past. However, second-favorite was a critically important distinction growing up, when a cool jersey or unexpected playoff run might cause us to blurt out something along the lines of “oh yeah, well, the Steelers are my second-favorite team…” when the legitimacy of our newfound fandom was called into question.

With the Nets most certainly title-contenders this season, I’m having a hard time reconciling my feelings about this team, and whether I can stomach myself rooting for them come playoff time. I’ve always abided by the adage that you root “for the jersey” first and foremost, but even the Brooklyn Nets jersey doesn’t feel like anything I grew up with. I mean, come on — splash of color, anyone?

The Nets are an easy franchise for me, one where my feelings developed organically. Growing up in New Jersey in the early-’70’s, when it came to pro basketball, I rooted for the Knicks in the NBA, and the Nets in the ABA. End of story. When the NBA-ABA merger came along and the Nets moved to New Jersey, they slid easily into the two-hole when it came to my hoops passions, and it was never close (even though by then the Knicks had also fallen on hard times), with Doctor J having been sold to Philly and the Nets trotting out the likes of Bubbles Hawkins, Al Skinner and Wilson Washington on their early NBA rosters.

Occasionally they’d catch lightning in a bottle — like in ’84 when they upset the defending champion Sixers (and Doctor J), in the first round of the playoffs. Or during the Derrick “Whoop de dam do” Coleman/Kenny Anderson/Drazen Petrovic years. There was even the out-of-nowhere, conference championship run of the early-2000’s behind the brilliance of Jason Kidd.

And if the occasional surprise of outstanding play wasn’t enough, there was the whole New Jersey thing. Let’s face it, the state of New Jersey catches a lot of shit, so as a proud resident of the Garden State, it didn’t take much for me to rally behind the locals whenever they mounted any sort of competitive squad.

Then they moved. First to the Prudential Center in Newark, and then over to Brooklyn, adopting the black-and-white uniforms and trying a ham-handed attempt at buying a title with the ill-fated trade for the washed up threesome of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. That disastrous trade was only the most recent instance where poor decisions crippled the core of the Nets franchise, and you couldn’t help but wonder if they’d ever recover.

Yet here they are now. An incredibly wealthy owner making anything possible in the area of superstar acquisition, and a front office that seems to get the joke, benefitting from San Antonio Spurs bloodlines and what feels like (up until recently anyway) a sincere desire to build a winning culture from the ground up.

But then the opportunity to swoop in and create an unbeatable Big Three presented itself, and that same Nets front office threw caution to the wind and once again mortgaged the future in an attempt to bag an NBA title. This year.

Which brings me back to the issue at hand. How do I feel about getting on the Brooklyn bandwagon? The heart test landed in the “root for the jersey” camp. Meaning, whenever I tune in to a Nets game on ESPN or TNT, I find myself pulling for them. So there’s that.

I still can’t stomach Kyrie, but grudgingly marvel at the scope of his jaw-dropping skills. And I can’t help but be impressed by what appears to be a team-first approach coming from James Harden, as he integrates his game into the world of the other two superstars. I’ve always liked Coach Steve Nash, although I find it comical that these Nets approach defense so similarly to how Nash himself played it when he was in the league. And of course there’s KD, who is worth watching any chance we can get, holding our collective breath every time his brittle body hits the hardwood.

The role players? Meh. DeAndre Jordan serves a purpose, and I do appreciate his workmanlike, no nonsense approach. Joe Harris? You need a guy like Harris if you are serious about winning a title. But my two favorite Nets coming into the year, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, were both jettisoned in the Harden trade, and the other guy I liked pre-Corona — Spencer Dinwiddie — is out for the season.

So it’s really a matter of can I ride with the Big Three once the Knicks are eliminated. The answer to that question may lie in the competition that lies between the Nets and their long sought after NBA championship.

In the East it is pretty straight forward. I’ll never root for the Celtics, and I think the 76ers’ Big Two are overrated front-runners, so score those easy wins for the Nets bandwagon. The Bucks? Milwaukee? Really? Yeah, give me KD and the other guys.

In the West, the Lakers at one time could have laid claim to the title of my second-favorite team. I annually rooted hard for them in the ’80’s to take down Larry Bird and the hated Celtics. But I can’t bring myself to root for a LeBron-led team that was gift-wrapped an O’Brien Trophy just a few months back during that farcical, bubble playoff format.

What about the Clippers? I do like Kawhi, but the Clips are kind of like a poor man’s Nets, in that they, too, were a hapless laughingstock that relocated multiple times, and has now evolved into a talented contender. But I have no history there, despite the proximity to my current home, so it is still the Nets. Utah? Denver? Nope. Nope.

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers would be tough to root against in a series with Brooklyn, except for one fatal flaw — Carmelo Anthony calls the Rose City home these days. Next.

Yup, the Nets remain secure as my second-favorite. I’ll root them on as though Doctor J, Buck Williams, Kenyon Martin and Super John Williamson were still wearing those red, white and blue jerseys, lighting it up out on the Island, or in the swamp at Brendan Byrne Arena.

Second-favorite? Hell yeah. Game on.

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