Why the NBA Loves the Brooklyn Nets (and Why Bruce Ratner's Now Talking Up Hockey)

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Surely Adam Silver, the lean and confident NBA Deputy Commissioner, wasn't the star guest at the Brooklyn Nets' big branding/sporting goods reveal last Monday, held at a Modell's big box store catercorner to the in-construction Barclays Center arena, whose motif might be dubbed "rusting tortoiseshell."

There was developer Bruce Ratner, introduced with imperial genuflection as "a man who has led the renaissance of Brooklyn." There was wind-up booster Marty Markowitz, the man who turned the Brooklyn Borough Presidency into a crusade to restore wholeness to his 12-year-old self, devastated by the Dodgers' departure.

There was goofy giant Brook Lopez, who got to play spokesmodel for the (not quite) Hova-designed Brooklyn Nets ballcap.

Peter Yormark has never heard of P.T. Barnum

And there was Brooklyn Nets/Barclays Center uber-marketer Brett Yormark, the guy who claimed he'd never heard of P.T. Barnum, who finally sounded like he believed what he was saying: "The Brooklyn Nets are finally part of the conversation."

But if Yormark is marketing the heck out of the ineffable authenticity of the borough--"Brooklyn will become a chant," the advertising now claims--Silver surely will compound the relentless commodification.

"Brooklyn is of course a global city," Silver declared (video), "and in many ways parallels the NBA. Our games are seen in over 215 countries, and televised in 47 languages, plus Brooklynese"--a jocular dig at Markowitz--"so there's a perfect fit between Brooklyn and the NBA."

Well, Silver was exaggerating that list of countries--the league more precisely claims "215 countries and territories"--but make no mistake, the NBA must be salivating over a brand that can sell globally. The (New Jersey) Nets sure didn't. 

The Brooklyn Nets, no matter the personnel, will sell, at least for a while. And however much taint emanates locally from Ratner's relentless effort to leverage a real estate development with a basketball team, that will hardly cross over to fans like this Australian who sounds like he's done a Markowitzian mind-meld.

"We're very excited to take Brooklyn and bring it to 215 countries around the world," Silver declared. "We couldn't be more excited about the Jay-Z-inspired and -designed black-and-white logo, which we think is going to be a huge hit in markets all around the world. And Brooklyn, welcome to the NBA."

Already the merch is walking out of the store. How soon 'til kids in China start posting Twitpics?

***

There's only so much to say about a new logo and new gear, so arena-builder Ratner got another headline out of the possibility that the New York Islanders, staring at an expiring lease at the Nassau Coliseum in 2015 and no new building on the horizon, might move to the Barclays Center.

At the press event, Ratner talked it up to the AP, asserting, apparently straight-facedly, that the arena "was made for hockey and basketball... It could easily support a hockey team."

Actually, the arena, based on Conseco Fieldhouse (now Bankers Life) in Indianapolis, was built for basketball, that Indiana sport. It would seat 18,200 for basketball, but, given the adjustments needed for hockey, would house only about 14,500 (though Yormark, ever spinning, last week claimed "close to" 15,000 seats).

While that might be the least worst option for the Islanders, who have a lucrative local TV contract, the Barclays Center actually was not "made for hockey and basketball." Ratner's construction chief, Bob Sanna, said so explicitly in April 2011: "we made some pretty deliberate decisions early on: we weren't going to have a [major league] hockey team."

That, however, was before Nassau County voters nixed public funding for a replacement venue. The Islanders play an exhibition game at the Barclays Center October 2. Maybe reporters who see the shoehorned layout will be less stenographic toward renaissance man Ratner. But for the near future, probably not.

Brooklyn journalist Norman Oder writes the Atlantic Yards Report blog and contributes to multiple publications.

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