Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Red Bull's magazine, Deron Williams visits Williamsburg, not quite the center of the Nets' demographic


At my dentist's office, I caught up with The Red Bulletin's November issue and A Team Grows in Brooklyn, a decent profile of Brooklyn Nets star guard Deron Williams, who's a Red Bull endorser (though he might be concerned about the injuries caused by Red Bull and other highly caffeinated so-called energy drinks.)

Author Robert Anasi, he of the Williamsburg memoir The Last Bohemia, writes well, but offers some cliche:
Since voting to join with the other four boroughs in one New York City in 1894, Brooklyn hasn’t been able to catch a break. Never mind that on its own, its 2.5 million people would make it the fourth-largest city in the U.S.; Brooklyn still gets no respect. 
Not really. Ever heard of Très Brooklyn?

But at least Anasi recognizes the diversity of fandom--and of Brooklyn:
Williams and his teammates aren’t alone in the tough decisions the geographical shift has forced them to make. Generations of Brooklynites have now grown up with only one team to root for in the New York area. And the locals, at least those at McLaughlin Park, were Knicks fans to a man.
When I asked if they could see themselves rooting for the Nets, they paused. “The stadium is four blocks from my house,” one said. “I’ll be there for opening night.” Another said, “They’re going to be a Brooklyn team and I’m from Brooklyn, so…” When I told them Williams would be arriving in minutes, they morphed into fans. “You think I could get a picture with him?”
The best line came from an older white guy on the park maintenance staff, in his official forest-green park uniform. “I’m a Knicks fan,” he said. “So it will take a while. But if they win…”
Not winning Williamsburg

Anasi points out that the team has sold lots of tickets and gear, but not everyone's on board:
“I already told you,” the manager says as he comes out of the shop. “You can’t film out here.” Our caravan has landed in South Williamsburg, and the production team has Williams posing in front of Marlow & Daughters, a boutique butcher on Broadway. Marlow’s is not your granddad’s chop shop -- the men and women wearing blood-smeared aprons have college degrees and play in indie bands.
We’re at the outer verge of hipsterland, an outpost of the gentrification that has put Brooklyn into play, and indirectly made things like the Barclays Center possible. But Marlow & Daughters doesn’t see it that way. They have no interest in the magazine making props out of their retro storefront; future Nets fans are not Marlow’s customer base. When I went inside and bought a $6 bottle of Fuji apple juice (cold pressed and unfiltered), I told them that Deron Williams was outside.
“Who’s Deron Williams?” the woman behind the counter said.
“He’s the point guard for the Nets,” I said.
“The Nets,” she said. “That’s a sports team, right?”
As we wander down the street in search of a more welcoming locale, Hasidic men in shirtsleeves and suspenders barely give us a glance. Hasidic or hipster -- Williamsburg is not where the Nets are going to make converts. Their demographic is the blue-collar neighborhoods south and west, in Bensonhurst, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Flatbush -- the home of ethnic and working-class Brooklyn, not the Brooklyn that gets the Yelp buzz for fine dining and gallery openings.
And the 'burbs, too.

Winning new fans

Despite the slick new arena, Anasi, like Marty Markowitz, thinks they can win many fans tired of the Knicks:
If the Nets do it right, if they dive for the loose balls and take the charges, they can be the team of the 99 percent against a bunch of spoiled superstars in a Manhattan that has turned into a gated community.
“People are proud of being from Brooklyn,” Williams says. “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem selling out the arena. Other people around the NBA are taking notice and want to see what this can be.”

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