Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn’s youth will serve Nets and Isles best

Generation of Young Fans to Determine Fan Loyalty in Our Borough

October 14, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn can’t fully embrace the Nets and Islanders the way it did the Dodgers until our current generation of sports-loving kids comes of age. AP Photo
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Mets fans were ushered in on the coattails of the old Giants and Dodgers, National League teams that had fled Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, in search of more earning power along the West Coast.

There was little to no interest among those who had rooted for those franchises from as far back as the 1880s to suddenly turn their affections to the hated Yankees of the rival American League.

So naturally, when the “Can Anybody Here Play This Game?” Mets took the field at the Polo Grounds in 1962, they had a built-in following: Dodgers fans, Giants fans and everyone else who happened to hate the Damn Yankees.

The Jets and Giants left their long-time homes in Flushing, N.Y. and the Bronx for a non-descript swamp in East Rutherford, N.J., of all places, where many New Yorkers had already moved ahead of them.

Strumming up fan interest wasn’t a problem then, and it certainly isn’t now, no matter where the two franchises, who still proudly carry “New York” in their team names, play.

But here in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers haven’t played a baseball game since 1957, leaving our borough bereft of a major pro sports franchise to call its own until the Nets’ arrival in 2012, fan loyalty toward our teams isn’t a given.

In fact, it’s something that the Nets and Islanders, both now residents of Downtown’s Barclays Center, are actively seeking.

Just because you slap a “Brooklyn” in front of or over the Nets’ logo doesn’t mean that residents of our borough who have long followed the Knicks are suddenly going to turn in their collection of orange-and-blue garb for the black-and-white of the new kids in town.

Nor are Rangers fans, among the most devoted on the local sports scene, who happen to call Brooklyn home, going to suddenly forget that “Potvin Sucks!”

The hope for Brooklyn’s fan base lies not in those who have grown up rooting for other teams and are suddenly adjusting on the fly to having two franchises right in their own backyard.

No, it lies in the generation of youngsters who won’t even remember a time when the Nets and Islanders weren’t here.

Kids who will grow into men and women hearing tales of how the Nets used to play in New Jersey way back when, and the Islanders were actually founded on Long Island back in 1972.

Kids who will look up to the rafters at Barclays Center and ask about the New Jersey Nets’ back-to-back NBA Finals appearances back in the early 2000s, and the Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cup titles from the 1980s.

That was way before the Internet even existed!

Looking around the crowd of 15,795 at the state-of-the-art arena last Friday night, when the Islanders officially began their 25-year lease agreement to play here, there were plenty of L.I.R.R. commuters trying to bring the feel of the “Old Barn” to Brooklyn, a smattering of Blackhawks fans who had traveled to see their defending Stanley Cup champions and, of course, there were kids.

Kids coming to their first-ever hockey game.

Kids who had spent all week telling their friends in school they were going to the Islanders’ inaugural game in Brooklyn.

Kids who regard Islanders team captain and two-time Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares with the same awe and affection as Brooklyn once heaped upon Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and the rest of the Boys of Summer.

Kids who couldn’t wait to go back to school following the extended Columbus Day weekend — well, maybe that’s pushing it — and describe how they’d witnessed history on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Kids who kept their ticket stubs and programs and picked up a souvenir or two, or maybe even caught a stray puck in the stands following warmups or during the game.

Kids who will proudly wear their new Islanders jerseys, maybe even the ones with the black-and-white Brooklyn color scheme, and argue vehemently with their schoolmates and friends on the block about whether Tavares is a better player than Rangers forward Rick Nash, and how they can’t wait for the puck to drop at 8 p.m. on Dec. 2, when the Blueshirts will invade Barclays Center for the first time ever.

Kids who will remember when the Nets outlasted Toronto in seven tough games to score their first playoff series win as a Brooklyn franchise on Paul Pierce’s “Swat Heard Round the World” back in May of 2014.

Kids who will recall Tavares appropriately being the first one to light the lamp for the Islanders at Barclays, even though it came in a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to the Blackhawks.

Kids who will insist that the Nets will grab their first NBA title before the Knicks can reclaim their former glory of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

Kids who can’t stand the sight of Carmelo Anthony draining a big 3-pointer on the Nets, even if he originally hails from Brooklyn.

Kids who think Jaroslav Halak can outplay “The King” himself, Henrik Lundqvist, between the pipes.

Kids who will brag about how the Nets have made the playoffs in each of the last three years since their arrival in Brooklyn, while the Knicks have steadily sunk into oblivion.

Kids who rebel against their dad’s Rangers and their mom’s beloved Knicks.

And ultimately, these kids will tell their kids.

And then, and only then, will Brooklyn have a fan base with the type of loyalty that ‘Dem Bums weaned and blossomed here for close to three-quarters of a century.

After all, loyalty develops over time.

And we have much less of that precious commodity remaining than our children do.

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