Barclays marks dawn of new era in Brooklyn

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The shell, in a way, sums it up.

It is the Barclays Center, the Nets’ brand-new Brooklyn home, nestled between Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in the heart of a borough that’s been without a team since 1957. That shell is really 12,000 pieces of metal initially described to me as “pre-rusted,” which is a pretty good way of putting it. In more scientific terms, the arena is covered with weathering steel, which is basically – you guessed it – metal that arrived with the rust befitting years in the elements.

Except these metal sheets are anything but old. They’re the result of dozens of wet-dry cycles at a plant in Indianapolis, which got them into perfect, rusty form for this new-as-old behemoth – I’m sure for a pretty penny, too.

That, in so few words, is the Barclays Center. It’s new, but it wants so badly to be old. It’s mortgaging its identity as much on the past as it is on creating a successful future, and it wants to pick up where Brooklyn fell of the sports map when the Dodgers fled to L.A. 55 years ago.

And so there’s this hasty, costly, purposeful aging, and only in New York would that seem normal.

Inside, the arena is something close to normal. It’s not so much nice or lovely, but stark and magnificent. It’s tall. It’s black and white. The court is illuminated, a glowing absence of color with that streamlined new logo in the middle, and fans sit in the looming shadows. There’s nothing so much remarkable as simply new, imposing, sleek.

And two games into its life, there are still kinks. So many kinks. No one quite knows where to go just yet, and maybe security is a bit too enthusiastic. Simply entering the building involved being told to go one place, being screamed at for being in said place, being forced back outside, being brought in another door, being given a pass that said my name was Deron Williams and finally being wanded like a potential terrorist by an overzealous guard.

But I made it in, and hell, for a few days in New York and a chance to see this new brand of Brooklyn basketball, it was worth it.

The arena goes beyond just pleasing aesthetics and its own version of that new-car smell, and its true beauty lies in what it makes you forget. Take the Target Center, for example. Through no fault of the Timberwolves, the memories are there, with the unpleasant ones looming large. It’s heightened through injuries this fall, of course, but no matter what, the experience is a brand, and Minnesota’s brand needs a revival. But walk into the Barclays Center, and it’s as if the Nets didn’t play in Newark last year or finish with a 22-44 record. With a revamped roster and this new home, the Nets demand something more than their past, which might be a tough task to live up to.

So now the Nets must decide who they are. They have a blank slate and this elegant arena in the middle of Brooklyn, this pristine building masquerading as something aged that could blend into the landscape.

It can’t, not yet.

So is this Jay-Z’s team, with that celebrity flare and those luxury boxes, maybe a bit out of place in its surroundings and perfectly okay with it? Or is it a Brooklyn team, a team of the people who have been lusting for it for so long? On Monday, it seemed the latter. The rapper was absent, on the campaign trail with Barack Obama, and the pricey lower-bowl seats were far emptier than they should have been. The upper bowl, though, was jammed to capacity. And those nosebleed fans, you’ve got to imagine they’re the people who hopped on the subway over to the stadium, who live nearby, who grabbed some tickets off StubHub and dressed their kids in brand-new Brooklyn basketball gear for the occasion.

And to me, those fans should win out. Yes, celebrity got this place built after years of arguing and bureaucracy. And the Nets needed that. Brooklyn needed that. The Nets are going to be the other team, the Brooklyn team, the scrappy team, the new team. They should embrace that, because as time goes by, the hulking Barclays Center will begin to blend in. It’ll become a part of Brooklyn, a part of the culture and the landscape. Someday, the rust will seem legitimate, the whole thing less manufactured. Maybe the buzz will die down, but isn’t that what Brooklyn wanted, its very own team, one that truly belongs?

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