Authentic Brooklyn: Our Bums and Why I'm Still a Knicks Fan
Tribute, schmibute — what all New Yorkers desire in their heart of hearts is for other New Yorkers to admit the supremacy of their own boroughs. Especially New Yorkers who live in Brooklyn.- Claudia La Rocco "An Affectionate Shout Out to New York" New York Times 3 September 2007
America's great pastime, that wonderfully boring sport of baseball, once thrived in my very own section of Brooklyn, land I love. I live in walking distance from Brooklyn's historical Ebbets Field, and every day as I pass the site I reflect on what could have been. I tend to believe that if I grew up in an earlier era, I would have been a baseball fan, completely enraptured with the wonder of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a Brooklynite, I would have rightfully supported "Our Bums" as the Dodgers were affectionately called without caring for the New York Giants uptown at the Polo Grounds or the Yankees over in the Bronx. Instead, I grew up in a Mets house, during the Yankees dominated baseball scene of the 90s and early aughts. We could blame my apathy towards baseball teams on the fact that the team I nominally support hasn't won a World Series since the year I was born, but sport loyalties and hometown affiliations involve so much more than winning. Thus, while the Brooklyn Nets are poised for greatness and the New York Knickerbockers still cause me agita, I will always be a Knicks fan.
In some highly representative way, baseball -this sport that continues to bore me on television, but that I enjoy watching in person- embodies my sometimes ambivalent feelings about middle of the country America. It can be so hype and so distant at the same time. It is simultaneously stocked with immigrants, and yet feels ridiculously "mainstream"-read white. It is not that hard to stage a game, but requires more equipment than some other popular sports- limiting access in some ways. In a year celebrating the progress made in my hometown with the motion picture premier for 42, the Jackie Robinson story, people took to the minor league ball park at Coney Island to desecrate a statue with racial epithets. I will also add in that the baseball fans in Boston are crazy, leaving me further disenchanted. There is no where I harbor more mixed feelings of nostalgia and disdain for than racist, cold, Red Sox crazed Boston where mob mentality rules during baseball season. The entire culture of baseball makes little sense on the whole from the attempts to revive baseball in the inner city to the crazy people in Boston. This confusion, is what baseball in its current form means to me. I will head out to the ballpark for an evening of fun, but do not ask me to root at home for anyone's team.
Last year, with much celebration and hoopla my beloved hometown welcomed a major team for the first time since Our Bums left for California years ago. There were protests over the razing of homes to build the Barclays Arena, ridiculous traffic jams as people rushed to the new site, and a slight ambivalence to the rusted design of the stadium. The Barclays Arena is now hosting the second season of the Brooklyn
"We were here first" philosophy is a bad reason to continue providing support to any group. But that's basically what the Knicks provide New Yorkers. They were here first, and in being our team they tied together five boroughs, "separate as the fingers, but one as the hand." The baseball franchises- awesome as they were- always managed to keep the boroughs (especially Queens) separated in terms of loyalty. The Knicks brought New Yorkers together in a way unique to basketball. So if you were Mets- Jets or Yankees-Giants, the Knicks filled out your major league roster either way. There was no other team to support. Few defected to be a NJ Nets fan, despite the fact that the Nets enjoyed a New York residency in their early years. In fact, if you were to defect, it was to support another major city team like Magic Johnson's Lakers or Michael Jordan's Bulls (or to Buggin Out's chagrin, Larry Bird's Celtics). And with mythic players like those in a time of celebrity sports heroes, it was almost understandable although you usually idolized players but stuck with your home team. Even Spike Lee, patron saint of Knicks season ticket holders, defected to Jordan's greatness for creative motives, but he remained true to New York. A New Yorker loyal to New York, supported the New York Knicks.
The allure is part of the New York story. In any city, but in big ones especially, the team doesn't have to be good to capture the heart and loyalty of its people. You support your own because of group dynamics and ownership pride. But in a big city, it's magnified. Your team is part of the glamorous brand. The Knicks understand this, and Madison Square Garden never fails to be the stage for a good show. There is excitement, buzz, and the creeping feeling that the impossible just might happen. You could be around for the win against Jordan (or Kobe or Lebron or whoever is the league's best). You might witness Linsanity. You will see stars out to support the home team. And as such, your ticket price will reflect the show, despite what you may pay in other cities for the same quality. Your support solidifies you as a New Yorker. Outsiders will support the Yankees or the Giants. Only hometown natives and a few New Jersey defects ride for the Knicks. To be a New York Knicks fan is to be authentic and true to your legacy. It is self-identifying as real unmitigated New York. The Brooklyn Nets do not have that pull yet.
Being a New York Knicks fan is a self-perpetuating heartache. Like a disappointed and jaded lover, you don't let go, even though your realize loving the Knicks is bad for your health. After all, the fourth quarter of each game causes agita as you watch them rally and start playing real ball, only to watch inevitable defeat. But then something magical will happen - a win- and you'll remember all those other times the Knicks almost brought you to the apex of love. One of few times in which your magical top dog city could win an underdog story. Every season has its moment. And season after season, you hold out that next season may be the best one yet. You cannot let go- not yet.
All a Brooklyn kid ever really wants to do is yell Brooklyn. Brooklyn should have remained its own city. Brooklyn is not second fiddle to anyone. Brooklyn has its own style, culture, and for now a basketball team that might could post some real numbers in the upcoming years. Brooklyn has players that excite and a shiny new arena that will welcome a hockey team soon. But the story of the arena does not capture the heart of Brooklyn's plight. The New York Knicks do that. The New York Knicks are perpetual hope. It's the story of a team that on paper is actually good enough, but fails to execute properly. We can make the playoffs, but may not make the finals. The New York Knicks are Walt "Clyde" Frazier's suits, rhymes, and championships. The New York Knicks are fabled, but never the biggest stars. For these reasons and so much more, the New York Knicks will always be a Brooklyn fan favorite and my basketball team.