Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why The Nets Don't Matter, But Fake Street Cred Does 

Well, it's the time of year NBA fans love -- football's almost done, baseball hasn't started yet, and this year's distraction from all things Lebron and Kobe -- the Turino Winter Olympics -- is still a month away.

As the All-Star Weekend approaches, the league is getting down to serious on-court business. San Antonio and Detroit are the two conference leaders (we wish the season would end today so these two could meet in a fab Finals), Kobe Bryant's scoring forty points a game (and continuing to enjoy the entitlement that let him escape rape charges in Colorado), the Knicks are finally getting their act together, and the NBA is at long last putting foward new stars that really shine for the first time since the glory days of the Celtics/Lakers/Pistons trinity in the '80s.

Oh, and the Nets just finished a ten-game tear, jumping into first place in the mediocre Atlantic Division. (An ironically-named division, if you've been following Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards initiative.)

It won't last, of course. The Nets still don't have a decent big man, the Jason Kidd/Vince Carter/Richard Jefferson triumverate is one guard too many, the Nets leaky defense only succeeds if their offense wipes up the mess by outscoring the opposition, and on any given night, the Nets are likely to get run into the ground by the other team's top scorer.

The New Jersey team is a fun squad -- fast, flash basketball with passing and fundamentals and, in this day and age, a team that doesn't cry if they don't get air time on SportsCenter for over-the-top slam-dunks. Well, if you don't include Vince Carter, who would still rather showoff than dish a pass.

We're Fans For Fair Play, so we pay attention to this stuff.

But here's the thing: none of it matters.

That's because it doesn't matter to Bruce Ratner.

Everyone fighting Ratner's seventeen skyscraper/one arena luxury-housing colossus in Brooklyn used to follow the Nets. Not "root for" -- few Brooklynites root for the Nets, and Ratner's created so much anger and ill-will, many Brooklynites now root against them.

Rather, it was a glimpse into Ratner's motivations, greed, and his manipulative and exploitive way of treating people.

But it no longer holds our interest. Ratner's settled into a long groove, the kind truck tires make on the interstate, of using the Nets as a cog in his real-estate machine.

As for Ratner's real interest in the Nets, we've learned all there is to learn.

We had our eyes opened and our hearts slashed at by all that transpired the first nine months of Ratner's tenure as a sports team owner:

* Ratner bought the team to grease the skids for his skyscraper megablocks. He's manipulative and callous, and part of his mogul's expertise is the knowledge that normally smart politicians are rendered stupid by the seductiveness of sports teams and stadiums. By attaching a sports team to this project, Ratner condescendingly thought he could charm Brooklynites into supporting his luxury towers. It's worked on some politicians, the kind who are weak and vain enough to value luxury boxes and their legacies over the needs of Brooklynites. Has it worked with the greater population of Brooklyn? Er, not so much.

* Ratner has never been a sports fan, never expressed any interest in basketball, never dreamed of taking control of a sports team and joining the exclusive class of sports-team owners. Just as the Abner Doubleday baseball creation myth has been exposed by Doubleday's never having once mentioned baseball in any of his letters or writing (and not physically being in Cooperstown in 1839, Year Zero of the creation myth), so is the myth of Ratner The Basketball Lover laid open to the corrosives of truth by his complete lack of stated interest in sports.

* Upon taking control of the team, Ratner immediately eviscerated the Nets -- slashing salaries, jettisoning fan favorites and raising ticket prices. In other words, the exact things no true basketball fan or sports-owner wannabe would do.

* Ratner hired NASCAR marketing whiz Brett Yormark to sell the Nets to a suspicious public. It hasn't worked...despite Yormark's dancing girls, ear-splitting between-plays music and D-list R&B divas, the Nets rank 20th (of 30 teams) in attendance. It's an improvent over 26th, where they finished the season last year, but ranking behind Charlotte, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Oklahoma City (where the New Orleans Hornets now play) proves how little the nearly 20 million people in the New York metropolitan area care about the Nets.

[Also, for the life of us, we can't understand hard-working New Jerseyites continuing to support a team desperate to abandon them as soon as Ratner can.]

* Ratner brought in an ocean-liner's worth of investors to buy the team. At the time of purchase, his fellow owners were discraced CEO Dennis Kozlowski, New York City Planning Commission member Dolly Williams (appointed as Brooklyn's sole rep by Ratner cheerleader Marty Markowitz), Jay-Z (who owns less than one-percent of the team -- some playa), and brother Michael Ratner, the now-hypocritical activist lawyer who'd made a career of fighting people like Bruce Ratner.

All of this underscores an ownership paradigm based on corporate machinations and self-interest. In lay terms, Ratner doesn't care about anything other than using the Nets to get his luxury apartment megablock built.

Nothing has changed since Ratner was awarded the Nets in December 2003. Even though Ratner has been wrecking Brooklyn since the mid-1980s, he only started hobnobbing with Black athletes and rappers when he needed street-cred for the Atlantic Yards project. He only started being friendly with ACORN's Bertha Lewis when he needed street cred for the Atlantic Yards project. He only funded offered free office space to BUILD when he needed street cred for the Atlantic Yards project. He only recently began staging sporadic basketball camps for Black children when he needed street cred for the Atlantic Yards project. He only began reaching out to the Black community for support by offering table-scrap promises of jobs and affordable housing when he needed street cred for the Atlantic Yards project. He only began working with McKissack & McKissack, the nation's oldest Black-owned contracting firm, in 2005 -- exactly 100 years after the company's formation -- when he needed street cred for the Atlantic Yards project. On that last point, why didn't Bruce Ratner, Brooklyn's current Great White Father, hire McKissack for any of his other projects, including MetroTech in the 1980s -- an project so disrespectful to the Brooklyn's Black communities that Black construction workers demonstrating for jobs on Ratner's site were arrested and jailed.

So let the Nets win. Or lose. Let Kidd keep floating those loft passes to Carter and Jefferson. Let Nenad Kristic try to stay injury free as he impersonates the big man the Nets need. Let Lawrence Frank continue to fly the flag for smart-yet-schlubby coaches everywhere.

But don't believe for a second that a Nets win or loss matters in the fight against Bruce Ratner's paean to greed and avarice, the Atlantic Yards megablocks. Brooklynites long ago signaled that an NBA franchise at the corner of Atlantic & Flatbush is of little interest and even littler use.

Brooklynites are smarter than Bruce Ratner thinks we are. We just need to keep proving it.

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