Basketball NBA The Nets - Brooklyn's Pride

The return of a major professional sport to Brooklyn is soothing the broken hearts of that borough that were jilted when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles 55 years ago

Jerry Mittleman
Jerry Mittleman

Brooklyn is on a roll these days. Neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope are the in places of New York City. Even better, the transplanted Brooklyn Nets and their brand new home, Barkley's Center, are the new attractions in town and in the NBA.

The return of a major professional sport to Brooklyn is soothing the broken hearts of that borough that were jilted when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles 55 years ago. The Dodgers were an integral part of Brooklyn's identity and social fabric, and the response frequently uttered at the time was, "Brooklyn will never be the same."

Brooklyn indeed is no longer the same. It remains a melting pot of ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods, but in addition has also become the mod-hip eye of the hurricane of New York City culture.

A glimpse of Barkley's Center, where the 8-4 Nets took on the New York Knicks (9-3) last night for a share of first place in the NBA's Eastern Conference, says a lot about modern-day Brooklyn. It looks like a futuristic spaceship that fluttered down in the heart of a decaying urban immigrant landscape.

Although officially a borough, Brooklyn has almost 2.5 million residents and by itself could constitute a major American city. Therefore it's altogether fitting that Brooklyn should have a major professional sports franchise.

In its heyday of the 1950s, the Jewish population of the New York metropolitan area reached 2.5 million people. Many Jews left the area in the 1970s and 1980s, but the Jewish population has rebounded in recent years due to the high growth rate of Orthodox families. It now stands at 1.5 million, with 560,000 living in Brooklyn.

There is a strong connection between the rich history of Brooklyn sports and its vibrant Jewish community. Second-generation American Jews became avid sports fans as a way of acculturating to their native land and distinguishing themselves from their immigrant parents. Since the Dodgers were the face of Brooklyn, Jews were part of their diehard following.

The great Sendeleh

One Jewish player, Sandy Koufax, can be seen as the microcosm of this connection. Koufax, a native of Brooklyn, began his career with the Dodgers in Brooklyn, and later became one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history after the team moved to Los Angeles. Enthusiasm for sports was passed down from second-generation Jews to following generations. Some of the jilted Dodger fans became Met fans when that club was founded in Queens five years after the Dodgers' departure, and the city's Jews, always big basketball fans, were rabid supporters of Knicks throughout the years.

But none of this compares to Brooklyn's having, after a half-century hiatus, a team of its own.

The Nets are marketing themselves as "Brooklyn's own" through strong ties to the community and concession stands loaded with food from local restaurants, along with locally produced artisan food and beers. In a sign of the times, the Avenue K Deli's kosher concession stand offers "Handcrafted" Potato Knishes at $6.50 a shot.

What it all means is that the big leagues are back in Brooklyn. They never should have left.

Barclay's Center, pictured last month, looks fututistic against a dying urban landscape.Credit: AP



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