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Ten Years Later: Who’s Rooting for the Nets?

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The Nets are undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA teams active today. On the roster for the team’s tenth year in Brooklyn are Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blake Griffin. It’s a treat to watch the team move across the court—no matter where a basketball fan’s allegiance lies.

Despite the fact that the Nets now have one of the all-time greatest rosters in the NBA, they didn’t manage to capitalize on their momentum last year. Heading into the 2021-22 season, key players are back from the injury reserve. Fans are buckling up as the preseason approaches… at least, they should be.

Though the Nets have an all-star cast, the team’s fan base is still spread far and thin. When the team moved from New Jersey to New York in 2012, executives assumed there would be a legion of Knicks fans ready to jump ship for a winning team, along with a hefty number of Jersey fans.

The result has instead been a mixed bag. The assumption that New Jersey fans would file into Barclay’s Center was just as hopeful as thinking fans of the Knicks would move to Brooklyn. For the most part, Nets fans from Jersey still support their team. The state makes it easy, too, as NJ sports betting options are some of the most competitive and expansive in the US.

Locals love sport, but not enough to continually travel to downtown Brooklyn for a game. And although Brooklyn has managed to capitalize on the ongoing Knicks struggle at MSG by picking up a few wayward fans, there’s still a large question about who, exactly, Nets fans are.

Early Struggles in Brooklyn

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Early on, the Nets faced trouble with Barclays center. The construction was controversial for plenty of reasons, but Jay-Z and other investors managed the feat. Heading into their first season in 2012, there was plenty of hype… at least, in theory.

Fans didn’t flock to Barclay’s immediately. In fact, the lack of support was tangible enough that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the team’s first Brooklyn-era stars, both noted that fans were basically absent from their short-lived 2014 playoff run.

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Even the Nets noted the lackluster support; the team’s official Twitter account called out fans by posting a video from a Toronto game where fans lit up the stadium. Despite a rough start, the Nets’ luck has improved. Slowly but surely, the team’s ongoing success and the star-studded cast has drawn in interested fans from all corners.

Knicks Filling Barclay’s

Much like the Nets, the Knicks have endured long, winless stretches. One of the only differences is that the Knicks haven’t relocated as often as the Nets—plus, they’ve got Madison Square Garden to call their home. For many New Yorkers, the Knicks are an ‘older brother’ and the Nets are among the city’s ‘younger brother’ roster of pro sports teams alongside the Jets and the Mets.

So far, Knicks fans haven’t blindly jumped ship to join the Nets. In fact, Nets fans have been overrun by Knicks fans in Barclay’s multiple times. Looking ahead, this may not always be the case—especially as James Dolan continues making enemies in Manhattan.

The Bridge-and-Tunnel Crew

When the Nets moved to Brooklyn, they unabashedly looked to take a bite out of the Knicks market. Many assumed New Jersey fans would be a key component of the Nets’ cheering crowds. For the most part, this has held true.

Diehard Nets fans have had no problem assimilating to the team’s new home. But it’s hard to quantify who, exactly, is filling stadium seats at Barclay’s. As the clear underdog in terms of New York basketball fanbase and as a recently-moved franchise, the Nets have had to fight for their place.

Their greatest ally so far has been the mighty bandwagon fan.

Following the Stars

The Nets have a total of 41 All-Star appearances between its star-studded cast. Despite the fact that the Nets struggled to fill seats and post high TV ratings in their early years in Brooklyn, the team’s meteoric rise hasn’t been for nothing.

In fact, it’s how the team has built on its wavering fanbase. Some may decry the fact that the Nets have a slew of bandwagon fans who are only there for big names like Harden, Durant, or Irving. They don’t pay exorbitant amounts of money to see the Nets crush the Raptors, but to sit in Barclay’s and feel that they’re part of an NBA legacy.

Those who want proof can follow the money. Despite lacking fans, Nets’ jerseys are the second-highest selling in the NBA. The team also has more Twitter followers than the Knicks. Even better, their TV ratings are rising, which hints that the Nets’ struggle to build a fanbase is likely a short-term growing pain.

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