Or the junked cars. But why would anyone say that? Shame on me! This is Brooklyn's coming-out party. And, yes, looked at from another perspective, Barclays Center could be a.... No, this building is just rather odd, made a tad stranger by the green grasslike plantings that cover the sloped roof rising over the subway entrance in front. Could sheep be far behind?
Yet its function is precise: a modern 18,000-seat basketball and entertainment venue in the center of town. Much of the massive Atlantic Yards project has not turned out as originally proposed. Ratner's workers are far behind schedule on the proposed $4.9 billion, 22-acre residential, retail and office complex that was originally promised here. And 2,250 middle- to low-income housing units are to be built, eventually.
But the $1 billion arena, replete with Jay-Z's Vault private luxury suites and, this being the newly hip Brooklyn, a menu of artisanal food choices including locally made pretzels with chipotle mayo, opened on time last month. Even filmmaker Spike Lee—who, like Albert King, was born in nearby Cumberland Hospital and grew up in Fort Greene—is thrilled with the new building and tenant in his hometown. And if anybody should be tormented by the arrival, it should be Lee, who has made six movies about the borough in his Chronicles of Brooklyn series but is such a Knicks fan (meaning Manhattan) that there is no turning back.
"This is great for Brooklyn," he says. "But I'm orange and blue. Guys of my generation grew up with the Knicks—Reed, DeBusschere, Bradley, Barnett, Frazier. If I were a 10-year-old kid, Brooklyn would be my team. Brooklyn should have a pro team."
But will the Spikeman be coming to Knicks-Nets games at Barclays Center? Like the season opener between the two on Nov. 1?
"My office is three blocks away!" he almost roars. So that's a yes. But in the orange-and-blue getup?
"Why wouldn't I?" he asks, disbelieving. "Did you see Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks [an ESPN documentary]? Come on! What was I wearing to Market Square Arena? In Indianapolis! When I go to Barclays Center, I'm gonna be wearing orange and blue."
God bless him. He was born in 1957, he'll remind you, the year the Dodgers left. For him, the hole is still there. But the Nets colors are black and white, so un-Knickslike, with a retro-fresh logo designed by Jay-Z. NBA commissioner David Stern had to make an exception to allow those stark hues, since the league prefers that teams have primary or tertiary or at least pastel colors in their design. Those B caps and other Nets apparel are flying off the shelves now, after Jay-Z wore a black, then a white jersey onstage under a cascade of gold chains during his eight sold-out arena-opening concerts. His number was 4, in honor of his daughter, Blue Ivy. (Ivy=IV=4.) The name stitched on the back was CARTER, for his birth name, Shawn Carter.
But Brooklyn itself is the star here. Jay-Z was born in the miserable Marcy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and his making it out of there, first as a hustler, then as an artist, to become a part owner of an NBA team just down the road? (Even if that ownership piece is wee-sized.) Why, give it up, Brooklyn!
Albert King is excited still as we continue our tour. So am I. But for other reasons. I am thrilled to see a boy grown into a man, a gentleman whose age seems so much closer to mine than it was way back when. We have grown separately but are reunited, and we are peers. It's only the great basketball that Brooklyn is known for at the street level that separates us.