The Brooklyn Nets are not quite yet a thing. This isn't for lack of trying. Ex-minority owner Jay Z ascended to the status of walking brand a few years ago. He is finally a business, man, which means he's a useless rapper but brilliant at auto-vampirically siphoning every dollar from his self-sustaining cultural relevance. He was the face of a franchise launch that involved a lot of barely not saying "the Brooklyn Nets are very cool" through purple-prosed press releases, manufactured intrigue, and daring sartorial choices. The whole offseason-long ordeal felt like it was sponsored by the sound of an anthropomorphic Jesus piece yawning.
The way this nauseating hype orgy gave way to a good-but-unremarkable team--like an obnoxiously ornate cloche opening to reveal a perfectly okay chicken sandwich--elegantly illustrated that everyone involved with the Brooklyn Nets rebranding extravaganza (Hashtag-American Brett Yormark, I'm sure, was making a lot of decisions behind the scenes) seemed to understand very little about what a basketball team is.
It is not a luxury item, in other words. It's not that following one's team isn't occasionally thrilling or that it can't be an identity marker of some sort, but dedicated fandom is such a protracted and honestly kind of monotonous experience--not at all like ordering a particular brand of vodka at a bar--that selling a franchise as a source of cultural cachet or MDMA-lite exhilaration sounds like nonsense to anyone who knows what you're talking about.
The Brooklyn Nets, no matter how they are packaged, must be a basketball team, and because of both their newness to fans and the patchwork nature of their roster, they are an incomplete one. They will, over the course of the next decade, become more legible -- think about all the associations the Los Angeles Lakers or even Orlando Magic conjure in your mind -- and metamorphose from novelty into a familiar entity. They will stop feeling like something mistranslated from the hungover daydreams of Adidas executives. This will be great, even if the Nets are not, because it will signal the dissipation of the oppressive marketing miasma in which the team is currently ensconced.
The same goes for the Nets' relationship with their new crosstown rivals. I wish we could fast-forward seven years to the point where Nets-Knicks is and has been a thing, because this phase in which the principals involved are trying to make it a thing is painfully awkward. For those of you who don't spend your summers scouring NBA-related RSS feeds, congratulations and hear this: 15-year Boston Celtic Paul Pierce claimed in early August that it was "time for the Nets to start running [New York]," to which Ray Felton responded with some stuff about the relationship between the name on the front of the Knicks' jerseys and ownership of the municipality in question. A couple weeks ago, pipe-provider J.R. Smith guaranteed a championship in front of a bunch of children, and Jason Terry, asked about Smith's comments while definitely thinking about something else, retorted with a somewhat nonsensical zinger about the Knicks perhaps winning the Rucker Park title.
Part of the reason this story aggravates me is a just-now-subsiding grogginess from the flashbang filled with slogans and brand initiatives Jigga, Yormark, and company lobbed at us last summer. Disingenuousness, coming from any corner of the Nets organization, makes me recoil instantly, and Paul Pierce in particular just can't possibly mean exactly what he's saying, considering he has played precisely no games at all for the Nets and spent his entire career in Boston. I doubt very much he dislikes the Knicks more than he already did as a Celtic. Probably more accurately, he sees his move to the Nets as an opportunity to torture the Knicks further by snatching the mostly useless Best Team in New York Crown off their collective heads. More than anything, it seems like Pierce was trying to entertain himself.
This sort of villainy has characterized Pierce over the past half-decade, and it's part of what makes him a compelling figure. Ever since the Celtics won the 2008 title, he has been a self-satisfied needler -- you could practically hear him cracking up when he made that talents/South Beach crack a few years ago -- which dovetails nicely with his annoyingly effective old man game. He is the league's Hans Gruber; we treasure him by hating him. (The same goes for Kevin Garnett, though he's more like a constantly-on-edge yakuza boss.) At any rate, Pierce's schtick isn't any more transparently trollish than it was in Boston. It indicates how faceless the Brooklyn Nets have been over their first year of existence that they seem more like a vehicle for Pierce's continued Knicks-antagonism than anything else.
So instead of furrowing my brow over some anodyne offseason trash talk, I suppose I should be thanking Pierce. He is, however incrementally, helping construct a personality for this team, specifically one that doesn't feel like it has been market-tested to within an inch of its life. The Nets' two highest-paid players are Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Off the top of my head, I can't remember a single thing Johnson has ever said. Williams is like if the 2012-13 Brooklyn Nets were a person: his website is a charmless, desperate collage of cool guy signifiers and, during last season, featured near-daily bloggy news items about his latest on-court and off-court exploits. Pierce, Terry, and Garnett are at least capably loquacious and a little bit fun. Perhaps they can even coax some personality out of Johnson and Williams.
New franchises usually aren't this grating. Most of the time, they're anonymous until they aren't anymore. (Or in the case of the Charlotte Bobcats, they remain anonymous.) But the Brooklyn Nets chose to flashily announce their presence without defining in any meaningful way what they are: "fashionable" is not a descriptor you can apply to yourself, it's bestowed upon you by others. The whole thing was analogous, in fact, to Jay's most recent album, which was entirely about what he was doing -- releasing a record through an app -- and not at all about the content itself, which was vacuous, half-asleep yacht rap. Paul Pierce lazily slipping into heel mode during a radio interview and Jason Terry slapping down J.R. Smith is insipid theater, but at least it's not laser lights and "Swag like BKLN" t-shirts.
Baby steps: The Nets will at least have an identity this year, even if it's one that has been imported from the Celtics and feels somewhat out of place. They will be hateably cranky and maybe even hateably good. They will be more legible than they have ever been, becoming more like a thing the whole time.