Good Sport: Boxing Day in Brooklyn

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Anthony Harrisonby Anthony Harrison

Before crossing over the East River, accessing a lovely vista of the Brooklyn Bridge and One World Trade Center, the N Train stopped at 14th Street at Union Square. There, a young mother and her son — I guessed he was about 7 years old — stepped onto the subway and slumped across from me.

We were both going to the same place: Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue in downtown. I could tell from the Brooklyn Nets hats they both wore.

It was the day after Christmas. Boxing Day, in a weird way, I like more than Christmas Day itself. There isn’t the stress of the high holiday; you can just chill out with your family and enjoy your gifts.

I was alone, but the Nets game was part of my Christmas. Mom and my sister Hannah shopped at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue while I enjoyed the matchup against the Washington Wizards.

This mother and child on the train were celebrating together.

But they were both tired. Light wrinkles ringed the coffee-colored eyes of the woman, who might have been in her mid-thirties, and they were cast downward, half-empty, toward the speckled floor of the subway car. The boy was plumb tuckered. Before we reached Prince Street in lower Manhattan, his oversized cap slipped down on his brow as he took a little cat nap.

Almost on cue, a squeal of the car’s brakes woke up the tyke as we rolled into the Barclays station.

“What time is it?” he asked his mother, rubbing his weary eyes.

“Almost game time,” she said back.

And despite everything, I could tell they both got a little excited.

But they were surely disappointed by the game’s outcome. Led by point guard John Wall, the Washington Wizards cast a spell on the Barclays, strolling away with a commanding 111-96 victory.

But, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than the final score. At times, the game was a real back-and-forth contest.

In the first half, the Wizards steadily tacked on points, leading by as much as 12 points as the Nets starters failed to connect on momentous baskets. No matter what, though, Brooklyn would always rally and bring the game within a possession before letting the Wizards slide back into a seemingly comfortable lead.

The crowd sat relatively still and quiet in the very beginning; the only thing you could hear was the squeak and shuffle of high-dollar sneakers on the Barclays Center’s unique, herringbone maple court. It was like the beginnings of a boxing match, with the audience holding its breath and waiting to see who would get the first big hits and jabs.

My view at the Barclays.
My view at the Barclays.

Among the Nets, I spied a familiar face: shooting guard Wayne “The Rain” Ellington, who others may recall played for UNC Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels to their latest National Championship back in 2009. Ellington subbed in late in the first quarter as the Nets’ starters struggled to produce. It was refreshing to see he still played with the same frantic intensity that won him the honor of the ’09 NCAA Most Outstanding Player Award — he was all over his defensive matchups and shot 3-8 from the field.

He and other bench players began the rally which roused the home crowd’s hopes. At the half, the score was 52-50. The differential remained the same at the end of the third quarter.

But nothing could halt the seemingly inevitable: After playing the Wizards even, nine Nets turnovers helped the Wizards steadily slip away with the game.

If the past tells us anything, that’s how it always seems with Brooklyn teams.

Brooklyn fans might be among the most loyal — therefore, hopeful — in the history of American sports. All you need to point to as a proof of concept is the legacy of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Known by a slew of different brands, but fondly remembered as “Dem Bums,” the team finally known as the Dodgers played some of the most heroically awful baseball in the National League for much of the first half of the 20th Century. They’d win the pennant a few times here and there, but typically get stomped in the World Series, most often by their crosstown nemesis, the Yankees.

Brooklyn didn’t care. They loved Dem Bums.

So when the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series, after so much loss and the noble triumph of ignoring the color line, the smell of success must have been sweeter than rose petals.

That’s the pedigree from which Brooklyn fans arise: a long, storied history of losing, losing, losing, but never giving up on your team and instilling that hope in your progeny. Because eventually, you’ll get the right blend of talent and spirit and make the improbable happen.

The mother and child I saw on the train won’t read this. But I hope they keep going to games and keep believing in their hometown team. For the Nets are no longer the New Jersey Nets, and they aren’t the New York Nets. They are Brooklyn’s team.

So, to the weary mom: Keep dragging your son to those games. And kid: Keep the faith. You never know when your team might win it all.