November 28, 2012

Sunday, Sept. 8, 1957. That was the last time a scoreboard in any of the major sports read “Brooklyn” on one side of the ledger and “New York” on the other.

That game between the Dodgers and Giants took place at the Polo Grounds in front of a crowd of 22,376 people.

Nothing too remarkable about it. The Giants wound up on top, 3-2, with Curt Barclay getting the win; Marv Grissom picked up his 12th save. Don Drysdale fell to 14–9. Jim Gilliam and Hank Sauer each hit 2-run blasts. A fellow by the name of Willie Mays hit his 20th triple of the season.

All the runs were scored in the first 4 innings. Probably the biggest play of the game came in the top of the 7th. Grissom came in to pitch with runners on first and second and one out; Pee Wee Reese at the plate. Reese, who was hitting .233 at the time, swung at a 2-0 pitch and bounced into a 4-6-3 double play.

Some 55 years later, on the night of Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, the New York Knicks faced off against the erstwhile New Jersey Nets at the just-barely broken in Barclays Center in beautiful downtown Brooklyn. (I say that sarcastically—downtown Brooklyn has never been terribly beautiful, nor does it feel much like a downtown.)

The momentum ebbed and flowed—as it does in every basketball game, although in this one the oscillations happened quickly, with neither team maintaining the upper hand for long—and ended in a 84-84 tie. When the smoke cleared and the OT ended, the Nets walked away with a well-deserved 96-89 win.

The Nets are a team that was not so much engineered as Frankensteined from parts that the team wasn’t entirely certain it wanted or could afford. PG Deron Williams and the front office performed a clumsy dance for the first half of the offseason, nobody really sure that the other really wanted “to be” with the other, in the parlance of junior high school.

Even less desired was 7-foot center Brook Lopez. The Nets spent much of the offseason in desperately-seeking-Superman mode, all but wrapping Lopez in a bow in order to make him seem more appealing to the Orlando Magic. But after Dwight Howard unwittingly put the kibosh on getting himself traded to Brooklyn, the Nets went into spin mode, trying to pretend like Lopez was the center they lusted after all along.

I wasn’t convinced, and I’m sure Lopez wasn’t either. But still. He proceeded to sign a big-money deal that may not have totally placated hurt feelings on either side, but at least increased the pressure on both to make things work.

For their part, the Knicks also have a cobbled-together feel, although, in their case, it has more to do with subtraction. All-universe forward Carmelo Anthony has always been able to score in wild bunches, but his transformation into a defensive dynamo, into a team player who still takes a lion’s share of the shots, into, in effect, one of the most dynamic players in the league, has largely been possible because of the injury to PF Amar’e Stoudemire.

Nobody is really quite sure what will happen in a couple of weeks when Stoudemire comes off the injured list. Will the team revisit the unfelicitous mode it entered last season after Anthony returned to a Jeremy Lin-spired squad and undermined every good feeling that had been accrued in his absence?

It’s anybody’s guess, but for now both the Nets and the Knicks continue to win (mostly) and appear to be the class of the Atlantic Division, a suddenly-tough grouping that, at the moment, includes four out of five teams over .500.

Not that that counts for much. If there’s any person not named Spike Lee who truly believes that any Eastern Conference team can take down the Heat in a playoff series, they should check themselves into Bellevue.

But that doesn’t mean that the Nets and Knicks can’t produce some seriously entertaining ball along the way to an early-round playoff exit.

The first words out of anybody’s mouth when the TNT coverage of the action returned to the studio were blurted by Charles Barkley. “That was a good game,” he said. And he was right.

As sports fans, we are constantly negotiating mountains of hype—Jimmer Fredette this, Tim Tebow that, Mark Cuban everything else—so that when a hyperbolically-amped event pays off as it’s supposed to, it’s not merely a relief, it’s a joy.

Gnarls (who, since I grew up a Sixers fan, it’s impossible for me not to like—despite the politics, despite the spitting incident) went on to qualify his statement to say that it had the feel of a playoff game, that both teams truly wanted to win.

All true and yet irrelevant. A good game doesn’t need to foreshadow anything else to be a satisfying emotional experience. The repercussions, and the love, don’t have to last beyond tonight.

In other words, your average sports fan is kind of like a teenage girl with easy virtue. Just hint at the promise of a deep playoff run and you can bury yourself in her skirts.

Right now, both the Knick and the Nets are seductive teams, and I’m fully bought in. The ride, I hope, will be good and deep and take me through the long, cold winter.

Because a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. My eyes are closed and I’m thinking of England—I mean, Brooklyn.

“Escape From New Jersey,” by Bill Vourvoulias.

From “Rim Job,” the November 28, 2012, issue of V as in Victor.

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