Monday, October 8, 2012

Black cards, black cars. All black everything.

In the last few years there's been an almost shocking explosion in sports stadia in the New York metropolitan area, something of a remarkable development considering that none were built between 1982 and 2007. Since then, however, the Devils, Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets have all gotten new buildings, while Madison Square Garden has been undergoing a multi-year renovation that, given its cost, might as well be a whole new building anyway.

And then there's the Barclays Center, a new building for the recently re-christened Brooklyn Nets that has flipped the dynamic of New York basketball while bringing a new world class arena to an area that already seemed about as built up as could be. See before the Nets pulled up stakes from New Jersey at the end of last season after a 35-year stay and ditched their eternally late-90s/early 2000s-esque blue and red and occasionally silver uniforms for a much more minimalist -- and snazzy -- set of black and white duds, they were more or less an afterthought in the New York sports landscape. Sure, the Nets had made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000s with one of the more exciting teams in recent memory -- a group composed of in-their-prime stars like Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin with a strong supporting cast like Richard Jefferson and Keith Van Horn that pushed the ball electrically under the stewardship of Byron Scott. And sure, they were by leaps and bounds more successful than the colossal cluster playing out the Isiah Thomas error (note: not a typo) at Madison Square Garden.

But much like the Jets to the Giants, the Mets to the Yankees or, perhaps more closely, the Devils to the Rangers, the Nets would never have the same magnetism and cache as the Knicks regardless of far superior on-court successes. New York was the 'Bockers' town, particularly considering the Nets toiled in the aimless swamps of New Jersey (though they did play on Long Island while in the ABA).

The Barclays Center just might change that, though. The Knicks will never play second fiddle in the Big Apple, but the Nets are angling for a sizeably larger piece of the pie by moving to Brooklyn to become the borough's first major league sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957 and by opening up a brand-spankin'-new world class arena at the cross section of several major neighborhoods. This brought with it much buzz and much controversy, and for me, of course, much curiosity. After all, checking out these new stadiums is kind of my thing, and with one so close I just would have to jump on the opportunity.

Doing so is kind of tricky with the Nets not opening their home schedule until Nov. 1, but, as we Jewish suburbanites so often say, "Thank goodness for Jay-Z."

As a native of Brooklyn and a part-owner (read: a very small part), Hova has been a major fixture both at Nets games and at franchise press events touting the team's rebranding and its new world class home. So there was really no more appropriate way to open the place than with eight consecutive concerts.

Now, I won't tell you all that I'm the biggest Jay-Z fan on the planet, but I've gotten more and more into his music over the past few years. As a result, going to see him in concert and simultaneously check out the new building seemed like a decent option since I completely lacked the patience to wait for an actual basketball game. And so with that in mind, my buddy Ruth and I headed to the oh-so-conveniently located Barclays Center this past Thursday to check out the show and the building. It was a bit of an odd experience considering I had seen the team play home games before and I wasn't even seeing the team play that night, but regardless, I got a good handle on what is certain to be one of the more popular concert and sports venues in New York for the next half century or so -- assuming the aesthetic doesn't get old.

And speaking of aesthetic, there is one thing that became extremely clear to me as soon as I walked in the building. Jay-Z likes the color black. And apparently he likes to be pretty minimalist. For any indication, simply look at his outfits, the Nets' new uniforms or perhaps his finest musical work. Once you pass through the ticket handlers -- and metal detectors -- and take a stroll around the concourses it becomes very, very obvious that the designers of the Barclays Center take this whole all-black minimalist thing awfully seriously.

I mean really. Look at these concourses.

Now, I should make it clear that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The plain, minimalist aesthetic actually sits fairly well with me -- I don't like things that are too busy -- but it also is very dark inside and stands completely at odds with the bright, open concourses you'd find at an arena like the Prudential Center or Madison Square Garden, and it even seems a bit at odds with the starkly defined, rust-colored and extremely stylized exterior of the Barclays Center itself.

No matter, though. Everything is still a shade of black or gray once you get inside. Everything. Hallways, bathrooms, seats, you name it. There is no changing or altering the color scheme one iota. However, if that isn't your cup of tea, the diverse Brooklyn-centric food options just might be. Along the hallways you'll find a stark-black Nathan's Famous along with what I was most excited for, L&B Spumoni Gardens. While I'm skeptical for how the trademark sicilian slices will translate to a smaller operation -- and I saw no spumoni to speak of -- it is still a welcome addition to the menu, along with several other intriguing options.

Of course in addition to the food there are the seats. Mine were in section 215, which was pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the end opposite the stage. The view, naturally, was fantastic, but the impression I get is that poor sight lines are a complete rarity these days, so I wasn't particularly surprised. I also found that if you have any doubt about the capabilities of the lights inside the arena, you can firmly forget about those. The in-arena lights system is, frankly, kind of insane, and I imagine there will be some borderline overwhelming player introductions should the Nets ever make the NBA Finals again.

Oh, and since you were wondering, the concert was pretty good, too.

I mean, I did think it was fairly short all things considered, clocking in at under two hours, but maybe that's just because I'm spoiled from being at Bruce Springsteen's Helsinki marathon this summer. Either way, Jay-Z puts on a solid show and it included more than one bizarre speech -- as well as an unfortunate incident in which five policemen beat the utter crap out of a concert-goer who was causing a ruckus and then violently refusing arrest. Fun stuff, right?

Either way, the Barclays Center seemed to be every bit the stylish sports palace the Nets and their publicity machine are making it out to be, at least to this point, even if the color scheme lacks a whole lot of variety. Then again, maybe they'll re-paint the whole thing by the time I'm back there for a basketball game in a few months.

If Isiah Thomas was running the show, I'm pretty sure they would.

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