As the Nets celebrate 10 years in Kings County, Boardroom gets the inside story on all the ways the team is celebrating this first decade by celebrating the cultures and flavors of the borough.
When the Nets moved to Brooklyn 10 years ago from New Jersey, Jay-Z opened up Barclays Center with an eight-show hometown tour. Walking out to “Where I’m From” with the famous black away kits, Hov put the world on notice: Brooklyn is here and Brooklyn is back.
It was the first professional sports team in the borough since the Dodgers left in 1958. The Nets pushed “Hello Brooklyn” in that first season and beyond, letting the NBA world know they were here, too.
Anyone from Kings County will tell you, whether you agree or disagree, that Brooklyn rappers are the pinnacle. Brooklyn ballers are the toughest. Brooklyn pizza and a seemingly endless range of other cuisines are simply better than wherever you live. Art and graffiti are part of the local identity. And the fashion?
Celebrating their 10-year anniversary, the Nets unveiled its 10 Creators Program — blending basketball, music, art, food, cinema, and fashion. The team built on momentum generated from a short film Brooklynite Andre Wagner created in October, and will host events with notable comedians, musicians, photographers, chefs, and more throughout the remainder of the season.
“We had a pretty clear sense of the verticals in culture that we wanted to lean into here and celebrate,” Andrew Karson, SVP of Brand Marketing at BSE Global, told Boardroom. “Basketball culture is much more than the Brooklyn Nets and the deep-rooted history of basketball in Brooklyn generally. You have the arts, food, fashion, and music… We wanted to find people that are authentic in these spaces, ideally from Brooklyn and/or fans of the Nets.”
As part of this creative movement, the Nets will showcase a t-shirt that Kevin Durant and designer Olivier Rogers collaborated on organically.
“This was a perfect example of serendipity of circumstance,” Karson said. “We wanted to have one or two people in the fashion space as part of our 10 creators, and Olivier is a name that kept standing out. He is someone that has relationships with a tremendous amount of NBA players, and hey, he happens to have an incredible relationship with a couple of our players, including Kevin Durant. So, we started thinking about working with Olivier, talking to our basketball operations team, talked to some of our friends at 35V, and it was like the stars aligned on this one.”
What ultimately sold KD on getting involved in the 10 Creators Program, then?
“We had a conversation with Kevin about it and everyone was super excited. We talked to Olivier and he was super excited,” Karson said. “This is our second Friday Night Live platform, and Kevin immediately said, ‘I want Olivier involved. I want him to design my t-shirt.’ It was the perfect storm of amazing talents coming together organically… We’re already talking to Olivier about what more we can do together.”
In terms of future collaborations, Fivio Foreign and Melanie Charles are two names that were mentioned immediately. Joey BadA$$ isn’t part of the program, but Karson explains how he’s been crucial in the creative process.
It’s only natural — in Brooklyn, hip-hop and hoops are synonymous.
“Fivio and Joey are people that fill a different lane both in hip-hop since they’re both incredibly relevant in different ways. Joey’s a little more mature in his career, but Fivio is having a huge moment right now, so with both of them, it’s about how we can bring together that authenticity,” Karson said.
“We’re constantly talking about what’s next, we ask what ideas you have, and so on. In general, it’s not just with hip-hop artists — we look at all of our talent relationships. It’s an extension of our brand and our family here, the same way we wanna be an extension of their brand as well, so what are those things that are mutually beneficial that we can do?”
Karson and the Nets continue to hone in on developing, building, and maintaining relationships with NYC talents. Off the top of his head, he names Lil Kim, Method Man, and Busta Rhymes as three musicians the organization is close with — but not part of the Creator Program. Then, he mentions Biggie and Jay-Z.
Back in 2013, Mr. Carter had to sell his stake in the Nets and Barclays Center when he founded a sports agency. And while had to cut “official” ties to the team’s operations and stopped sitting courtside, Roc Nation is still involved with the Nets and Brooklyn.
“We have a great relationship with Jay and the Roc Nation team. It’s a little bit different, he’s obviously not officially involved with the organization the way he was back then, but he’s a legend, and every hip-hop artist that’s coming into our building, performing for us, attending a game — they all look up to him for the type of career he’s had both in the hip-hop game and in the business world,” Karson said.
“We love Jay. We will always embrace him, his ideas, and what he and his team bring to [the] table. We look to work with emerging Roc Nation artists, friends of Jay, and people who are inspired by him. I don’t think we can be the Brooklyn Nets and have the history we have in Brooklyn without him.”
Hov sold his small stake in the team to former Nets legend Jason Kidd in 2013 and wasn’t much of a fixture at games anymore; it felt like a void since Barclays is his home that he helped build and his cultural impact during his tenure with the Nets is not to be underestimated, from ideating their uniforms to helping a new ownership group to market and brand the revamped team.
An icon as big as Hov was revolutionary for Brooklyn, but his example has also proven to be instructive for subsequent basketball ambassadors like Drake and the OVO brand, too.
During the time of the move from New Jersey, things were seemingly cool among the fanbase. After all, the team had moved from multiple different spots on Long Island over to different arenas in the Garden State. They ranked dead-last in team revenues when they left and barely sold out their NBA Finals games in 2002 and then 2003; when it was time to pack up and leave, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quite literally told them, “Goodbye and good riddance.”
But there were — and still are — fans there. And they aren’t far (13 miles away, to be exact). The new Brooklyn regime changed their existing ABA championship banners from classic red, white, and blue to modern black and white. Jackets, hats, and other apparel proudly displayed “established in 2012.”
For many longtime Nets fans, that was an issue.
“It’s an incredibly unique situation,” Karson admits, noting that he grew up on Long Island and understands how important the history is. “There aren’t that many franchises that are in a major market like this that moved multiple times, so how do you continue to cultivate those fan bases? We know they’re incredibly passionate and there’s a tremendous amount of history. There’s generations of fandom, so we do whatever we can to extend the reach of the brand to New Jersey. I think one way we’ve done this is through our uniforms — two years in a row, we’ve had our Classic Edition jerseys largely inspired by that great tradition. We also think about the alumni base from the New Jersey Nets days; the Kerry Kittles, Buck Williams, Kenny Andersons of the world, knowing that they can be ambassadors for us.”
It’s an interesting dynamic. The Nets never really owned the land they lived on because they never played in one single arena for more than 19 years.
The Knicks are king in New York. Nobody really denies that. But the Nets entered Brooklyn with a lot of confidence, posting giant billboards of owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z across James Dolan’s office that said “Blueprint For Greatness.” At the time it was funny, but after three years, they were back in the bottom-10 for attendance.
It made little sense to ease out these New Jersey fans — now, the goal is making up for lost time and finding the best ways to honor and embrace them.
“There’s no perfect solution, but we’re trying to do what we can by listening to their feedback,” said Karson. “We know there’s amazing history there. We want to continue to build the base in Brooklyn and make it clear to our fans in Brooklyn and the boroughs that we’re here for you, but we also can’t do that at the risk of losing New Jersey Nets fans. We know there’s been times in the history of Brooklyn where they felt [upset], and that’s unfortunate.”
The history of the borough is bigger than basketball, but basketball can go a long way in highlighting all that’s great about the neighborhood and the market this team plays in. Having marketable stars like KD certainly doesn’t hurt the growth of the game. The team wears City Edition jerseys inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The food and beverage offerings on the Barclays Center concourse emphasize local vendors and authentic flavors.
And the bass is constantly bumping to hip-hop beats from borough rappers.
Despite an occasionally bumpy road along the way, the Nets can finally say they own something. Brooklyn is theirs and they’re Brooklyn’s — whether you like it or love it. And that will be on even fuller display throughout the rest of the 2022-23 NBA season with the new 10 Creators Program.
Andrew Karson put a bow on it:
“There was no perfect science [to build this]. We feel incredibly excited about, as we represent all five of those verticals — people who are incredibly relevant and authentic to our fanbase and certainly to Brooklyn… and New York City.”
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