Barclays Center, in a worst-case scenario, could end up being for Ratner what Shea Stadium was for Robert Moses (and not just because since the original Frank Gehry design was scrapped, the building is hardly architecturally distinguished). What happens if the Nets are good for a year or two and then fall off a cliff, because of salary-cap issues, because of front-office mistakes, because Prokhorov gets bored and moves on to something else? The Nets certainly weren’t good for most of their 35 years in Jersey and are far from a sure thing now. Look at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, or the Palace in Detroit, or Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento, buildings constructed with the idea of Instant Urban Status that almost never reach full capacity, albatrosses, cursed by teams that can’t contend and ownerships that constantly shift hands. At one point, those buildings and their teams were the hot new item in town, with their own slick new logos and stadiums. Then a few years passed and the teams floundered and everyone moved on to the hot next thing or, worse, moved on to nothing at all. “There’s a low tolerance for a sports fan to pay a premium for a losing team,” says Ponturo. “If the team doesn’t deliver, you can just as easily have a 60 percent full arena that’s brand-new as you can an old arena.” Ultimately, sports franchises and stadiums are toys for rich people. If they make money, great. If not, they can afford the loss and sell it to the next guy once they get bored. (Some have argued that Prokhorov has already lost interest.) And then what? What happens when the Nets flip this house?
Because if you think there was public outcry when apartments were razed and homeowners were evicted for the building of this new arena … wait until you see the uproar if Barclays Center isn’t a success. If it doesn’t revitalize Brooklyn. (And by the way, isn’t a lot of Brooklyn being revitalized without it?) If it is just another half-full arena smack in the middle of a residential area. Ratner and Prokhorov & Co. can always bail out, but we’ll all still live here.
And yet, and yet … dammit, I can’t help but be excited, regardless. It is cool that there’s a new NBA team in town, one that’s a twenty-minute walk from Brooklyn Heights, a ten-minute walk from Park Slope, a fifteen-minute subway ride from Wall Street. LeBron James will play more games here. There will be an All-Star game here; there might be an NBA Finals here. There is now a second Madison Square Garden—okay, a newer, tackier, less-iconic one—right smack in the middle of a city center (or at least what the Nets hope is a city center).
You’ll love Deron Williams; the Nets will likely win more games than they lose. Your kids will enjoy the circus, and go nuts if elephants march across the bridge. Bob Dylan’s playing just down the street from Junior’s.
Barclays Center didn’t come free. The way Ratner muscled his way into Brooklyn’s heart may never be forgotten, and we may all be a lot less excited about this in five years. Or maybe Ratner is right, and sooner or later nobody will remember how we got here. Eventually, everything new just becomes part of our daily life. All that’s certain now is that Barclays Center is real, and opening very soon now. What more can you do? Play ball.