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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Full-court press

One of the basketball courts at Brooklyn Bridge

One of the basketball courts at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo Credit: Mark Chiusano

If you live in Brooklyn and fancy yourself a player, you know where the best basketball courts are.

Everyone has a slightly different ranking, biased by neighborhood loyalty, but a few courts stand out: Coney Island's Brighton Playground. The Farragut courts in East Flatbush. Marine Park’s Fillmore Avenue complex. Shore Parkway in Bay Ridge.

Insert your own local favorite, but most would put Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 at the top of their list.

The pier’s five-full courts sprawl palatially below the elegant brownstones of Brooklyn Heights, with a commanding view of the Manhattan skyline. Cool in the summer and playable even in rain (two courts are covered), the pier quickly became a destination for basketball players when this section of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park opened in 2014.

If anything, perhaps too much of a destination: During prime playing times, even half court games demand 30 or 40 minutes of wait-time, watching three or four groups who have “next.”

But for a few days over the past two months, the courts have been completely empty.
Public space or private space?
On five occasions since mid-April police closed the courts because of fights or the anticipation of fights.

The closures come along with complaints from some residents and community groups that the basketball courts draw crowds who are rowdy and disruptive. Particularly concerned are the residents of the quiet, leafy cobblestoned Joralemon Street, which is one of very few entrances to the park and the closest one to the courts.

From the beginning, the public-private partnership that created the park raised questions of whose park it was.

City officials say the arrangement, which allowed for development in sections along with the park, was necessary to maintain the park’s funding — particularly for upkeep and the maintenance of those old piers. Financial security was bought with luxury towers, which when the park opened were just future plans and lots but are now upon us, tightening the park’s limited space.

The newest tower going up is also the subject of an ongoing feud between the city and state — Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed for it to include affordable housing, and the state has questioned de Blasio's ties to the developers involved.

Naturally those few who are lucky enough to get a slot, affordable or not, in buildings which are literally on the park will have easier access. But New Yorkers vote for democratic parks with their feet and MetroCards, coming in masses via 2 and 3, A and C, bus and car.

Since its inception, the park has been well-maintained (and even improved), and also become a gathering spot for families and visitors across the borough and the city at large, who have the same right to be there as locals.

A good time for everyone
That is particularly true on the basketball courts, where adults come for serious play but teenagers congregate as well, to play and watch and relax and socialize, from all corners of the borough.

Sometimes those crowds result in altercations — "hormones" or “basketball fights” or “beefs,” said young people at the park this weekend. From time to time, these become serious, and social media posts have reportedly moved cops to act before the fact. But through all five closures, no arrests have been made and no weapons recovered.

Some teenagers said that fights were disruptive and worrisome when they happened. But often they could be settled “on the court,” said Tarique Joseph, 19, who thought that having “a few more cops” would be better than shutting the place down.

“Let cops do their job,” Joseph said, “then everyone can come and have a good time.”

That was happening this weekend, as Miles Casso, 32, and Shannette Tindao, 29, sat watching a game. Some kids were playing on the nearby court, periodically stopping to slap and laugh at each other. An older group played bocce behind them, handlebar moustaches, lemon bars and alcohol in cups in tow. The officers present didn’t bother them.

Casso and Tindao hadn’t been to the courts or the park before — Casso lives in Queens — but thought it would be a great place for a date.

Here, there was space.

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