Knicks fans in Brooklyn struggle with fandom, while local Nets look promising

Claude Quartlebaum, a Crown Heights native, has the burden of being a Knicks fan at Barclays Center, where the Nets are in the playoffs. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

The Nets are on the rise, while the long-established Knicks just posted the league’s worst record this season.

Claude Quartlebaum, a Crown Heights native, has the burden of being a Knicks fan at Barclays Center, where the Nets are in the playoffs.
Claude Quartlebaum, a Crown Heights native, has the burden of being a Knicks fan at Barclays Center, where the Nets are in the playoffs. Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Edlyn D’Souza

Yolanda Solomon, a Brooklyn native and lifelong New York Knicks fan, had a basketball revelation earlier this year.

“A few weeks ago, when I realized the [Brooklyn] Nets were going to actually make the playoffs, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why am I still a Knicks fan?’ ” she said.

While some in Brooklyn gather to cheer on one of the surprises of this NBA season as the Nets look to battle back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, others who’ve stuck with Manhattan’s beleaguered Knicks are left to stare ruefully at their friends and neighbors actually enjoying professional basketball played by a New York team.

And to hear them tell it, at least some of these blue-and-orange Knicks die-hards have considered making the jump to Brooklyn’s slimming black and white.

“The Nets are actually doing everything I want in a team. They’re doing everything that the Knicks claim to have been doing for more than 10 years,” Solomon said, laying down a gauntlet. “It seemed laughable to shift my allegiance to the Nets up until a few weeks ago. But I said to myself, if the Knicks don’t get Zion [Williamson] in the draft, if they strike out in free agency, I’m done.”

Claude Quartlebaum, a Crown Heights native and self-professed “Carmelo Anthony apologist” said he had heard some friends joking about switching sides after the Knicks traded young All-Star big man Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks in January. But of course, there’s a measure of risk in walking away after sticking it out through lean times.

“If you’ve been through the Quentin Richardson/Steve Francis years, it’s hard to just walk away from that because you don’t want to be that person who stuck with them through the very bottom. and then, when they’re good, you [are] off in black and white,” Quartlebaum said.

Simmons said that, when she started making her threats to switch sides, “my husband laughed at me. My co-workers said, ‘You’ll never leave.’ ”

With the complicated nature of sports fandom, there’s a culture of upholding ill-conceived attachment to disastrous teams, according to longtime Knicks fan Robert Silverman.

“It’s [considered] immoral to cut the suffering part out of the equation and just show up for the good times. That the satisfaction will be greater if you endure the suffering. Which is, of course, ridiculous and stupid.” the Brooklyn Heights resident said, adding, “but I also kind of believe it.”

Even seeing the Nets in person can’t seem to shake Knicks fandom out of people’s heads and hearts.

“I like going to Nets games. They have a really fun, young team. I really like watching them,” said Seth Rosenthal, a Clinton Hill resident and the former editor at Knicks blog Posting and Toasting. “But they’re just never going to occupy the same place, which is so stupid. It’s not a member of my family; it’s a basketball team.”

Fellow Brooklyn-based Knicks fan Carlo Versano said he grew up when the city and its surrounding suburbs were entranced by the 1994 Knicks, who  battled for seven games in the NBA Finals before the Houston Rockets ousted them. Even as the team sinks to new depths, with a league-worst 17-65 record and a divide between fans and ownership, he understands the logical reasons to ditch the Knicks, but can’t pull himself away.

“Sports teams are the only things that you would still give a second chance to after all these years,” Versano said. “If there was a girl that you were pursuing and she, you know, humiliated you over and over for a decade, you wouldn’t say ‘This is the one,’ right?”

Knicks fans whom amNewYork spoke  with said that if there was any silver lining to the current crisis at Madison Square Garden, it’s that they haven’t encountered Nets fans who razz them … or really any Nets fans at all, which is reflected in the  Nets drawing the NBA’s lowest average attendance (14,941, well behind the ninth-ranked Knicks’ 19,002) this season.

People around these long-suffering fans have tried to solve the issue, often to no avail.

“My wife has asked me why I’m still a Knicks fan,” Rosenthal said. “But she’s not coming from a place of liking the Nets. She’s just like, ‘Why?’ Before the last game of the year, she was like, ‘Cool, you were depressed the entire season. Are you going to stop?’ I said, ‘Actually this summer, they’re going to get good.’ And her response to that was just, ‘You’ve said that four or five times since I’ve known you.’ ”

Even if the Knicks do have a great offseason, when they can fit two max-salary contracts onto their books and aim to attract some of the league’s top stars, or trade for All-Stars looking for a way out, Silverman sees trouble ahead.

“If they somehow put together a Big Three of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and then Anthony Davis, it’s going to go great," he said. "These three are people who will handle New York adversity extremely well. They are in no way extremely thin-skinned or mercurial at all. Everything the Knicks have ever done, all the Knicks look for, is a superstar who will be their savior. And it always fails. Always.”

Dave Colon