It had been 17 long months since I last attended a Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center.
That game had been on a rainy day in December 2019, when I went to Atlantic Avenue to see our Brooklyn faithful take on the Miami Heat.
It was an exciting game. The Nets scored a lot of points as usual. The Heat, including Jimmy Butler, put a dagger in the heart of fans as usual, handing Brooklyn a 109-106 loss.
Afterward, my mom and I ran to Shake Shack, talking about how fun the game was despite the loss. We started to make plans to go to another game in 2020, maybe even a playoff game. Of course, due to COVID-19, that never happened.
Which brings us to today. On May 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that both the Nets and New York Knicks would offer vaccinated fans sections, which significantly increased allowed capacity inside the arena. This gave more fans the chance to root for their teams.
He also decided that more than 50 percent of the seats at Barclays would be reserved for fully vaccinated fans at the playoff games.
The team had already made a limited number of tickets available for fans and spectators earlier in the year, starting Tuesday, Feb. 23. Free COVID tests were offered, but you needed to carve out time. Not to mention that fewer seats equaled more money.
But more recently, when it was made clear that the arena had entire sections cleared for vaccinated fans, more seats meant the prices dropped.
The Nets also did right by their vaccinated fans by offering 50 percent off a ticket using a promo code HARDEN in honor of their all-star point guard. That made a ticket worth more than $100 much more affordable, even with outrageous fees from ticketing services.
It was too good a chance to pass up. I bought the ticket that Thursday for the May 22 game against the Boston Celtics.
I still pondered whether I’d sell it, but the fan in me knew that wasn’t happening. I was ready to let loose and have a good time cheering on a team bursting with talent. I’d never seen Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant or James Harden play live. It was worth the trepidation I had.
I got to the arena early. The game started at 8 p.m. and there I was at 6:30 p.m. since I expected a huge line and a great hassle. Much to my surprise, it was the easiest experience I’d had entering a sporting event in decades. As long as you had your COVID vaccination card, you were golden. In a mere five minutes, I was back in the friendly confines with the team’s traditional T-shirt giveaway which boasts the catch phrase of that year. This time, it was “Nets Level.”
A lot changed, due to several protocols. Signs asked fans to stay masked. There were tons of places to sanitize your hands. Several of the vendors were closed, while others served different items. The bar was closed. But it quickly started to feel like home again.
Barclays debuted Brooklyn Style, the new official retail store for the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, the same day.
Inside the spacious store, one thing was clear. Fans were ready to try normal again. Fans, all wearing masks, bought T-shirts and jerseys of their favorite players. The cheerleaders, the Brooklynettes, were posing with fans who wanted pictures.
The distinct smell of the arena was the same. The music was blasting. And once I made my way to my seat, I knew I was witnessing history.
The usher explained to fans in our section, still wearing masks, that we were allowed to take them off in the section. However, they had to put them back on when in the concourse. Most took off the masks, which was jarring for me since I’ve worn a mask at every event since March 2020. Some fans decided to keep them on.
Despite the early confusion, once the crowd of over 14,000 chanted, “Brooklyn!,” New York sports finally felt normal.
Yes, both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium have allowed fans in the ballparks and played many, many games. However, up to now the, state has been a bit conservative in its capacity allowance. It appears that will change in June, as both baseball teams will expand capacity thanks to vaccinated sections.
But because of the expanded capacity in Barclays, this was the first time New York sports felt right. Brooklyn fans get a reputation for not being loud or passionate. That’s the cost of being the new kids where the Knicks will probably always steal the headlines.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night. Fans were excited to finally see the promise of their star team come together right in front of them. Most importantly, fans were ready to get back to concentrating on their passion.
Barclays Center announced that Game One had 14,391 fans in the stands, making it the biggest indoor event in the city since the pandemic started.
The Nets prevailed, beating the Celtics 104-93, completing a night that was worth the worry. It gave me an indication that there truly is light at the end of this dark tunnel.
“Our fans are loud, they were there early, they gave us an advantage,” Durant told the press after the game. “It was weird because we haven’t seen them all season.”