This column is also award-winning writer Frank Deford's weekly sports commentary on NPR.
Largely forgotten now, but there was a time when the mere mention of Brooklyn would produce a cascade of laughs. It was like saying "woman driver" -- surefire guffaws. Everybody from Brooklyn was supposed to be a character. Every platoon in every war movie had one wise guy from Brooklyn in it. Brooklyn natives spoke funny. They said, most famously, "youse guys." At a time when African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics barely existed, visibly, in movies or on radio or television, Brooklyn was the all-purpose stand-in for our great American ethnic diversity.
Brooklyn was also famous, sequentially, for two other things: number one, having the Dodgers; and, number two, losing the Dodgers. Whereas Brooklyn forfeited its status as a city when it was folded into New York in 1898, the year when it allegedly really lost its identity was 1957, when the beloved Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. It's a date that will live in ignominy. But the truth is that just about every American municipality has shared the same experience and had at least one of its teams stolen by another city. Even New York, LA, Chicago, Philly -- all the biggies -- have suffered that fate. Indeed, it's an ironic footnote that the only two old-line major league cities never to lose a major-league team are Detroit and Pittsburgh -- two typical rust-belt towns that have lost so much else.
So, hey, having a team stolen from your city is simply a way of sports life. So, too, is then stealing one from some other sucker city to get even. Except for Brooklyn. Brooklyn never got a team back, and so Brooklyn never forgot 1957 -- either that or people who wrote about Brooklyn wouldn't let Brooklyn forget about 1957. Get over it! And don't forget how much Brooklyn changed. There is the Brooklyn that Spike Lee has shown us in his movies, for example, and a gentrified Brooklyn where people who have never uttered "youse guys" in their lives exist in a cosmopolitan world that could be called a virtual Manhattan.
But only now has old man 1957 put down his scythe, for Brooklyn finally has a team again: the Nets. It only pinched it from over in Joisey, and it's basketball, not baseball. But at last Brooklyn, like Peter Pan, has crept into the franchise bedroom and stolen its shadow back. As befits the new, approved Brooklyn, the team is owned by a Russian billionaire and, starting its season next week, it will play in an arena named for a stylish British financial firm. The floor -- that is, you understand, the court -- will have a herringbone pattern. Could Brooklyn be the new fashion leader in basketball courts? Can tweed at Madison Square Garden or seersucker in Miami be far behind?
But above all, now Brooklyn has a franchise again, so leave us awready to stop whining about losin' da Dodjahs back in da day.