April 12, 2022 was a sunny Tuesday morning in New York. During the eight o’clock hour rush hour commuters were riding subway trains bound for Manhattan. One N train approaching the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn probably contained more than a few Nets fans looking forward to that night’s play-in game at Barclay’s Center where they would later host the Cleveland Cavaliers for the chance to officially lock down a playoff slot.
September 11, 2001 was a similarly gorgeous Tuesday morning , and one suspects similar thoughts of Mets fans dreaming about how a late season resurgence might actually catapult them to their third consecutive post-season for the first time in their history as they crawled toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with the Twin Towers in their sights.
And then their lives passed in front of their eyes and they didn’t make into Manhattan that day. No, thankfully yesterday’s shooting incident that left 10 passengers seriously wounded after 62-year-old Frank James donned a gas mask, detonated a smoke canister and fired 33 shots into a subway car in an incoherent rage did not have the level of human carnage that the 9/11 attacks produced. And, so far, no lives have been lost. But it was the most destructive shooting incident in the history of the New York City subway system and it has incited new levels of heightened anxiety in a city still reeling from the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and economic disaster.
So while in 2001 it took ten days before attention could be turned to sports to calm frayed nerves and reassure people that there are still some positives in life, opportunity existed for the Nets to finally take hold of their turbulent season and perhaps give New Yorkers, particularly Brooklynites, something to cheer about. And they indeed did.
Mike Piazza, make way for Kyrie Irving in the folk hero pantheon. As we know, Piazza’s late home run against the first place Braves gave the Mets an emotional 3-2 win, kept their playoff hopes alive and allowed New York to cheer openly again. These days, Kyrie perhaps best embodies the challenge of even living in New York these days. In a contract year that began as the city teetered backward toward reopening with the advent of Delta and Omicron he took the controversial stand of refusing to be vaccinated, which coupled with injury rehab delayed his season debut to January, and initially only on the road. With fellow superstar Kevin Durant battling his own injuries, few games with both available even took place outside of Brooklyn. At their nadir, the Nets were seeded as low as 10th and hovering around .500. But last month embattled new mayor Eric Adams, an avowed Nets fan and Brooklyn native, lifted the indoor vaccination mandate for performers just in time for the post-season run. And last night, with both KD and Kyrie healthy, the Nets did indeed secure the #7 slot in the East with a 115-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie opened the game with a 9-for-9 first half from the field and 20 points. Durant then took over, led the way with 36 points, and Brooklyn cheered.
They needed to.
Now the Nets can sit back and look forward to a showdown series with the Boston Celtics. The Celtics lost their imposing defensive presence Robert Williams III late in the regular season, and while they beat the Nets in three of four games this season they beat a Nets team that was not constituted like this one is. And there is the further emotional roller coaster potential of their own defensive standout, Ben Simmons, making his season and team debut in the series, which could have a material impact on their scoring star, Jayson Tatum, who needed a 54-point superhuman effort to beat them in their last meeting.
Frank James will likely be brought to justice soon, and the N train is already up and running again. This was no 9/11 to be sure. But Kyrie rising to the occasion on the evening of a day like 4/12 was exactly the shot in the arm the city and Nets fans needed.
That tree that grows in Brooklyn just shot up a few more inches this morning.