The New Jersey Nets don’t move to Brooklyn until next October, but one of the team’s stars couldn’t wait that long to take a look at his future home.
Nets center Brook Lopez toured the under-construction Barclays Center — but also liked what he saw beyond the rising steel skeleton at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Before visiting the arena, Lopez, Nets GM Billy King and Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner chowed down at Bark on Bergen Street one block away. Despite a sling from last week’s surgery to remove bone mass, Lopez was able to down one of the joint’s special, organic, free-range, grass-fed, hand-massaged hot dogs and fries.
But Bark owner Josh Sharkey said King and Ratner enjoyed their meals even more.
“King had a hot dog and a sandwich, and then came back for another one,” Sharkey said. “Ratner had a good time, had a hot dog and some baked beans.”
Word spread quickly that a real, live NBA player was in the vicinity, and Nets fans crowded the restaurant to take photos and get autographs. Lopez was happy to oblige, and was surprised by all the attention.
“He didn’t think people would recognize him in Brooklyn,” said Nets Vice President Barry Baum.
Then, en route to Barclays Center, Lopez took a detour to Bergen Street Comics to buy some merchandise and shake hands with other customers.
“Great to see someone on the Nets is a comics fan,” said store owner Tom Adams. “He even knew that new comics come out on Wednesdays.”
The trio resumed course toward Barclays Center, but not without fans shouting from passing cars and running from stores into the street, some already sporting unofficial “Brooklyn Nets” jerseys.
Finally at the construction site, Lopez was in awe.
“He said he’s excited about the whole process of building an arena, and the engineering that it takes,” Baum said.
The arena is on schedule for a grand opening in September, 2012.
Starkey said he can’t wait.
“The arena is definitely positive for us,” Sharkey said. “It’s going to be a big improvement for the area.”