Before June 30, John Atkinson had long felt like the outcast.
Among his New York friends, he’s the only Brooklyn Nets fan, one who proudly owns a black-and-white Jeremy Lin shirt-jersey and secretly wishes he was related to Coach Kenny Atkinson. He fell in love with Nets basketball watching Drazen Petrovic at the Meadowlands in 1992.
From his brownstone in the borough’s Fort Greene neighborhood, Atkinson can walk to Barclays Center — his buddies go to New York Knicks games in Manhattan — and inside that Brooklyn arena, the 38-year-old joins others who might feel like they’ve never been invited to sit at the Knicks’ lunch table.
Then NBA free agency started, and suddenly Atkinson became one of the cool kids.
The Nets quickly secured commitments from superstar free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Just as importantly, the Knicks did not.
“It feels so good,” said Atkinson, who traveled here to watch the Nets play in the NBA Summer League this week. “I took so much condescending bull[expletive] from Knicks fans over the past years. … ‘You’ll never be the real New York team! Ha ha!' That’s the best part about this [expletive].”
In both of the NBA’s biggest, most glamorous markets, the little guy won for once. Much like the Nets, the Los Angeles Clippers emerged victorious against their city rival in free agency after all franchises involved had cleared significant salary cap space to make a run at the top stars. On July 6, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers — not LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers — and even convinced Paul George, who was third in regular season MVP voting, to negotiate a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Staples Center’s other NBA tenant.