You wonder how the Prince of Culture spends his private moments Tuesday, in his office at the HSS training facility, rocking out of the Gowanus Canal. It was a busy morning for Sean Marks, who, as a curfew enforcement high school coach, had to dismiss his star player, then answer and explain it.
Marx and the Nets did what they had to do, most notably Kyrie Irving, who was not a man for as long as he chose to keep his arms free of the Kovid-19 vaccine. In truth, that was the easiest part of his day.
The difficult thing sometimes comes in the quiet moments of solitude, which he sometimes has to ask himself: is everything worth it?
The Crown Prince of Culture, you may recall, emigrated from San Antonio to Brooklyn, where more poems and pens were written about Spursway than a lifetime of starving basketball junkie. He promised the Nets would not look to win more basketball games.
“There is a right way to succeed,” he said shortly after arriving on the ship in 2016. “I have a strong belief in it. If you like it, call it culture, though I’m tired of that word. I think you should surround yourself with people who have a vision of what you do and then give them time to breathe into your belief system.
And here’s the thing:
Given time to breathe, Marx’s blueprint really worked. He was hired as Wingman Ken Atkinson, the first head coach, who believed in a pure basketball democracy, who taught Marks Way, the Nets Way, and the advanced group as a boundaryless and slow playoff team.
The first full tenure of the Marx / Atkinson partnership was tough on the senses: 20-62, and by the end of the year you were surprised to see the “20” on the left side of the hyphen. But they were getting players and developing players, and they were slowly becoming fun to follow: 28-54 in Year 2, and then 42-40 in 2018-19, a little bit ahead of schedule with a playoff slot.
“It’s fun to work every day,” said Atkinson, who was heavily favored by the Sixers 111-102 in their first playoff game, after being confirmed as the first of many highlights of that era. “They all want to grow and learn together. It’s easy to train such guys.”
The players weren’t superstars but they were tough and enjoying playing together and getting better all the time: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen. You can build on that promise from that source. Marx had done what he promised: he made the traps look out and man, was he coming?
Then happened July 1, 2019.
And see: it is absurd to argue what Marx decided to do when Kevin Durant was interested in hanging up his shingle at Barclays Center. With Bum Achilles, Durant was one of the two greatest players on the planet, despite a year of rehabilitation. And he needs Brooklyn, not Manhattan. He needs the Nits, not the Knicks.
But he also needed other things: he needed a crossroads; That’s how Irving became Net. He needs a voice on how things should be in Brooklyn, and Atkinson became X-Net 62 games in 2019-20. There are not a lot of athletes who deserve such privileges. Durant was one.
So the prince of culture blew up the blueprint.
He might have won the title last year if Irving’s ankle didn’t explode in the Milwaukee series or Durant’s foot was one and a half smaller. But he didn’t win the award last year. Irving could not be healthy. James Harden couldn’t stay healthy. The Bucks became aces in Game 7, and a month later they were marching on Knapp Street and Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
“I can’t wait for next year already,” said Durant, lofty of defeat.
And he can still do it without Irving. Or circumstances may change, protocols may change, and missing personnel may return. Or is this great experiment terribly wrong for the Dust bin of good ideas?
“The hope is,” Marks said, “we’ve got Kairi back in a lot of different situations.”
He said that in public. Privately, you wonder if he missed the old blueprint, when Marx threw him under the bus in Atkinson’s back pocket. You’d be surprised if the Crown Prince of Culture wants to get back to that culture hard by the Gowanus Canal.