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A professional sports team grows in Brooklyn -- again!

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz talks to the

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz talks to the media during a press conference announcing the Islanders' move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. (Oct 24, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

It was a seemingly simple, direct question: How old are you?

"I was 12 when they left,'' Marty Markowitz answered.

'Nuff said. The man is from Brooklyn, after all, and thus his meaning and his math were self evident. He was 12 in 1957, making him 67 now. Or, to put it another way, he has lived 55 years without a major pro team to call his own.

This was last Wednesday, hours after the Islanders announced they would move to Brooklyn no later than 2015 and eight days before the Nets' regular-season opener there.

"It's a personal high,'' Markowitz, the Borough President and Cheerleader-in-Chief, said of the prospect of filling the decades-old hole the Dodgers gouged when they departed. "Giddiness. Enthusiasm. I feel almost like a kid.

"I'm very joyful for Brooklyn; that's the best way to put it.''

But let's be frank: If the revival of major-league sports in the borough merely were about rallying old Dodgers fans behind the new home teams, there would not be much of a future in it. Most former Ebbets Field regulars either no longer live in Brooklyn or no longer are living.

"I dare say the overwhelming majority of people living in Brooklyn today weren't here when the Dodgers ruled,'' Markowtiz said. "But they will understand in the days to come how important your home team is to the psyche, to the pride of the residents of the borough.''

The challenge will be uniting a community that would have been difficult to imagine in 1957 -- or in 1997, for that matter. Brooklyn is a socioeconomic hodgepodge so diverse no mere sports team easily can tie it together.

But that process will be made easier by the fact borough pride -- and the borough brand -- never have been stronger. The Nets' logo and merchandise, designed by part-owner Jay-Z, have been a huge marketing success.

"You walk the streets of Brooklyn and you see a ton of young people wearing Nets hats and T-shirts already,'' said Ron Schweiger, the official Borough Historian and a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who is four days younger than Markowitz.

Schweiger even noted the increasing popularity of "Brook- lyn'' as a first name. "Who names their kid 'Manhattan' or says, 'Let's call him 'The Bronx?''' he asked.

One more thing from Schweiger: "GQ [Magazine] recently stated that Brooklyn is the coolest city on the planet.''

The "planet'' part was evident one afternoon last week as customers left the Nets Shop at Barclays Center.

The first to walk out bearing merchandise was Kristen Ray- mer . . . of Toronto. "It's neat, the whole story of the team moving here,'' she said. "It's kind of cool. We had to come check it out.''

The second was a man who identified himself only as Mark . . . of Amsterdam. "Manhattan?'' he said. "It's really nice to be in a movie set, but I prefer the lower buildings. Brooklyn is more like home. Obviously, I need to wear this [Nets cap] in Amsterdam.''

The third and fourth were Didier and Patricia Mathys . . . of Lausanne, Switzerland. "We came to Brooklyn to see the new arena,'' Patricia said. Said Didier: "It's an international attraction.''

The fifth was Paul Thompson . . . of The Bronx. "It's exciting,'' he said. "Their T-shirts, their hats, they're really nice. I came all the way down here to shop and see the arena . . . I'm a Knicks fan and Nets fan now. I am joining the bandwagon.''

Not everyone has climbed aboard. The arena rose after years of vigorous opposition by some in the neighborhood and now that it is here there are concerns about traffic, parking and the behavior of visitors after events.

"A lot of Brooklynites will never drive through downtown again,'' said Chuck Otey, 74, a consulting editor at the Bay Ridge Eagle newspaper and a borough resident since 1962.

As for residents in the immediate vicinity of Barclays, Otey recalled his experience living near Fenway Park long ago and said, "They're going to have a miserable life.''

The hope is the hassle will be offset by new business and social activity, including shops such as Brooklyn Rock, which opened last month on Flatbush Avenue and sells handmade T-shirts and other Brooklyn-themed souvenirs.

One of its mottos: "Brooklyn: Entertaining Manhattan Since 1646.''

"We are a mom-and-pop store,'' said Yukiko Wada, who owns the store with her husband, Chris Smith. They had been selling their wares at the DeKalb Market in recent years. "The landlord thought it would be a good match.''

The problem so far is most eventgoers head directly to the subway or Long Island Rail Road stations rather than explore the neighborhood.

Those train lines are among the biggest selling points of the arena, and the only reason it can exist in a car-unfriendly location that Walter O'Malley once hoped to use for a new Dodgers stadium.

As recently as 2006, only four of the metropolitan area's major pro teams were reachable directly by subway or commuter rail. When the Islanders move, every one of them will be.

It is the latest example of a trend that is reversing a previous generation's migration from city to suburbs. Brooklyn never really left as a home to millions, and yet somehow it is back.

That goes for young people such as Jonathan Yedin, a 28-year-old political consultant who grew up in Brooklyn as a Nets and Islanders fan because their tickets were more affordable than those of the Knicks and Rangers, and now finds his teams suddenly coming to him.

"It's amazing,'' he said. "I think this is a new chapter for Brooklyn.''

And, naturally, it goes for people who have lived in the borough since long before Yedin was born.

Despite his logistical concerns, Otey said, "This can be a very good thing for the overall Brooklyn spirit.''

Schweiger, whose basement is festooned with Dodgers memorabilia, insists the "Dodgers never moved, they're just on an extended road trip.''

Funny. But that sort of joke grows less relevant by the year, and perhaps will soon become officially obsolete -- maybe even by Saturday's opener.

Markowitz grew up two blocks from Ebbets Field and still can wax poetic about seeing the stadium lights from his apartment and about knowing whether the Dodgers won by the sounds of fans walking by after the game. But even he knows it is time to let go at last.

Said Markowitz: "The ghosts of Ebbets Field will be forever gone.''

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