He visited Bushwick High School this week for a basketball clinic where he shot hoops, signed autographs, and posed for pictures with about 50 students
“Being that Brooklyn will be our home in a few years, it’s nice to get out here whenever I can,” said the third-year seven-footer.
Lopez, who is averaging nearly 20 points per game this season, is the face of the franchise and a cornerstone of its plans for the future.
The Nets won a league-worst 12 games last season and may have as much trouble winning over fans.
At Tuesday’s event, which was hosted by the U.S. Army to promote physical fitness, an informal poll of the crowd revealed that no one intended to switch allegiances from New York just yet.
“I think I’m a Knick fan for life,” said Keith Williams, a senior guard at Bushwick.
The Nets rank near the bottom of the standings once again this season but the team hopes its move to Brooklyn will reverse a tradition of mediocrity.
Construction on the team’s future home, the Barclay’s Center, a centerpiece of the Atlantic Yards development project in downtown Brooklyn, is expected to be completed in time for the 2012-2013 season.
“It looks great, it looks fantastic and it’s very exciting to hear that it’s on time,” Lopez said of the arena, which was delayed several years because of legal challenges from groups who oppose the construction.
The showdown for a slice of New York’s rabid fan base has raged for months.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov paid $200 million for a majority stake in the team and immediately raised the stakes on the New York Knicks, who for decades enjoyed a monopoly as the only NBA show in town.
First, Prokhorov hit close to home, erecting a massive Nets billboard across the street from the Knicks front offices at the Madison Square Garden. It drew enough ire from owner James Dolan to retaliate with its own billboard in Brooklyn a few months later.
Prokhorov struck again last month, executing a headline-stealing trade for Deron Williams, arguably the NBA’s top point guard, that did as much to improve his team as it did draw attention away from the Knicks acquisition of Carmelo Anthony a day earlier.
Brooklynites can expect to see a lot more of the Nets in the coming year as the 2012 season nears.
The team has focused much of its community outreach and charity in Brooklyn, including a Christmas gift giveaway at Brooklyn Borough Hall in December and plans for more player appearances in schools in the coming months.
“We want to get into the heart of Brooklyn,” said Nets spokesman Brad Aikins said. “This is going to be the place we’re calling home soon.”
Michael Smith, 18, a lifetime Nets fan, said that success is all it takes to win over fans. With Lopez and Deron Williams on one team, he said, they aren’t far off either.
“They are exciting and underrated,” Smith said. “Maybe next year they will make the playoffs.”