Will this man in his “Republic of Brooklyn” shirt, this filmmaker who made the borough of his childhood a living, breathing character in six movies over 26 years, now forsake his beloved and root for the Brooklyn ?
shoots a sideways glance suggesting the reporter is guilty of early morning drug use.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time people ask me that — I could finance another film,” he says. “No, no and no. Can’t do that. Can’t.
“I am orange and blue, baby,” he says in reference to the colors of the Knicks. “Orange and blue.”
Suburban nomads, the Nets will open in Downtown Brooklyn in the fall after a 46-year Off Broadway run on Long Island and in New Jersey.
Fans, united for generations behind the New York Knicks however dispiriting the ownership (James Dolan, please report to the courtesy desk), the team or the lack of victories, have an alternative. Dislike the peevish fashion in which Mr. Dolan discarded point guard Jeremy Lin? Embarrassed that Knicks management saw fit to drop confetti to celebrate that the team won a game — a single, solitary, first-round game — against the Miami Heat?
You can switch.
Sports loyalties are splendidly irrational, and rarely surrendered. And a glowering Knicks versus Nets rivalry comes laden with subtext: There is a shift in the perceived hipness quotient from Manhattan to Brooklyn, not to mention complications of class, race, gentrification and borough identity. If you look hard enough, there’s probably a foodie subtext.
We asked Mr. Lee, 55, to ruminate on all this. He came of age within a few hundred yards of the Nets’ new arena; he helped establish a black artistic renaissance in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in the 1980s; and he remains the personification of the utterly mad Knicks fan.
Mr. Lee talked while sitting atop the outdoor stairs that rise at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, looking south at the caffeinated nuttiness of Times Square. Surrounded by tourists, in his Yankees cap and lime-green neon sneakers, he is a celebrity hiding in plain sight.
He waves his arms at the scene. (Caution: The difficulty for a writer bound by The New York Times’s style is that Spike Lee is gorgeously fluent in New Yorkese, including our birthright use of a certain four-letter word as verb, noun, adjective and adverb.)
“The diversity of this place is great,” he says. “But if every” New Yorker “is a millionaire, then New York City is going to suck!”
Mr. Lee lived in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill as a child. Then his mother, the family real estate visionary, bought a brownstone in Fort Greene for the princely sum of $40,000.
“Real estate people, they didn’t want to say Fort Greene back then. They’d call it ‘Brooklyn Heights vicinity.’ ”
He cackles. Gentrification and its discontents are never-ending New York obsessions; why shy away?
“I want everyone to live together in peace and harmony,” he says. “But let’s be honest, sometimes white folks move into Harlem, move into Bed-Stuy, and Fort Greene, and ‘Bogart’ like they’ve been there forever.
“That’s that Christopher Columbus” stuff, he says. “You can’t act like you been there forever.”
He chuckles again. “Although I will concede the garbage pickup in Fort Greene is a lot better since they moved in.”
Mr. Lee is about to release “Red Hook Summer,” yet another of his Brooklyn films that explore religion, race, gentrification and sex in the, God help it, ever more hip neighborhood of Red Hook. With a commanding performance by as a Baptist preacher, it is the sort of ambitious, dangerous and self-financed film that fewer filmmakers attempt anymore.
Most of the film’s action takes place in the public houses, ringed on all sides by gentry. “Tell me where people move when they get pushed out? After you get to Coney Island, it’s the Atlantic Ocean. What they going to do, put public houses on stilts out there?”
Enough ruminating. Mr. Lee is yelling at four young people sitting on the stairs. “Hey, y’know, you wearing that Chicago Cubs shirt — how can you wear that [unprintable word].”
The youths turn around, startled, then laughing.
“All I know,” Mr. Lee continues, smiling broadly, “is that it’s 19-[unprintable word]-08 since the Cubs won the World Series!”
They offer him a Cubs shirt. He recoils in mock horror. “Can’t take a Cubs shirt, no way.”