“While it is better to be loved than hated, it is also far better to be hated than ignored.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Nets are the NBA’s most loaded team, but also its most loathed.
Even before Kyrie Irving stomped on Lucky the Leprechaun, Brooklyn had been cast as basketball’s bad boys, as the league’s villains. They may be favored by Vegas, but they’re the least favorite almost everywhere else.
“I don’t know if we’re favored,” Nets owner Joe Tsai told The Post. “I saw a poll that says we’re the most hated team around the country.”
Tsai was referring to a recent BetOnline survey, where geotagged Twitter data gathered — including over 90,000 tweets that mentioned hating a particular team — found Brooklyn the most disliked NBA franchise.
“The combination of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden seems to have been enough to finally flip [the] country’s hatred of the Los Angeles Lakers,” BetOnline SportsBook brand manager Dave Mason said. “It’s interesting to see the New England area switch from being perennial Lakers haters to Nets haters, and Kyrie Irving probably has a lot to do with that.
“All in all, it’s safe to say that a lot people don’t like to see these teams win.”
In other words, not just any Big 3, but this Big 3. Milwaukee has a trio of stars (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton) but nowhere near the level of revulsion.
The Nets are getting the kind of hate usually reserved for blue-blooded royalty like the Lakers, despite having never won a crown and residing in the cellar as recently as 2016-17.
Not that they care.
“As far as how we’re viewed … just being here since March, everybody always wants to have a team to build up but also hate at the same time. There’s always that thing,” Blake Griffin said. “I don’t know that we pay that much attention to the villain aspect.
“We don’t take what everybody else is saying to heart. … So what’s being said doesn’t really bother us.”
Joe Harris has been around since the start of the rebuild. He remembers their NBA-worst 20-62 season and watches the narrative with amusement.
“All of it is definitely interesting to me,” Harris said with a chuckle. “You look over the span of the last five years … we went from being a team that was really an afterthought amongst everyone in the NBA to now this favorite, the villain, whatever you want to say.”
More like a supervillain. Imagine the reaction if Thanos and Darth Vader teamed up to kill Baby Yoda, Spider-Man and a bunch of puppies. That’s the level of venom the Nets are eliciting.
Which begs the question: Why?
Is it the narrative of buying a champion rather than growing one, trading for Harden and getting Griffin on the buyout market? Their perceived cavalier attitude toward the regular season? Being the picture of player empowerment?
Maybe all of the above. But some former players have a simpler answer.
“When you form a super team like that, teams are gonna root against you,” explained ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins, who played with all of the Nets’ Big 3 and said they’re a big reason they’re viewed as villains.
“A lot of people are not fans of Kyrie because of some of the things he says off the court. … Then you look at KD, a guy who’s not afraid to go back-and-forth with people on Twitter. He already has a history from when he joined the Golden State Warriors — a lot of people didn’t agree with that. And now he’s with Kyrie. They’re already kind of the villains.
“Then the way James Harden left Houston. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The way that he treated [Stephen] Silas — African-American coach that’d been in the game for 20-plus years and finally got an opportunity. The way he handled the situation and forced his way out. That’s why people look at them as the villains.”
Fellow ESPN analyst Jalen Rose, who also does a podcast for The Post, concurred.
“Perk is exactly right, they earned it. And this is why they actually wanted to play together to me: They want to prove that they can win it all their way,” Rose said. “They earned the villain role.”
Irving brought hate from the New England sector, first bolting Boston then stomping on the Celtics logo.
But for their part, the Nets are shrugging off the storyline.
“I don’t even know what that means, villains. … A lot of it is just narratives. People love to talk hoops and barbershop and whatever,” coach Steve Nash said. “It’s not like we did anything illegal. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, not try to add to our roster, and just sit pat? That’s the idea of this league is to try to put together the best team you can.”
They’ve done exactly that, even if they earned enmity with how they did it.
But after years of being an afterthought, Nets fans don’t mind.
Irina Pavlova, who was former Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s representative in Brooklyn — and led the GM search that found Sean Marks — suffered through the down years when nobody noticed the Nets enough to root against them.
She prefers this.
“Somehow being hated,” Pavolva tweeted, “feels so much better than being laughed at.”