“If you build it, they will come.”–Ray Liotta, “Field of Dreams” (1993)
On Nov. 1, the new Brooklyn Nets will officially welcome a sellout crowd of more than 18,000 to their first regular season game in the brand-new $1 billion Barclays Center. And on that night, pro hoops will take on a brand-new look in New York.
The new Nets’ opponents on the historic opening night of the 2012-13 season will be the old New York Knicks. For the record, the Nets clearly dominated their crosstown rivals from 2001-2007 with a 20-4 record. Back in 2003-04–after making the NBA Finals two straight years–the surging Nets easily swept the Knicks four in a row in the first round of the playoffs.
But this isn’t about the Knicks. No way. This is about the Nets–the pro basketball team the whole town and much of sports-happy America is still talking about at the height of the baseball season and with pro football just around the corner.
Yet, the 2011-12 season was the Nets’ fifth straight with no playoffs. Decimated by injuries, they had a league-leading total of 248 games missed. They lost leading scorer Brook Lopez and five others for the year, used 33 total players and fielded 25 different starting lineups. A few highlight wins aside, it was a drag.
That was then and this is now. These days, the Nets are all-in for Brooklyn, where they will be the first major league team to represent the fabled borough since the beloved Dodgers split for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Bankrolled by Russia’s flamboyant Mikhail Prokhorov–the richest owner in pro sports–and buoyed by a bold, black-and-white color scheme and their spanking-new arena, the future is bright.
At this writing, Prokhorov has dedicated a whopping $81.8 million in salaries for the coming season–the third most in the NBA after the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. And with only 13 players signed out of a possible 15, the total will go higher.
The Nets’ Brooklyn-bound status was first publicly touted by a huge, 80-by-60-foot billboard in Times Square of recently resigned superstar point guard Deron Williams, an Olympic gold medalist. After years of careful planning, the Nets leave their checkered yet eventful New Jersey past for the future in heavily populated Brooklyn.
As soon as the team played its last home game in Newark on April 23, visitors to its website were greeted by a welcome page with a black background, an outline of the new logo and the Twitter hashtag #hellobrooklyn in white lettering underneath it. On April 30, the team officially ended 35 years in the Garden State and began using the #hellobrooklyn campaign on billboards with the black-and-white colors replacing the red, white and blue sported since its American Basketball Association days. “Hello Brooklyn” posters with photos of Williams, center Brook Lopez, guard Joe Johnson and forward Gerald Wallace are all over the storied borough, including subway stops.
A prime goal is to attract a solid new fan base and turn a large number of Knicks’ fans in Brooklyn into Nets’ fans via the newest, best venue in pro sports featuring fantastic sightlines. Moreover, the billion-dollar facility is easily accessible by nine subway lines.
Of equal importance, it’s almost certain the team will be welcomed by a new, rabid fan base in the braggadocio borough of 2 million people. Many of these are longtime residents of Brooklyn eager to once again have a big league sports team to call their own.
With the Nets and New York in mind, here is some of what I wrote in my Amsterdam News column of Nov. 6, 2003, almost nine years ago:
“Just around the corner is the very real, high-profile possibility that the New Millennium Nets will move back to New York from whence they came. In point of fact, the colorful New York Nets of the 1970s–the heyday of the gone but fondly remembered American Basketball Association–had it going on.
“Those Nets played with a red, white and blue ball and were led to ABA titles in 1974 and 1976 by the amazing Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving, whose individual feats of magic continued into the ’80s with the Philadelphia 76ers and, in my view, skunked what Michael Jordan later did.
“Of course, in one of the dumbest deals ever pulled off in pro sports–even dumber than those pulled by dumb-and-dumber James Dolan and Scott Layden of today’s hapless Knicks–the Nets sold the nonpareil Dr. J to the Sixers. And I still can’t believe it.”
In other cost-cutting measures some 30 years later, Nets owner Bruce Ratner ruined his fine team by first sending Kenyon Martin to Denver, then Jason Kidd to Dallas, Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee and Vince Carter to Orlando. I can’t believe that either.
But today, there is Brooklyn. And from a player’s standpoint, the Barclays Center is the cat’s meow. According to Williams–the best point guard in the NBA who has stopped by the arena on a number of occasions–it’s a “baller’s paradise.”
Finally, the Brooklyn Nets’ loaded roster is being viewed in a new light by canny observers in sports media and executives of other teams. The consensus is the Nets will make the playoffs this year, could win the Eastern Conference and may even become NBA champs.
Bottom line: The battle for local pro hoops supremacy starts Nov. 1, with the new Brooklyn Nets vs. the old New York Knicks. Get it on! And that’s the name of that tune.