SBD/April 24, 2012/Franchises

Sellout Crowd In Newark Says Goodbye To Nets As Club Gets Set For Brooklyn

Nets lose final home game in New Jersey to 76ers in front of sellout crowd

The Nets, who are moving to Brooklyn next season, "hardly engendered fealty through their" 35 years in New Jersey, so even last night’s "going away party was streaked with an ironic twist," according to Mike Vorkunov of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. A franchise "accustomed to playing in half-full arenas and barely-there crowds [was] finally received by a sold-out Prudential Center, if only, because they came to say goodbye." Those on hand for the Nets' loss to the 76ers "were taken through a feel-good march through the franchise’s yesteryears." The Nets had "always been on shaky ground and their departure has been expected, for the latter part of the last decade." The team "had trouble filling seats" in '02 and '03, when they went to the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons but registered the 26th and 23rd best attendance figures in the league. At Izod Center or Prudential Center, an audience "was hard to come by." So the fanbase consisted of a "small army of devoted souls." Meanwhile, the move to Brooklyn, with "dreams of grandeur, still has its question marks" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/24). In N.Y., Fred Kerber writes the past was "in evidence last night, on the floor, on the scoreboard, in the stands." But the future, "specifically Brooklyn, was on everyone’s mind." There were 15 "stars and execs of the past at halftime." Former PA announcer Gary Sussman was "back at the mike," and former Owner Lewis Katz "was on hand" (N.Y. POST, 4/24). 
 
BITTERSWEET MOMENT: Former NBAer Derrick Coleman said, "Knowing that (the franchise) is not going to be here anymore, it’s definitely a sad day. Just for the people here in the state of New Jersey. ... It’s never going to be the same because it’s not here in Jersey." In New Jersey, Andy Vasquez writes things "never worked out in Jersey, and this final injury ravaged season was no exception." But last night, it "felt different." The fans in the building were "real Nets fans for a change." There were "fathers wearing weathered Nets hats, and sons wearing youth Nets jerseys." There were "throwback jerseys galore." And the chants "pulling for the Nets, even though they were down for most the game, never slowed down." For one more night, "at least, the Nets felt like they belonged in Jersey" (Bergen RECORD, 4/24). Former NBAer Kenny Anderson said the Nets leaving for Brooklyn is “bittersweet." Anderson: "You don't want to see a team leave New Jersey. ... A lot of the fans of New Jersey were like, ‘How are we going to go over there to see the team?’ It's so bad they don't want to make the ride over there now." He added, "It's going to be a honeymoon for the first two years over in Brooklyn ... but if they don't put no good product on the floor and get one or two stars to play with them and win, then eventually, it's not going to work. They're not going to sell out; they’re not going to have a good attendance” ("NBA GameTime," NBA TV, 4/23).

CHANGE WAS INEVITABLE: In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes the "truth is New Jersey and the Nets were never perfect together." Bruce Springsteen has "always been the main act; the Nets always a sideshow." Cannizzaro: "Maybe, after all these years of nomadic existence in Jersey, the Nets will finally find a true home. Maybe the Nets and Brooklyn will be perfect together" (N.Y. POST, 4/24). SI.com's Jack McCallum wrote the "excitement never happened, the Jersey charm never kicked in, and Nets fever was never an epidemic." The franchise "deserves better and perhaps it will find a welcoming home in Brooklyn" (SI.com, 4/23). Nets coach Avery Johnson "understands that fans might be disappointed." But he called the move to Brooklyn "a new chapter in Nets basketball." Johnson: "It's one that's been coming for awhile. We feel we have ownership that's going to spend all the necessary resources for us to become a perennial playoff team" (ESPN.com, 4/23).

GOOD RIDDANCE: The AP's David Porter notes the "typically blunt" N.J. Gov. Chris Christie "kicked things off roughly four hours before the tipoff when he said he would shed no tears over the departure of the Nets." Christie said, "My message to them is, goodbye. You don't want to stay, we don't want you." He added, "That's one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it's in one of the country's most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance, see you later. I think there'll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, 'This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different'" (AP, 4/24). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes Christie's comments were "too simple, too arrogant." The state will "miss the Nets and the zaniness they brought." Memories are "short when no championships are won." Besides, the Nets have played in four different New Jersey arenas in their history -- Teaneck, Piscataway, East Rutherford and Newark. The crowd demographics "changed along with the venues" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/24). The Newark Star-Ledger's Steve Politi wrote, "To those who say the Nets are not leaving a market. I've lived in NJ most of my life. Been to Brooklyn 5-6 times" (TWITTER.com, 4/23).

HISTORY OF STRUGGLES: ESPN N.Y.'s Ohm Youngmisuk wrote during the majority of their 35 seasons in New Jersey, the Nets "seemed to be up against more stuff than any other NBA franchise." They seemed to be "cursed from the moment they sold Dr. J" to the 76ers in '76. The past three-plus decades have been filled with "enough drama to make the Nets the longest-running NBA reality show before there were even reality shows on TV." They would have "exciting spurts and tease fans from time to time before something bad would inevitably happen" (ESPN.com, 4/23). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro writes, "Residual irritation, perhaps -- the nagging sense that if this Nets organization was somehow managed better, if it generated an esprit de corps, if it was embraced with a genuine spirit and supported by the political forces who liked the game as much as the rest of us, it never would have come to this point." But it is "not like the Nets are leaving the time zone -- it’s a closer schlep to Brooklyn than it is to Flushing, as Mets fans can tell you -- so this is not a life-altering transition" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/24). In N.Y., Stefan Bondy notes TNT's Shaquille O'Neal, a Newark native, has been "working with Mayor Corey Booker to bring an NBA team to the Prudential Center, hoping a team like the Timberwolves, Bobcats, Grizzlies or Bucks will relocate." But the Nets "haven’t provided a shining precedent." They have "struggled on the court and at the box office during their two-season stay in Newark. The Nets were "last in attendance heading into" the team's home finale (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/24).

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