Fifty-five years after the Brooklyn Dodgers split, pro sports are back — and the Nets are ballin’ in the borough.
Mix a nomadic and not-very-successful NBA team with a hip-hop ?mogul (as in Jay-Z), a Russian billionaire, a dogged developer, an economic collapse, obsessive opponents and years of litigation, and what do you get?
You get the Brooklyn Nets, baby, the New York City borough’s first professional sports team since Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges and the Brooklyn Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles after the 1957 season (an act of betrayal that still rankles older Brooklynites). And you get the Barclays Center, a $1 billion arena plunked down amid considerable controversy at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues in Brooklyn, which GQ magazine recently dubbed “the coolest city on the planet.”
“The curse of O’Malley is being lifted,” ?exults Nets part-owner and Barclays developer (and majority owner) Bruce Ratner, referring to the team owner who moved the Dodgers to L.A. “Brooklyn is a comeback borough, and this arena is a come-from-?behind story. That’s the American way.”
“Long, strange trip” is a cliché, but it perfectly describes the seven-year odyssey of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, where they opened the NBA season earlier this month in a game against their rivals across the river, the New York Knicks. Born more than 40 years ago, the Nets franchise holds a .434 lifetime ?winning ?percentage. The Nets reached the NBA ?Finals in 2002 and 2003, losing both times, and the team has not made the playoffs for the past five seasons.
The Nets’ new home base, the 19,000-seat Barclays Center, will host beaucoup entertainment events (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Who, Justin Bieber, et al) in addition to Nets games. It’s also the anchor of Ratner’s planned Atlantic Yards mega-development, which currently is behind schedule and calls not only for an arena but 16 commercial and residential buildings with thousands of units of low-income housing. Reasons for the slower-than-anticipated progress include the post-2008 economic collapse and delays caused by numerous lawsuits intended to scuttle the project. Ratner received a much-needed cash infusion for the arena two years ago when he sold a reported 80-percent stake in the Nets and a 45-?percent stake in Barclays to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
But that troubled past is just a distant bad dream to Brett Yormark, CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center. Yormark, a sports-marketing dynamo who revitalized NASCAR before coming to the Nets in 2005, is a hard-charging perpetual optimist who actually believes the Nets’ rocky road to the Barclays Center is, forgive the pun, a net plus.