A year ago on Tuesday, Brett Yormark, chief executive of the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball team, was watching his team play its first game in its new home after a move from New Jersey to New York. Twelve months on, and the 10-mile move to Brooklyn now looks inspired, with an expensively assembled “super-team” of stars, playing in front of bigger audiences in a new arena. “In every respect the move has been transformational,” Mr Yormark tells the BBC News website. “We have moved a few miles but we could have moved to the other side of the country, such is the difference. We got more buy-in from New York people than we expected. “The resources we have at our disposal are now so different.”
Mikhail Prokhorov was in Brooklyn to attend the Nets playoff games vs. the Bulls, but at the same time, his foundation, the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund, was pushing culture, promoting the fund’s three-year long cultural exchange with the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The exchange is being produced by Prokhorov’s sister, Irina Prokhorova, often described as one of Russia’s leading intellectuals.
Through five NBA championship drives and 14 All-Star seasons, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant had seen just about everything. But when he stepped to the free throw line Tuesday night with1:19 to play in the first half of L.A.’s 92-83 win over the Nets, he got something new. Rising up from out of the crowd was a familiar “M-V-P!” chant. He hears it all the time at Staples Center. Never in an opponents’ building. And the serenade began again late as he made three big plays – two on offense and one on defense – to carry the Lakers to victory in his first game in Brooklyn. “From my perspective it was pretty damn cool,” Bryant said. “I enjoyed it immensely.”
With the Battle of the Boroughs, Part III, taking place this past week, it only seems fitting that “The Association” would follow Nets power forward and Manhattan resident Kris Humphries around as he seeks support within New York Knicks’ “territory.” Hump also talks about the ups and downs of the season, and what it feels like now that the team has lost eight of their last 10 games.
Tinsley had extra motivation to get to the hotel quickly: Jamaal Jr., his 8-year-old son, and other family members. “They were at the hotel waiting,” he said, “and I knew he wasn’t going the right direction, so I was just trying to help him out.”
The Jazz’s drive from the airport to Brooklyn on Monday was uneventful. Getting to the hotel was another story. “We took a tour of the arena twice,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, laughing. Translation: The bus driver got lost. Fortunately, the Jazz happened to have a living Brooklyn-savvy GPS system on the bus with them: Tinsley. “He was kind of lost,” the Jazz backup point guard said, smiling. “He made about two left turns the wrong way and two right turns …” Those right turns weren’t so right, after all. “We could’ve been to the hotel a half-hour (earlier),” Tinsley recalled. “I thought we were staying at another hotel. I thought they knew something I didn’t know.”
For Marv, athletes are slowly being stripped of their mysticism. Marv didn’t become a suck-up, the announcer who gleans a few “scoops” for a lifetime as the athlete’s unofficial wingman. It’s more like he made players into his co-conspirators. “Kenny Sears’s stale jokes put the other players to sleep,” Marv wrote in the Lincoln Log in 1957. Now, fast-forward three decades. Remember when Michael Jordan hit six first-half 3-pointers in the ’92 Finals and gave that I-can’t-believe-it-either shrug? It’s often forgotten that the guy he was shrugging at — his co-conspirator, you might say — was the NBC announcer whom he liked so much that he’d feel hurt if he didn’t get asked for an interview. The guy MJ was shrugging at was Marv.
Three reasons why tonight’s Celtics-Nets game is an extremely big deal: 1. This is the first game Marv Albert — who was born in Brooklyn, as Marvin Aufrichtig, in 1941 — has ever called in his home borough. 2. That’s big on your basic, local-boy-makes-good level. 3. That’s big beyond that level, because hometowns aren’t simple things. Brooklyn, for example, is where young Marv taught himself play-by-play. But Brooklyn is also the accent he spent years trying to lose. It’s where his first surname, Aufrichtig, was taken away. Marv, in other words, is something more complex than Marty Markowitz. If we study the things Marv took from Brooklyn, and the things he had to leave behind, then we can see the formation of the man who will inevitably unleash a “Yes!” tonight.
Christie scoffed at the team’s decision to choose New York over New Jersey. “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?” he asked. “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.'”
Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t have any fond farewells in store for the Nets, who play their final game in New Jersey tonight before the franchise moves to Brooklyn. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight,” he said during a press conference at Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, “and my message to the Nets is, ‘Goodbye.'”
As the state hosts its last Nets game on Monday, fans (at least those who admitted as much) are resigned to the end of New Jersey basketball. There are some who are angry, some who are wistful and others who think Brooklyn will provide a better home for their unloved baby. “I am a die-hard Jersey fan; I love everything about Jersey,” said Paul Zarrillo, 70, a season-ticket holder from Greenwood Lake, who watched the Nets lose to the Knicks at the Prudential Center in Newark last week. “But I don’t know that we deserve it. Even when we had the great teams, we didn’t sell out that much. We basically have ourselves to blame.”
Mourning had chided Martin for not working hard, for hiding in the training room, crying “my ankle, my ankle.” Martin responded, cruelly, “My kidney, my kidney,” in reference to the transplant Mourning had received. It was pure Nets nuttiness, which ranged from comic to tragic. “You always wondered, What if?” Turetzky said. What if Larry Brown hadn’t left, or if Richardson had stayed clean, or if Taub had listened in 1991 to Willis Reed, his general manager, and endorsed the drafting of the intimidating center Dikembe Mutombo over Kenny Anderson? What if Petrovic had never driven on the autobahn?
Months after Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, the New Jersey Nets ignited a blast of their own at what was then known as the Rutgers Athletic Center. Timing it to a visit by the Portland Trail Blazers — a franchise based about 50 miles southwest of the volcano — the Nets commemorated the event by handing out key chains filled with authentic Mount St. Helens ash. So they thought, or claimed. The architect of the stunt was the team’s promotions manager, Howard Freeman, who had commissioned a local school’s shop class to build a six-foot papier-mâché volcano. “We had traded for Maurice Lucas the year before from Portland, and he said he had a bunch of Mount St. Helens ash,” Freeman said in a recent interview. “Honestly, it could have come from his fireplace, for all we knew.” Triggered by a hired dwarf wielding a fire extinguisher loaded with a chemical compound, the makeshift volcano discharged without a hitch during halftime of a Nets overtime victory on Feb. 20, 1981. It was, in retrospect, perfect imagery for the Nets’ 35-year run in New Jersey, which will end on Monday night at Prudential Center in Newark. Many eruptions, little fallout on a largely indifferent fan base.
The Brooklyn Nets will be official by the weekend. NBA owners will vote to approve both the move to Brooklyn and the nickname, Brooklyn Nets, in the Board of Governors meetings on Thursday and Friday. The approval — a foregone conclusion considering there’s a $1 billion arena sprouting in Brooklyn — will be followed in the coming weeks by announcements revealing the logo and the uniform.
There’ll be no drunken fans at the new Nets arena if activists have their way. More than a 100 people showed up at a Brooklyn community board meeting last night to demand Prohibition-style limits on booze at the Nets’ new Barclays Center, which opens in September. Many neighbors fear that up to 18,000 boozed-up patrons will wreak havoc as they spill out of the arena after games. Some demanded that alcohol sales end at halftime — although every other NBA arena lets fans buy drinks until the start of the fourth quarter.
An arena grows in Brooklyn, as you can see in the photo below. The Nets released it this morning, announcing that construction is on schedule and the Barclays Center is scheduled to open Sept. 28. Of course, there is no word yet on whether Dwight Howard and Deron Williams will be playing together in Brooklyn next season. The Nets remain the prohibitive favorites to land both, unless the Dallas Mavericks can trade away Shawn Marion’s two remaining years for an expiring contract, which would give them the cap space to go after two max-salary unrestricted free agents — a subplot to the Dwight Drama that I mentioned in Sunday’s Power Rankings, as well as the previous week’s Power Rankings.
The Nets have signed a lease for office space in Brooklyn, another step in their planned move from New Jersey. The team said today that 150 business side employees will occupy the 11th floor of the 19-story building at 15 MetroTech Center and that the relocation process from East Rutherford is expected to begin next month. The basketball operations staff will remain in New Jersey for now.
Deep inside the steel skeleton of the soon-to-be Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, drills are whirring, hammers striking and cranes excavating. The air is dusty and the ground littered with piles of wires, metal beams and loose hardware. Despite her suit dress and open-toed heels, an unconcerned MaryAnne Gilmartin, the arena’s lead developer, simply steps around the debris. In just 10 months, these gaping bones will welcome the NBA’s New Jersey Nets to their new home—as the Brooklyn Nets—thanks to two powerful women working vigorously behind the scenes.
Both women insist that construction and ticket sales are on schedule for the 2012-2013 season. Half of the 100 suites have been sold, and Pavlova says the Nets are steadily gaining Brooklynites while holding on to much of the core New Jersey base. The steel frame is 92% erected, the weathered-steel façade panels are going up, risers are in place and a new transit entrance for nine subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road is underway. The roof will be finished in the first quarter of 2012, allowing the interior work to begin. “When you announce the first concert,” says Gilmartin, “you had better be prepared to open.” Beyond basketball, the venue will host 200 events annually, kicking off with a Jay-Z concert on Sept. 28. “He’s the best spokesperson that you can have,” Pavlova says of Jay-Z, a minority Nets stakeholder who this year announced the team’s name change. “He is a Brooklyn icon. Having him on board has been a huge positive.”
Spearheading the excitement over the 18,000-seat arena, Pavlova, 41, gets a live video feed of construction on her desktop and gushes that she cheers so hard at Nets’ home games she loses her voice. The Russian-American has dual citizenship, speaks five languages (with varying levels of fluency) and has worked all over the world. She started her career at Prudential in New York, and in 2005 launched the Moscow office of Google. In 2010, the chief executive of Onexim, Prokhorov’s company, told Pavlova over a casual dinner about a little deal with an American team, and asked if she’d be interested in “keeping an eye on things” in the States. “I don’t know a thing about basketball,” she said, but soon agreed. And she learned quick. “It took me a few months to get my hands around the business and get comfortable with how things work,” Pavlova says with a subtle accent. “I’ve learned it’s tickets, sponsorships and suite sales. It’s not rocket science.”
If real estate mogul Bruce Ratner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov are the faces of the New York-bound basketball franchise, Gilmartin and Irina Pavlova are the feet on the ground, clearing the way. As EVP of Forest City Ratner Companies, Gilmartin manages development of the near $1 billion arena, which anchors the larger $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project in the heart of Brooklyn. Pavlova represents the interests of Prokhorov, the minority owner of the arena and majority owner of the Nets, its major tenant. Together, they are changing the landscape of the borough and female power players in the business of sports.
Despite the forward-thinking nature of the franchise, King said he’s not throwing in the towel on their last campaign in New Jersey. “I’m trying to win this season upcoming,” he said. “I’m not waiting until we get to Brooklyn because there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have a winning team when you get to Brooklyn, so you have to try to build your team now and win.”
Standing at what will become the entrance of the Nets’ arena in Brooklyn, GM Billy King lauded the $1 billion construction as a ticket to land big free agents while indirectly describing it as more attractive than Madison Square Garden. “Players say they want to be in New York. Well, we’re going to be in New York,” King said Wednesday during a tour of the construction site with reporters. “We have the best owner, and we’re going to have the best building. We’ll have all the tools. If a guy doesn’t want to play here, he doesn’t want to play in the city.”
On September 30, two lawyers associated with a large Philadelphia law firm sought trademark protection for the name, “Brooklyn New Yorkers”, three logos featuring either a basketball or a basketball player and the Brooklyn Bridge and even a slogan, “We Come to Play”. There’s no indication in the US Patent and Trademark Office files that the Nets are associated with the lawyers. A spokesperson for the team declined comment Monday when asked by NetsDaily about the trademark applications. A spokesperson for Mikhail Prohorov’s Onexim Group told NetsDaily recently that the applications are “not ours”. The attorney of record on three of the five applications has not responded to a request for information. Separately, the URL, brooklynnewyorkers.com, has also been registered in recent months. The URL was registered through a proxy domain register. The owner is not identified.
The two lawyers seeking the trademark as well as the two attorneys of record on the applications are associated with the Philadelphia firm of Pepper Hamilton, one of the nation’s most prestigious. Of the four lawyers, three have experience in trademark protection and intellectual property. In each case, the trademark sought is for clothing including among other things: shirts, jerseys, jackets, athletic uniforms, headbands, hats, caps and footwear. The logos, more concepts than finished drawings, make it clear the trademarks are for a Brooklyn basketball team. In one, a basketball player straddles the Brooklyn Bridge. In another, the words, “Brooklyn New Yorkers” fronts a basketball featuring a world map while in a third, another version of “Brooklyn New Yorkers” is imposed on a basketball. The Patent and Trademark Office continues to review the applications.