The Nets are sending a message to their fans and the rest of the league. The organization is Jersey strong, but it definitely has its minds set for New York. Last night marked the first of five “Hardwood Classics Nights” that the Nets have scheduled for the remainder of the season. During these games, the Nets players suit up wearing their old school New York Nets uniforms from the old ABA days.
On the surface, this is a tribute and tip of the cap to the glory years when the Nets were consistent winners and played in Long Island. From 1968 to 1977, the Nets played on the Island, calling three separate buildings their home court (Commack Arena, Island Garden and Nassau Coliseum). They won two ABA championships (’74 and ’76) before they were engulfed by the NBA beginning in the 1976-77 season. That’s a short stretch of history, but it’s one worthy of reflection.
Applause for the Nets’ organization.
But deep down, this can be somewhat of a gimmick, a tool to get everyone ready for what’s to come after this season. And when I say everyone, I really mean New Yorkers living on the Island and in Brooklyn who are currently on the fence about joining the Nets’ fan base. I have to admit, the royal blue jerseys with starred sides look good. But just because I like the jerseys doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going out to buy one with Deron Williams’ number 8. It also doesn’t mean I’m going to their new arena next fall to watch.
Let’s face it: the Nets aren’t going anywhere this year with regard to the standings, even if Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks return fast and at 100 percent. This team will leave Jersey not having appeared in the playoffs since the 2006-07 season. Williams isn’t a lock to re-sign with the Nets next year, which seriously dampens any chance of Dwight Howard coming to Brooklyn. It’s going to be a hard sell for fans to show up next year for a team with basically nothing in the future.
And the Nets hope that flashy new uniforms will do the trick?
OK, I’m well aware that the Nets’ brass isn’t relying on just fancy uniforms to get people to Atlantic Yards next year. There’s going to be the draw of the Barclays Center itself — everything will be brand new, so people will want to soak in the Brooklyn experience. There will be attractive ticket packages, too, especially those for wealthy Wall Street types and corporate boxes. Special game-day promotions and giveaways are particularly popular, but only on a game-to-game basis. Once the gimmicks and the novelty of the arena and the new team in town flavor wears off, what does the team have left to fall back on?
It seems as if the Nets are going to try to answer that during the offseason when they make a serious push for Howard. In all likelihood, Howard will remain with the Magic through the trade deadline and test the free agent market after the 2011-12 ends. Only then will we know what the future holds for the Nets.
Until that time comes, New Jersey/Brooklyn have to bank on D-Williams falling in love with the team and Atlantic Yards and the hopes that programs like the Hardwood Classics and community events win over enough people. Who knows, maybe there will be a couple of engaging and enthralling victories that create new fans?
Monday’s Hardwood Classic game against the Bulls (by the way, it was an awful, Anthony Morrow-less 108-87 loss) was the first of this promotion. The next four dates are Feb. 11 against the Spurs; Feb. 15 against the Grizzlies; Feb. 22 against the Magic; and March 7 against the Clippers. Do you see a trend with those opponents? They’re all playoff teams from last year or teams with marquee super starts. Those games will have built-in large attendances, so maybe the Nets are thinking that they can capitalize on those crowds and hope that they buy into the Nets’ future.
But like I said, buying into the future doesn’t mean jersey sales. It means buying seats and buying into the philosophy and belief that the team will succeed.
I think that requires a little more than pretty shapes and colors on the uniform.