A full house is not necessarily an unmitigated boon to a young franchise. For this game the Nets would have many new customers, potential fans who might never return if New York were blown off the floor, a distinct possibility with Barry out of the lineup. The crowd seemed angry after the announcement of Barry's illness, but the Nets played a brilliant, intuitive game that kept them on even terms with Kentucky throughout the first half. It was not until Rick's replacement, NBA reject John Baum, scored seven consecutive baskets early in the third period that the spectators began to sense that New York could win. Through the final 24 minutes, right up until Roche's desperate, game-clinching three-point basket in the closing seconds, the clamor grew, first surpassing anything ever heard in Indianapolis, home of the ABA's previous hysteria champions, and then approaching the noise level of Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play to the most vociferous crowds in pro basketball.
But there was a distinct difference in the timbre of the crowd noise at Nassau Coliseum. There were high-pitched shrieks and squeaky wails and falsetto chants. For the first time in recent years in New York, large numbers of children were attending a major professional sporting event other than baseball. The scarcity and expense of tickets had kept kids away from football, hockey and Knickerbocker games, so the children brought their parents to see the Nets. All those shopping-center clinics and all those free passes to sit in the grimy end-zone seats at Island Garden had put the Nets over the top.
How far over is still debatable. Boe has claimed the Nets will be third to the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers in attendance this season, but he also admits his estimates have been consistently too high ever since he bought the franchise. Manzer projects attendance will fall slightly under 10,000 a game—which should rank New York first in the ABA, but only sixth or seventh among all pro teams. If Barry, who decided to rejoin the NBA Warriors (even though he had earlier claimed he would not play basketball this season unless for the Nets), had remained in New York, Manzer says his estimate would have been boosted by 2,000 or more.
One team the Nets are almost certain not to outdraw is Boe's new hockey club, the New York Islanders. The combination of playing at the Nassau Coliseum and the Islanders' membership in the long-established National Hockey League practically guarantees the team financial success from the outset. The Islanders have sold 9,000 season tickets and expect to average 12,000 fans a game. "We're pretty certain to make money the first year with the Islanders," Boe says. "And I feel safe saying that, even though we haven't dropped a puck yet."
Boe has already dropped $10 million—$6 million to join the NHL and draft players and another $4 million to pay off Madison Square Garden for invading the Rangers' territory. The investment has also put Boe, one of basketball's upstarts, on the side of the Establishment in hockey. There are, of course, upstarts in hockey now, too, and a war is on between the NHL and the new World Hockey Association, which has already signed eight of the players Boe drafted for the Islanders.
"I've been through one war and I've paid dearly," Boe says. "If the WHA is still in business in three years, I'll be their best ally in the NHL camp. But that'll come only after they've lost about $5 million apiece. The guys in the NHL will be able to stand the price, but I've seen a lot of owners come into the ABA all hot to go, then, when they've lost a million or so, they cool off.
"I figure it will cost me about $2.1 million, $2 million in increased salaries and $100,000 in court costs, to fight the WHA for three years, and I'm willing to do it. I feel about hockey right now the same way the Knicks' president, Ned Irish, did about the ABA five years ago. In five years the ABA has lost $20 million, and I'd guess it will cost the WHA between $40 million and $60 million to get established. Let's see if they're willing to pay it. If they are, I'll be glad to have them. First, they've got to prove to me that they're willing to do business."
And doing business is the name of Roy Boe's game—in hockey or basketball or wraparound skirts.