"There's life here!" he says. "Living in the suburbs I forgot what a sidewalk is. I love it!" Albert points to the 512-foot tall Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, which has a four-sided clock that can be seen for miles. "That's how you got home," he says. "Wherever you were playing ball as a kid, just find the clock and head toward it."
Albert shakes his head, trying to imagine what it would have been like to have had an NBA team this close to his home as a kid. He can't fathom it.
"I should move back," he says. "The excitement, the action. This is chic."
We walk a little farther, and for no apparent reason except sheer exuberance Albert cups his hands around his mouth and yells to no one, "Broook-lyn!"
In general, however, the two spheres remain separate. One is enclosed in the glare of the Garden lights, celebrated by enthusiastic media and enjoyed mainly by those who can afford and find the increasingly scarce tickets. The other sprawls over countless playgrounds in every corner of the city, all but unknown to the media and enjoyed only by those who are part of the basketball-mad life of the inner city.
—PETE AXTHELM, The City Game, 1970
The Nets had started in the ABA as the New York Americans in 1967, but they couldn't find an available arena in Manhattan (no help from the Knicks, of course), so they played in the Teaneck (N.J.) Armory and became known as the New Jersey Americans. In short order the team moved to the Long Island Arena in Commack, N.Y., and changed its name to the New York Nets, so as to rhyme with the Mets and the Jets. The team soon moved to the Island Garden in West Hempstead, then to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. A year after the ABA and the NBA merged in 1976, the Nets went back to New Jersey, playing first in the Rutgers Athletic Center, then in the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, a venue that would change its name a couple times. After that, it was the Prudential Center in Newark through the 2011--12 season.
If anyone feels that the Nets have had no real identity through the years, wandering is part of the reason. The other part is that since joining the NBA, the Nets have had but 12 winning seasons in 36 years. Great old Nets names such as Julius Erving and Rick Barry and Micheal Ray Richardson and Drazen Petrovic will pop up, but those players, like so many Nets, either were just passing through or were troubled or had bad luck.
There were the Nets teams that made the NBA Finals as recently as 2002 and 2003, but when you look at the best players therein—Jason Kidd, Keith Van Horn and Kenyon Martin—there is no staying power.
Three seasons ago the Nets narrowly missed setting the NBA record for single-season losses. The last two were marginally better. "It feels great," says Nets holdover star guard Deron Williams of the move. "It feels like a new start, like we kept the Nets name but started over."