NEWARK, N.J. – The Miami Heat played its 97th and final game against the New Jersey Nets on Monday.
Although the Nets are celebrating their 35th season in the Garden State, there will not be a 36th. When the Nets visit Toronto for their season finale on April 26, it will mark the final game before the franchise moves to New York and re-brands itself the Brooklyn Nets.
For a franchise that has struggled on the court the past few years, the move couldn't come soon enough.
The Nets final game in New Jersey is April 23 against the 76ers. One week later, the name change becomes official complete with a new logo and colors.
“This is a transformative move, something we've waited seven years for,'' said Nets CEO Brett Yormark, the twin brother of Panthers president Michael.
“Newark has been great to us and the Prudential Center has been terrific. But there's no comparing this to Brooklyn. If it wasn't a borough, it would be the fourth largest city in the U.S. It's a great place for us moving forward.''
The Nets escaped the aging Izod Center at the Meadowlands two years ago and temporarily moved to the Prudential Center in downtown Newark waiting for the new building. The Nets soon will go from being a renter at an arena which is most definitely not theirs – it's impossible to sit in the arena and not know the New Jersey Devils are the primary tenant – by moving into a spectacular building in a thriving, hip neighborhood.
The $1 billion Barclays Center is currently rising above the Long Island rail yard near where Walter O'Malley wanted to build his Dodgers a stadium. That didn't happen -- O'Malley was denied the land and offered Queens instead -- and the Nets become the first major professional sports team to call Brooklyn home since the Dodgers left Ebbets Field for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
“We have a built-in fanbase. People have been waiting since 1957 for this,'' Yormark said. “There's a nostalgia factor. We're excited. It's going to be a destination in the region and we can't wait to call it home. .-.-. We have been here 35 years and need to leave New Jersey the right way. I think we're doing that, giving back as much as we can. But the next chapter starts next season.''
With deep-pocket owners Mikhail Prokhorov, Bruce Ratner and entertainer Jay-Z (who opens the new building with a concert Sept. 28), the Nets hope to create a new excitement upon moving into their new palace. Brooklyn, they hope, becomes a destination point for NBA players.
Because even the Nets know a new look and a fancy new arena won't cure all their ills. But it's a pretty good start.
“It's something we're all looking forward to,'' coach Avery Johnson said. “As much as we talk about the building – and the Barclays Center is going to be a state-of-the-art building and a great place to play – we're going to have to put a really good team on the floor.''
Even though the Nets are celebrating their time in New Jersey, some of the team's biggest success (the Nets did play in the 2002 and '03 NBA Finals) came while playing on Long Island as the New York Nets back in the ABA days.
Last Friday, the NBA's Board of Governors officially paved the way back to New York by unanimously approving the move.
It will be strange not calling them the New Jersey Nets anymore.
“This will be an exciting opportunity for the entire organization,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose father Jon worked as an executive with the Nets in the 1990s.
“Players are looking forward to it. The opposing teams will look forward to it as well.''