By Steve Lichtenstein
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I know, I’m not supposed to get nostalgic about sports anymore. It’s pure business. It’s about real estate and media deals.
If Yankee Stadium can be obliterated, and the Boston Celtics no longer play in “Boston Garden,” why should I feel any emotion after hearing the news Wednesday that the New York Islanders are moving to Brooklyn?
It’s not like there was any chance that the Islanders’ old barn at Nassau Coliseum would be saved. Owner Charles Wang made it clear as soon as he bought the club a dozen years ago his intention to move out of the facility as soon as the lease expired following the 2014-15 season (assuming that the current lockout gets solved and there will be an NHL).
Yet my first move was to blow the dust off my album of ticket stubs and turn to the pages with evidence of my attendance at certain games long ago. There they were—Section 118, Row E, Seat 10– from both May 21, 1981 and May 17, 1983.
My father had always set aside a few dates every year to make the journey from Rockland County all the way to Long Island so I could see my favorite team up close. Those included the days before the proliferation of cable channels, which meant the only way to watch the Islanders in their home white jerseys was in person.
Playoff games were extra special, starting with the 1975 Comeback Kids, who, after knocking off the hated Rangers on an overtime goal in the decisive game of the first round, came back from an 0-3 series hole to shock Pittsburgh. My father had a hunch about that third-year expansion club, purchasing playoff strips for the first two rounds. I was hooked–not too many of my fellow fourth graders were running out on school nights for such events.
Looking back, I was overly obsessed rooting for the Islanders. Every loss was a calamity. It seemed like an eternity to a young fan with few allies in a school filled with Ranger supporters, but it only took five more years for the Islanders to win their first of four straight Stanley Cups. I was fortunate to witness Cups two and four from those terrific seats. Even though I moved to New Jersey and haven’t visited the Coliseum in nearly 25 years, the memories have not ebbed.
But that’s all that fans have these days—the memories.
This move comes on the heels of the Nets bolting New Jersey after last season, also for the greener dollars of inner-city Brooklyn. The Yankees, Mets, Jets, Giants and Devils are all playing in facilities built within the last five years. The Nets, who long ago called the Coliseum home when they were part of the ABA, ironically needed it one more time when they hosted the Knicks last night in an exhibition game. I got a kick out of seeing all the old banners hanging from the roof.
After 2015, who knows what will happen to the building? Maybe Nassau County will never get its act together and the Coliseum will live on off of lesser events like the Izod Center in New Jersey. Or it could be blown to dust like the city’s two ballparks.
All I know is that I can no longer take my kids to games in the same spot where Reggie Jackson hit his three home runs or where Scott Stevens lifted his three Stanley Cups. What’s one more historic landmark removed from their sports map?
Not that they care all that much, as the next generation is already jaded anyway. Teenage kids like my sons prefer the world of fantasy teams and Xbox. They can be fickle because they don’t feel as sharp a connection to one team.
My sons certainly don’t have the same passion as I did (and still do), which may be a good thing. They have no idea why I yell at the television when Rex Ryan switches to a prevent defense at the end of Jet games. They think it’s weird. However, I can hear the howling from two floors above when there’s an adverse result in one of their Madden games.
They certainly have no affinity for the Islanders, who have had maybe one decent season in their lifetimes. Now that the Islanders will be joining the Nets in Brooklyn, maybe Wang will take another page from Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s playbook and take a crowbar to his wallet to augment his young club with some quality veteran players. You know, if the League is still open for business.
I got tired of hearing Wang whine about his building, how he couldn’t compete with the rest of the league because the team didn’t generate enough revenue. Never mind that the Islanders have a pretty lucrative cable TV deal and that the fans filled the Coliseum whenever the team was remotely competitive.
Or that Barclays Center, the pristine structure in the center of Brooklyn, was not meant to be configured for hockey. Its capacity for Islander games is estimated to be around 14,500, or about 1,700 fewer than the so-called bandbox on Long Island.
But there’s no question that the new arena, one equipped with 100 luxury suites and better concessions, will produce more income.
And that will always be the bottom line for these extortionists. They’re businessmen first, constantly looking for the better deal. That means more luxury suites, where the owners can reap windfalls from non-fans whose costs are subsidized via a partial tax deduction.
It took only about 25 years for the Meadowlands arena to become “antiquated,” about 30 years for Giants Stadium. The Coliseum opened in 1972, but don’t forget that Islander owners were lobbying for a new building well before Wang bought the team. Now that the costs of these things are running over $1 billion, I would hope that they will have a longer shelf life. I’m not counting on it. The Islanders new lease is for 25 years. What will they want then?
I remember an episode of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” years ago when Mitch Albom joked that one day an owner will cease with the hypocrisy and build an arena comprised solely of luxury boxes—no regular seats. Maybe that’s the depressing future.
So forgive me if I don’t celebrate with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Wang. The Islanders’ move out of Long Island may have been inevitable, and Brooklyn is better than Quebec, but it still feels like another punch to the soul for the true fans of a once-proud franchise.
Where do you stand on the Nassau vs. Brooklyn debate? Click here to be heard in the comments below…