By Peter Schwartz
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When you move to a new town or community, sometimes your place of residence isn’t quite ready just yet. If that happens, one has to find a temporary place to live until your permanent home is ready. The Long Island Nets found out first-hand just what that experience was like, as they played their inaugural D-League season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn while the Nassau Coliseum was undergoing a major face-lift.
And now, the L.I. Nets have moved into their new and permanent home after a season of playing games at the home of their parent club, the Brooklyn Nets, with many of those games on weekday afternoons in front of few or no fans.
“I kind of looked at it like it was dress rehearsal and preparation,” Alton Byrd, the L.I. Nets’ vice-president of business operations, said during a sit-down interview with WFAN.com at the team’s new offices at the coliseum. “We had a chance to see games right up close in front, so we got through it well.”
When the Brooklyn Nets were granted a D-League franchise, they had a couple of choices to make in terms of their initial season: wait a year for the coliseum to be finished or find a temporary home. There were options on Long Island, but the Nets ultimately decided to play at Barclays Center. That allowed them to play in a building that, in reality, is not much bigger than their new home, which has all the amenities of an NBA building, just not with as many seats.
“We made a strategic decision,” Byrd said. “It was the right decision at the time, and I’m happy we got through it. It was a really good learning experience for us. You can’t really compare (the coliseum) to other D-League buildings because another 3,000 seats and this is an NBA arena. I like to think that this is the best building in the D-League. “
The new Nassau Coliseum will have 13,500 seats for basketball, although initially the building will be configured with a smaller capacity by closing the upper bowl until the time comes that officials need to open up more seats. There’s plenty of parking on-site for fans, along with all the new concession stands and premium perks that came with the renovations.
The L.I. Nets will enjoy a brand new locker room with their logo on the carpeted floor, as well as a spanking new court that made its debut at a Harlem Globetrotters game April 15. But while the team is getting ready to play their first season on Long Island, they spent the last year getting to know everyone in the neighborhood.
For their efforts this past season, the Long Island Nets were awarded the NBA Development League Community Appearances Award for their work in the Long Island community while the team was playing their games 30 miles west in Brooklyn.
“We spent a lot of time out here,” Byrd said. “I think we, as a team, started what is a long process. Rome doesn’t get built in a day. It takes years to build a fan base.”
Speaking of the community, the L.I. Nets will get a chance to mingle with their new neighbors Saturday afternoon when they hold their Fan Festival at the coliseum from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. There will be giveaways, activities for the kids, a meet-and-greet with head coach Ronald Nored and Nets forward J.J. Moore, who played at Rutgers, and tours of the coliseum.
It’s a chance for the Nets to introduce themselves to many fans who are both excited and curious about Long Island’s newest professional sports team.
“That’s the part that excites me the most because you finally get to see people, and people get to see the building,” Byrd said. “They’ll get to meet us, our players and our staff.”
There’s a sense of nostalgia with the Long Island Nets playing their home games at Nassau Coliseum, and that’s because the parent club called the arena home from 1972-77 and won a pair of ABA titles with a guy by the name of Julius Erving, including the final ABA championship ever in 1976. The following season, the Nets joined the NBA as part of the merger and spent one final season on Long Island before moving to New Jersey.
And now, the red, white and blue of the “Nets” will once again be a part of the coliseum’s DNA.
“I think this will be a great basketball venue,” Byrd said. “It has been before, and I think it will be again. There’s a legacy that already exists so there’s the unusual task of trying to marry the legacy to a bunch of kids that never heard of Julius Erving to new heroes … our heroes … the kids of Long Island.”
Now all the Nets have to do is build a fan base to fill seats. A big selling point is the fan-friendly experience that will be created at the coliseum, but what’s also attractive to fans is that a player you might see playing for the Long Island Nets or an opposing team one night at the coliseum could be on the train to Brooklyn or on a flight to another NBA city the next day.
It’s kind of like minor league baseball, but those involved with the D-League would prefer to think of themselves as a league of opportunity.
“The only thing that is minor about this league is the word ‘minor,’ because we are held to the same standards as any NBA team,” Byrd said. “We’ve got to do the same thing, and that’s sell tickets, find sponsors and build relationships.”
There are plenty of sporting events that are scheduled to take place at the new Nassau Coliseum, including boxing, college hoops and UFC. There are even rumors that the Islanders could be back for a preseason game and then, well, you never know. But for now, the new coliseum’s new anchor tenant will be the Long Island Nets, and with that comes the chance for fans to enjoy a fun night of hoops and that chance to one day say, “Hey, I saw that guy when he played for the Long Island Nets!”
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @LongIslandNets and the Nassau Coliseum @NYCBLive.