The Nets’ move to Brooklyn has always been more about a real estate power play than basketball. But who is the team that a community was uprooted to make way for?
The New Jersey Americans (as the Nets were originally known) first played in 1967 in Teaneck, N.J. as a founding member of the American Basketball Association (ABA), a rival league to the NBA. The following year the franchise changed its name to the New York Nets as the team headed for Long Is•land where it knocked around for almost a decade playing in faceless suburban towns – Commack, West Hempstead and finally Uniondale.
In 1973, the Nets acquired Julius Erving. “Dr. J” was an early model Michael Jordan whose leaping, above-the-rim style of play and all-around excellence made him the ABA’s premiere player. Erving carried the Nets to two championships in three season but the team’s owners sold their franchise’s greatest player for $3 million in cold cash when the team was absorbed into the NBA in 1976. A quarter century of mostly dismal play ensued. In 1977, the Nets moved back to New Jersey, playing in Piscataway for four seasons before taking up residence in a new arena in the Meadowlands.
The Nets had a rare burst of success in the early 2000s as the team made consecu•tive appearances in the NBA finals. Howev•er, when Bruce Ratner purchased the team in 2004 and announced it would move to a new arena in Brooklyn in 2006, the team’s jilted fans began to melt away.
The Nets final years in New Jersey saw huge losses on the basketball court – where the team sank to a 12-70 record in 2009-2010 – and on the bottom line as fans stayed away in droves. With the Atlantic Yards project on the verge of collapsing in 2009, Ratner sold an 80 percent stake in the team to Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire Russian oligarch. The Nets’ last Jersey address was in New•ark. On April 26, 2012, they played their final home game there (a loss). The NBA’s most nomadic team was ready to move on…once again.