Friday, March 21, 2008

"Slow Economy Likely to Stall Atlantic Yards"

So pronounced the NYT today, Good Friday, as the lead story on the front page:

"The slowing economy, weighed down by a widening credit crisis, is likely to delay the signature office tower and three residential buildings at the heart of the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, the developer said.

“It may hold up the office building,” the developer, Bruce C. Ratner, said in a recent interview. “And the bond market may slow the pace of the residential buildings.”

Mr. Ratner, chief executive of Forest City Ratner, did not specify the kinds of delays possible, but suggested that construction could be put off for years. His comments are his first public indication that the darkening economy has slowed the ambitious project, spanning 22 acres at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.

The developer did say he was confident about starting construction on a $950 million basketball arena for the Nets by the end of the year...

Atlantic Yards began with Mr. Ratner’s purchase of the Nets in 2004 and the idea of moving the team, which currently plays in New Jersey and loses about $30 million a year, to the railroad yard."

Back in 2004, right after Ratner, and old client of mine, bought the team, I predicted that the Nets would never play a single game in Brooklyn. It was crystal clear that buying the Nets was a move that Ratner needed to get his project done. He had been planning it for at least 10 years before - a cardboard mockup of it's early conception lay in a glass case in his foyer in the 90s. But it was met with a great amount of resistance.

Getting a pro sports team to come into Brooklyn, stirring the borough's odd singularism and civic pride, might be just the trick to overwhelm the annoying indigenous resistance to the monument to his outsized ego. Jay-Z was just the most prominent of Brooklynites to lend support to the idea.

And it looked like it was working. Challenge after challenge, which previously had hamstrung the project, were now batted away by an abetting court system emboldened to use eminent domain in support of the oligarchist du jour, which in this case was our boy Bruce.

Yet, at around the same time that the most serious legal challenge was quashed last fall, the team announced that, well, they weren't gonna be opening the 2009 season in Brooklyn after all - it would be 2010.

That would make 6 seasons in limbo. No wonder Jason Kidd, when asked about the deal back when it was first done, said it didn't matter to him because he would be retired before they played a game in Brooklyn.

New Jersey constantly trades places with Connecticut as having the wealthiest residents in the nation. The Garden State routinely supplies many of the best basketball players in the world. It has one of the largest percentages of African-Americans as residents. Its largest city, Newark, conveniently placed at the crossroads of several modes of public transportation, now sports what is being hailed as the finest new arena in the country, two blocks from a major train station that serves a population area of 10 million souls. And Newark, which has had a black mayor since 1968, would be a natural location for a basketball team.

So why is it that the Nets are a team that "loses about $30 million a year"?

Can you spell A-t-l-a-n-t-i-c...?

The history of this franchise has always been about how to shoot yourself in the head while aiming at your foot. While in the ABA in the Nassau Mausoleum the Nets somehow grab Rick Barry from the NBA and win a championship, then pluck the greatest talent of his day in Dr J, the man who most revolutionized the game outside of Wilt Chamberlain, and win another. The league collapses, but the new owners, probably looking at the same demographics as I noted above, decide to move the surviving franchise to NJ, and Central NJ at that. The 76ers freak out, as do the Knicks, and to mollify them, the J is given to Philadelphia.

Funny thing is, it is soon revealed that the team will not be playing in CNJ (at the RAC) but in North Jersey, no threat to the 76ers market at all! However, the State of NJ builds their arena far, far away from any part of one of the largest public transportation system in the country. It's one thing to drive out in the middle of nowhere to watch a football game, given the tailgaiting that surrounds the spectacle and does not lend itself to using public transportation. But nobody's gonna tailgate in January before a night time basketball game (or hockey game, for that matter).

Nonetheless, in 8 years the Nets upset the defending NBA Champion Sixers (with Dr J, no less) in the playoffs and look like they are the up and coming team in the league. But substance abuse and a revolving coaching carousel kill the team again. The trade of Buck Williams for the oft injured flameout Sam Bowie did not help...

After another 8 years of abysmal play, the Nets at least get some very good young players because their draft position is so low, and also get the first European player of any note in Drazin Petrovic, and before you know it they have Chuck Daly as coach. They win 45 games and get into the playoffs 3 times in a row, not being able to get past Cleveland two of the three times. Still, the future looks bright...

But management instability and a literal haggle of owners force Daly into "retirement" (which lasts exactly two years). His replacement? Butch Beard...

Then they get John Calipari in a Rick Pitino copy cat move. The team essentially swaps rosters with Philadelphia, but somehow they end up with Sam Cassell, and they make a creditable showing, returning to the playoffs to be sacrificed to the Bulls, altho they lose three close games. People are talking about coming to play for the young talented Nets and their high profile coach, altho some are worried about Calipari's "yelling"...

Coach C lasts 20 games the next year before being fired on a plane flight back from a game...

The Don Casey era (error?) begins...

But all that bad play gets the Nets 3 quality draft picks, yet again - Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Kenyon Martin. Jayson "Shotgun" Williams is one of two premier rebounders in the NBA, and has an outsized attractive personality. And soon we learn that Stephon Marbury is homesick, and since the Knicks can't take him, he comes to the Nets. Looking pretty good.

Three broken legs and a bad knee later, the Nets have endured three consecutive .300 seasons, keeping the Swamp dismal yet again.

Then comes THE TRADE. Finals back to back. Byron Scott miscoaches away the Nets best chance at a title, but "the Nets' future is bright" says JKidd, even as Scott is replaced by Lawrence (Seriously, I'm Not Jeff Van Gundy's Evil Twin) Frank and Kidd's knee needs major repair, as he refused to join San Antonio for a slam dunk shot at a ring.

Then comes the Ratner deal. Kenyon and Kittles are flushed. Kidd gets mad but gets Thorn to take a chance on romance with Zo Mourning. We all know how THAT worked out.

Somehow it results in getting Vince Carter, Mr Vinsanity himself, to come to the Meadowlands. The Big Three is coined. They win 49 in 2006, and despite a mediocre (exactly) 2007 season, get to the second round for the 5th time in 7 years, pushing the eventual NBA Finals representative from the East in a hard fought series that they could have won. (In those 5 seasons, they lost to the eventual NBA championship team 4 times, the other losing to a finals team and runner up.)

Then it falls apart again, as it becomes clear that Ratner really doesn't care and then Kidd really doesn't want to play in limbo any more.

I want to see Ratner fail. I want to see the team play in Newark, where they belong. I want to have an owner who will let Rod Thorn do his thing. I want Rod Thorn to stay, to become the Lou Lamoriello of basketball. I want to see these young players blossom.

I'm tired of this team being played like a pawn in some egotistical game of development chess.

And I want a new coach.

And I'm sticking with my prediction - this team will not play a single game in Brooklyn.

Which leads to this irony: Rumor has it (Selena Roberts in Sports Illustrated, no less) that Jay-Z and LeBron are very close, and that IF the Nets actually DO make it to Brooklyn, LeBron will come to the Nets:

Wouldn't it be just like the Nets to NOT move to Brooklyn, thereby undermining their best chance to grab the best young player in the league, and maybe, just maybe, win it all??


Norman Oder said...

Would like to contact you. Please let me know how to reach you.
Norman Oder
Timesreport (at)

Gavino said...

Send me an email at

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