The New York Knickerbockers, or Knicks for short, open away to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, October 28; and have their home opener the next night, against the Atlanta Hawks. The team formerly known as the New Jersey Americans, the New York Nets and the New Jersey Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets, also open on the 28th, home to the Chicago Bulls.
Having done this for the Knicks, here is my entry for the Nets.
Before You Go. In New York and North Jersey, anything is possible as far as the weather goes, but since you'll be mainly indoors, and you'll probably be taking the Subway to the Barclays Center, it won't be nearly as much of an issue as it would be going to Yankee Stadium, Citi Field or MetLife Stadium.
It's the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to worry about fiddling with your timepieces if you actually are a Nets fan, or a fan of any of the teams in the East visiting them. It's 1 hour ahead of the Central Time Zone, 2 hours ahead of Mountain, and 3 hours ahead of Pacific.
Tickets. The Nets averaged 17,037 fans per home game last season, about 94 percent of capacity. More than any other New York Tri-State Area team -- especially now that the Mets have gotten good again and the Islanders have the smallest seating capacity in the NHL -- you have a chance of walking up to the ticket window 5 minutes before tipoff and buying whatever seat you can afford.
Even without scalpers getting involved, Knicks tickets are notoriously expensive. Courtside seats run $772 -- and that's on Ticketmaster, not from a scalper. 100 Level seats run $306 between the baskets and $158 behind them. 200 Level seats cost $152. 300 Level seats are $141 between the baskets and $130 behind them. 400 Level seats -- once known as "the Blue Seats" for the color of their paint, the color of the air due to all the cigarette smoke that used to be allowed inside but is no longer, and the color of the language that tended to emanate from the patrons -- go for $74.
Getting There. For reasons that will soon become clear, I'm advising you to get to New York/New Jersey by a means other than driving: Plane, train, bus. Hotels in the City are ridiculously expensive, and you may be better off getting a hotel outside, in New Jersey or Westchester or Long Island; adding the cost of public transportation -- New Jersey Transit, Metro-North or the Long Island Rail Road -- will still be cheaper than most Manhattan hotels.
Madison Square Garden was built on top of Pennsylvania Station, the northern (or eastern) anchor of the old Pennsylvania Railroad. If you live near any Amtrak station, you can get to The Garden. This is especially true if you live in a city on the Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington: In 5 hours or less, you can get from your hometown to The Garden.
7th Avenue entrance to Penn Station and The Garden
Because of its attachment to Penn Station, The Garden is also accessible by commuter rail, both New Jersey Transit and the LIRR; and by multiple Subway lines: The 8th Avenue lines, the A, C and E; the 7th Avenue lines, the 1, 2 and 3; and, a block away at 6th Avenue, the 6th Avenue lines, the B, D and F; the Broadway lines, N, Q and R; and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) system from New Jersey.
If you came into The City on a Greyhound bus, Port Authority Bus Terminal is at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, just 1 stop on the A, C or E train from The Garden, whose station is listed as "34th St - Penn Station."
Once In the City. The city of New Amsterdam, and the colony of New Netherland, was founded by the Dutch in 1624. In 1664, the English took over, and named both city and colony New York, for the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II. As none of Charles' many children were legitimate, when he died in 1685, that brother became King James II -- and his reign did not end well, and let's leave it at that.
New York County, a.k.a. the Borough of Manhattan, was also named for James. "Manahatta" was an Indian word meaning "island of many hills." Kings County was named for King Charles, but the Dutch name Breuckelen stuck, and it became the City, and after 1898 the Borough, of Brooklyn. Queens County, or the Borough of Queens, was named for King Charles' Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. Richmond County was named for one of Charles' sons, Charles Lennox, Earl of Richmond, but the Dutch name Staaten Eylandt stuck, and it became the Borough of Staten Island. And Jonas Bronck settled the land north of Manhattan, which became known as Bronck's Land, which somehow morphed into "The Bronx." Apparently, the "The" became attached because of the Bronx River that passes through it, as rivers are still frequently called that: The Hudson is, although never "The Harlem" or "The East." Anyway, it's the Borough of The Bronx and Bronx County.
When the British occupied Manhattan after driving George Washington's Continental Army out in 1776, they burned it, and this is why there are very few remaining pre-19th Century buildings anywhere in the City (unlike such other Revolutionary-era cities as Boston and Philadelphia). After the British went home, the City's port, and location between 2 rivers, made it the richest in the Western Hemisphere, and was a big reason why America became a world power over the next 200 years.
New York has been the most populous city in America since surpassing Philadelphia in the post-Revolutionary period, and now has about 8.4 million people living in the Five Boroughs. About 23 million live in the New York Metropolitan Area, a.k.a. the New York Tri-State Area.
The City is also part of "the New York Metropolitan Area" or "the New York Tri-State Area," which includes parts of New York State not in the City (such as Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk Counties; and the Lower Hudson Valley, such as Westchester County) and the States of New Jersey and Connecticut.
New York has a street grid, but doesn't quite follow a centerpoint system. For the east-west numbered Streets in Manhattan, below Washington Square Park, Broadway is the divider between the East Side and the West Side; above Washington Square to the Harlem River, it's 5th Avenue; in The Bronx, it's Jerome Avenue.
North of 14th Street, streets will be a bit easier to navigate, as they will follow the 1811 grid plan. South of 14th Street, you may end up as confused, as this oldest part of the City doesn't always pay attention to the grid. If you're a comic book fan, there's a running gag that Metropolis, hometown of the optimistic superhero Superman, is Manhattan north of 14th Street on a beautiful spring day; while Gotham City, hometown of the brooding crimefighter Batman, is Manhattan south of 14th Street, a few minutes after midnight, on a cold rainy day in November.
In the grid, Manhattan has (almost exclusively) numbered streets running (more or less) east-west, and (mostly) numbered avenues running (more or less) north-south. The numbered streets go up to 264th Street in The Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens also have numbered streets and numbered avenues, but they're a lot more confusing; when someone in New York says, "34th Street" or "5th Avenue," 95 percent of the time, they'll mean the one in Manhattan.
"Lower Manhattan" or "Downtown" is pretty much everything south of 14th Street, including Houston Street (pronounced HOW-stin, not HYOO-stin like the Texas city), which is, effectively, Zero Street. "Uptown" is pretty much everything in Manhattan north of 59th Street, from the southern edge of Central Park upward. "Midtown" is between 14th and 59th, and is where most of the touristy stuff is.
On the East Side, the Avenues go 5th, Madison, Park (which takes the place of 4th Avenue above Union Square), Lexington, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, York, East End. Numbered Streets will reach an address of 1 at 5th, 100 at Park, 200 at 3rd, 300 at 2nd, 400 at 1st. On the Lower East Side, this extends to 500 at Avenue A, 600 at Avenue B, 700 at Avenue C and 800 at Avenue D. (A, B, C and D, hence the nickname for this neighborhood: "Alphabet City.") The Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, a.k.a. the FDR Drive, formerly the East River Drive and once so dangerous it was said that FDR stood for "Falling Down Roadway," separates the island from the East River.
On the West Side, the Avenues go 6th, a.k.a. Avenue of the Americas, Lenox Avenue or Malcolm X Blvd. above Central Park; 7th, a.k.a. Fashion Avenue, or Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. above Central Park; 8th, Central Park West above 59th Street, or Frederick Douglass Blvd. above Central Park; 9th, Columbus Avenue above 59th, or Morningside Drive above 110th; 10th, Amsterdam Avenue above 59th; 11th, West End Avenue above 59th, merging with Broadway at 108th; and Riverside Drive. The West Side Highway, a.k.a. the Joe DiMaggio Highway, separates the island from the Hudson River.
The north-south numbered Avenues start with 1 at their southern ends, and the addresses go up going Uptown, but there's no set pattern (such as every X blocks = 100 house numbers), and they vary as to where they begin:
Broadway, The Battery at the island's southern tip; 1st and 2nd, Houston Street; 3rd, 9th Street; Lexington, 21st Street; Park, 32nd Street (Park Avenue South extends to 17th Street); Madison, 23rd Street (at Madison Square); 5th, Washington Square North (roughly, 6th Street); 6th, Franklin Street (the only numbered Avenue below Houston, so it's about -12th Street); 7th, 11th Street (7th Avenue South extends to Carmine Street, roughly at Houston or Zero); 8th, Bleecker Street (roughly 10th Street at that point); 9th, Gansevoort Street (roughly 12th Street); 10th and 11th, 13th Street; 12th, 22nd Street.
The outlier is Broadway, which starts at the southern tip of Manhattan (known as The Battery), and remains more or less straight until 10th Street, at which point it curves to (more or less) the northwest, until 78th Street, at which point it straightens out again. However, this northerly description I gave forces me to point out that, like 2nd, Lexington, 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th Avenues, Broadway traffic runs Downtown. The Uptown-running Avenues are 1st, 3rd, Madison, 6th, 8th and 10th. Park Avenue is the only one that goes both ways.
Where Broadway intersects with the numbered avenues, there are frequently "squares," although this does not accurately reflect the actual shapes of the intersections. These include:
* Union Square, at 14th Street and Park Avenue.
* Madison Square, at 23rd Street and 5th Avenue.
* Herald Square, at 34th Street and 6th Avenue.
* Times Square, at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue.
* Columbus Circle, at 59th Street and 8th Avenue.
The Subway system looks complicated, and it is. The blue lines (A, C & E), orange lines (B, D & F) and red lines (1, 2 & 3) are on the West Side; the green lines (4, 5 & 6) on the East Side; the yellow lines (N, Q & R) go from the East Side when Downtown to the West Side in Midtown, and then cross over to Queens. A single ride is $2.50, and you're better off getting a multi-ride MetroCard. There will be a $1.00 charge for a new card.
When you get to your hotel, Penn Station or Port Authority, if you have time to read, go to a Hudson News stand and pick up copies of The New York Times and the Daily News. Believe me, reading the New York papers on your computer or smartphone just isn't the same. In many ways, New York was a city built on newspapers, and there's nothing like turning the page of the Times or the Daily News to find another good story, especially the City features and the sports section, to get a feel for what people in The City are really thinking and feeling.
Don’t read the New York Post. Like anything owned by Rupert Murdoch, it’s a bunch of right-wing lies with an occasionally good sports section added. The Times and the Daily News, however, are not only manned by responsible journalists, but have great sports sections. The Times is the face New York City likes to show the rest of the world. The Daily News is the face the City prefers to show itself. The Post is a face only a mother could love. Not my mother, though. Nor hers.
The sales tax in New York City is 8.875 percent.
Going In. The address of the Barclays Center, easily the weirdest-looking building in the entire city, is 620 Atlantic Avenue, at the southern edge of Downtown Brooklyn, intersecting with Flatbush Avenue. It's across the street from the LIRR's Atlantic Terminal, and several Subway lines meet there: The 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q and R lines. The best way to get there from Penn Station is to take the 2 or 3; from Port Authority, take the tunnel connecting the 8th and 7th Avenue lines and take the 2, 3, N or Q; from Grand Central, take the 4 or 5.
Since the main Subway exit is at the northwest corner of the arena, that's most likely where you'll be walking in. The arena has been home of the Nets since it opened in 2012 (delayed a few days due to Hurricane Sandy), several concerts have been held there, and the Islanders just moved in, although there are already complaints that its seating capacity is too low (15,795 for hockey, as opposed to 17,732 for basketball) and that the seats aren't properly aligned for hockey. It's 1 of 10 arenas currently hosting both an NBA team and an NHL team.
Not nearly as weird-looking on the inside.
Food. New York is one of the world's great food cities, and the Barclays reflects this far better than does "The World's Most Famous Arena" across town. Nets part-owner Jay-Z turned the old 40/40 Club nightclub into an upscale dinner & a show chain, and put an outlet in the Barclays. If you can't afford that, there are other options.
The Ticketmaster Main Concourse has Brooklyn Burger (behind Section 3), Calexico (a Brooklyn-based Mexican chain, Section 3), Avenue K Deli (Jewish, Section 6), Fatty Cue BBQ (Section 7), Brooklyn Bangers & Dogs (hot dogs and sausages, Section 8), Paisano's Meat Market (Italian sandwiches, Section 10), Bed Stuy Grill (Section 17), Buffalo Boss (wings and fries, Section 22), Nathan's (the famous Coney Island-based hot dog chain with the wonderful crinkle-cut fries, Section 24), Habana Outpost (Cuban sandwiches, Section 25), Junior's, Blue Marble & More (another New York legend, Section 26), Fresco's by Scotto (Italian, Section 29) and Brooklyn Burger (Section 29).
The whose base restaurant is in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, here they serve pizza and ice cream -- not mixed together, Section 206/207 and 225/226), Nathan's (Section 206/207), Habana Outpost (Section 209/210), Brooklyn Burger (Section 209/210), Prospect Heights Grill (Section 222/223), Fatty 'Cue (Section 222/223), and Brooklyn Bangers & Dogs (Section 225/226).
Team History Displays. The Nets' history -- in the ABA and the NBA; in Teaneck, on Long Island, at Rutgers, at the Meadowlands, in Newark and in Brooklyn -- has run from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The sublime was the 1974 and 1976 American Basketball Association Championships -- as far back as they are, they are still more recent than the Knicks' NBA titles of 1970 and 1973. The nearly sublime was the 2002 and 2003 NBA Eastern Conference Championships; the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 NBA Atlantic Division Championships; and, for which they don't hang a banner, the 1972 ABA Eastern Division Championship. These banners hang on the north side of the arena.
Despite their uneven history, the Nets have 6 retired number banners, hanging on the south side. From the ABA years, 1968-76: 25, guard Bill Melchionni; 32, forward Julius Erving; and 23, guard John Williamson. From the New Jersey years, 1977-2002 (the 1st season in the NBA, 1976-77, was still in New York): Williamson; 52, forward Buck Williams; 3, guard Drazen Petrovic; and 5, guard Jason Kidd, who also turned out to be the team's 1st head coach in Brooklyn.
The Nets have had several Hall-of-Famers, but Erving is the only one who has even played 3 seasons for them. Rick Barry played 2, Nate "Tiny" Archibald 1. Each of them was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. Erving, Barry and Billy Paultz were named to the ABA All-Time Team.
Stuff. There are lots of souvenir stands at the Barclays, and Modell's, the sporting goods chain that started in Brooklyn, heavily promotes the Nets all over The City by selling as much of their gear as Knick gear, and even hangs Nets posters in its Times Square store, within shouting distance of The Garden.
The Knicks have more books written about them than any other NBA team. Not nearly as glamorous a ballclub -- with the brief exception of the Dr. J years, 1973 to 1976, which coincided with a Knick downturn -- the Nets may have the fewest. Certainly, the New York media machine chose to ignore them in the Jersey years, and if they had built their arena elsewhere in The City, or even if they'd gone back to calling themselves the New York Nets rather than using the Brooklyn name, they might still be all but ignored.
Jake Appleman covered their re-debut season, 2012-13, in Brooklyn Bounce: The Highs and Lows of Nets Basketball's Historic First Season in the Borough. Greg Hrinya recently published The 5-Year Plan: The Nets' Tumultuous Journey from New Jersey to Brooklyn.
In 2003, Guy Kipp published From Julius to Jason: The Fall and Rise of the New Jersey Nets. But if you're looking for a book about the ABA New York Nets, your best bet is Terry Pluto's classic Loose Balls: The Short Wild Live of the American Basketball Association.
And if you're looking for team videos, forget it: The Nets don't have any. Nor does NBA.com. Nor does Amazon.com. Will Ferrell's comedy Semi-Pro was about an NBA team, but a fictional one.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Nets as 27th -- 4th from the bottom. This will be only their 4th season in Brooklyn, and fans from New Jersey don't seem to have made the trip across the Hudson and East (and possibly also Hackensack, Passaic, Elizabeth, Rahway and Raritan) Rivers. If there were any fans from the Long Island era waiting to come back, they haven't exactly jumped for joy over it. So if you're expecting the kind of intensity you get at a Knicks game, or a display of Brooklyn chutzpah, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Although New Yorkers and New Jerseyans can be intense, a visiting fan will probably be safe attending a Nets game at the Barclays Center, even if you're wearing gear of the opposing team. Even if you're wearing Knicks gear, you will most likely be subject to nothing more than a few verbal jabs, as the Knicks-Nets rivalry is still minimal.
Much of the fun of going to a Knick game is spotting the celebrities. At a Nets game, however, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are pretty much it, and even they don't show up for every game. Spike Lee has done as much to promote Brooklyn as anyone alive, but he remains true to the Garden faith. So does Brooklyn native Chris Rock. James Gandolfini did promos for the Nets, but both he and the New Jersey edition of the team are dead now.
The Nets do not have a regular National Anthem singer. Nor do they have a mascot. They tried Duncan the Dragon and Sly the Silver Fox during their New Jersey tenure. When they debuted in Brooklyn in 2012, they introduced the BrooklyKnight, a Brooklynite (get it?) superhero, complete with a Marvel Comics book. The idea was laughable, and after 2 years the character was dropped. They do have cheerleaders.
Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter and producer John Forté created the team anthem, "Brooklyn: Something to Lean On." Its chorus of "Brooook-lyyyyn" has become a Nets fan chant.
After the Game. Brooklyn's reputation as a high-crime place is not nearly as true as it was up until the mid-1990s. Certain parts of Brooklyn still manage to defy this, but if you manage to avoid anybody who got drunk during the game, you'll probably be safe. Besides, it's only a short walk from the arena to the Subway or (if you came by LIRR) the Atlantic Terminal. Despite Brooklyn's image as a place for tough guys, white and black alike, Net fans haven't developed a reputation for being rough. Then again, they haven't yet developed a reputation of any kind.
Unlike The Garden, there aren't many places around the Barclays Center where you can get a postgame meal, or just a pint. Jay-Z had The 40/40 Club, named for a legendary Atlantic City nightclub (which he also revived down there), built into the arena. But it's a little upscale for the average fan, especially one who's just spent a lot on tickets and arena food. Alchemy, at 56 5th Avenue at Bergen Street, is listed as serving "Comfort food in a pub style atmosphere," but that's about it. You may have to head into the Subway and look for something elsewhere.
If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square. The best one in Brooklyn is Woodwork, at 583 Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights. A or C train to Clinton-Washington Avenues.
Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since most people reading this will be from the Tri-State Area, I'll keep it short as possible. Indeed, since the focus is on the Brooklyn team, I'll focus on stuff in Brooklyn -- but also mention the former homes of the Nets.
I should note that the site of the Barclays Center was desired by Brooklyn Dodger owner Walter O'Malley as the site of what would have been America's 1st domed baseball stadium. Officially listed in plans as The Brooklyn Sports Center, it was nicknamed O'Malley's Pleasure Dome (the name taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem about Kublai Khan, "Xanadu").
By being across from the Atlantic Terminal and on top of a major Subway junction, it would have eliminated what was, along with the limited seating capacity, the biggest problem with Ebbets Field: Only 750 parking spaces. With so many Dodger fans having come back from World War II and gotten housing loans on the G.I. Bill, allowing them to move out to Queens and Long Island proper, instead of having to drive in to Flatbush, they could drive to their local LIRR station and take the train in, thus being able to celebrate their Dodgers in Brooklyn without having to "be in Brooklyn."
But Robert Moses, New York's construction czar, didn't want a stadium there -- probably because it wouldn't have been "his stadium," it would have been O'Malley's. He wanted one out in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, across from the site of the 1939-40 World's Fair he designed, to correlate with the 1964-65 World's Fair he was planning. O'Malley had a point: If the Dodgers were going to go to Queens, they wouldn't be the Brooklyn Dodgers anymore. Their identity would be gone. They might as well leave The City, they might as well leave the East Coast. And they did.
To make matters worse, Moses never offered his Flushing Meadow stadium to the Giants, who had better reasons to replace the Polo Grounds than the Dodgers had to replace Ebbets Field: Although it had the largest seating capacity in the National League at the time, it, and its neighborhood, were falling apart.
So while the move (some would say "theft") of the Dodgers was O'Malley's fault, first and foremost, Moses was, however indirectly, an accomplice. Some blame him more than O'Malley, which is stupid. He can be blamed 2nd, but not 1st.
* Site of Ebbets Field. It's hard for those of us under the age of 65, who have no memory of the Dodgers in Brooklyn or the Giants at the Polo Grounds, to realize that Shea Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park have all now lasted longer than Ebbets Field did (47 years) -- and that Dodger Stadium will soon surpass the final version of the Polo Grounds in age as well (53 years).
Ebbets Field gets romanticized by all those Dodger fans who made it big in media and entertainment, all of them now old or dead. The Giants don't get remembered as well because nobody wrote a book about them the way Roger Kahn wrote The Boys of Summer about the 1950s Dodgers, and because, while the Mets replaced the Giants as a representative of all of New York, there is no representative specifically of Brooklyn. (Had the Mets' permanent stadium been in Brooklyn instead of Queens, it might have been another story.)
Yes, that's a real color photograph of Ebbets Field.
It only had 31,497 seats and 750 parking spaces, and it was a 6-block walk from the closest Subway stations -- now serviced by the B and Q to Prospect Park, and the 2, 3, 4 and 5 to Franklin Avenue. And if you've ever been to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, with narrow iron seats and narrow rows, not exactly built with 21st Century tushes and legs in mind, you'll get an idea of what it was like to sit through 9 innings there.
But also had an intimacy that few ballparks had, even then. Most of the players lived not that far from the ballpark, instead of in Manhattan high-rises or on New Jersey or Long Island estates, as present-day Yankees and Mets tend to do these days. The furthest seats were close enough to see the players' facial expressions. The fans felt that they knew the players, and that the players knew them. And the characters, from noisy bleacherite Hilda Chester to the awful musicians that Dodger broadcaster Red Barber named "the Dodger Sym-Phony Band, with the emphasis on the 'Phony'!"
My grandmother was a Dodger fan from Queens. She told me that the Polo Grounds was a dump, but that, despite O'Malley not spending any money on upkeep -- aside from being naturally cheap, what did he need to do that for, since he was going to be out by the 1960s anyway? -- Ebbets Field was not falling apart, even toward the end. I asked her, point-blank: If the price for keeping the Dodgers in Brooklyn was building a modern ballpark, and sacrificing your beloved Ebbets Field, would you have paid that price? Without hesitation, she gave me an emphatic, "Yes." She would have liked Citi Field, the Mets' new ballpark, with its exterior designed to look like Ebbets Field, and its home-plate rotunda, designed to resemble the one at the Flatbush ballyard.
The Dodgers left after the 1957 season, and demolition began on February 23, 1960. Four years later, on April 11, 1964, the same demolition company used the same wrecking ball, still painted to look like a baseball, to begin tearing down the Polo Grounds.
In 1962, the 25-story Ebbets Field Apartments opened on the site. Low-income housing, and long noted for drug sales, it's liveable again, although I would suggest visiting in daylight. 1720 Bedford Avenue, bordered by Bedford, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place and Montgomery Street. (The McKeever brothers, Ed and Steve, along with Charles Ebbets, owned the team in the 1910s and '20s.)
From Bedford Avenue, where the right field wall
and the bleacher entrance once stood.
The home-plate entrance was at McKeever and Sullivan. Across McKeever is an intermediate school named for Ebbets Field, formerly named for Jackie Robinson. A playground named for Jackie is just to the north of the school, behind where the left-field stands used to be. (At roughly the same spot in comparison to the Polo Grounds Towers is a playground named Willie Mays Field).
* MCU Park and Coney Island. Named for the iconic Brooklyn-based company formerly known as KeySpan, and before that as Brooklyn Union Gas, this is the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, established in 2001 as the Class A farm team of the Mets, and as the 1st professional sports team, at any level, in Brooklyn since the Dodgers left. Ironically, along each baseline there is a zigzag roof, similar to the ones over the bleachers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Conyne Eylandt" -- Rabbit Island. The rabbits, like Steeplechase and the old Dreamland and Luna Park to the east, are long gone. Only Astroland remains, and even that has been significantly redeveloped in the last few years.
The Cyclones have a rivalry with the Staten Island Yankees, with the Yankees-Mets dynamic coming into play. They beat the "Baby Bombers" in the Playoffs in 2007, but lost to them in 2006 and 2011. They have won their Division of the New York-Penn League 5 times, most recently in 2010. In their 1st season, 2001, they had won Game 1 of their championship series with the Pennsylvania-based Williamsport Crosscutters. The next day was September 11. The rest of the series was canceled, and the teams were declared Co-Champions. This is the Cyclones' only Pennant thus far.
MCU Park, with the Parachute Jump over right field,
and the water beyond
When I first saw their mascot, I thought it was an eagle, named for the legendary newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle, which, after the Dodgers lost the 1941 World Series to the Yankees, blared in a front-page headline what became the Dodgers' motto until they finally beat the Yanks in 1955 (bittersweetly, mere months after the paper folded): "WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR." But it's actually a seagull, Sandy the Seagull, named for the beach. (Not for Brooklyn native Sandy Koufax.) Despite the effects of the 2012 hurricane on the Tri-State Area as a whole, and Coney Island in particular, the mascot's name is still Sandy.
Over the right-field wall is the now-retired (due to safety) Parachute Jump, once a legendary Coney Island ride, which had been designed for the 1939 World's Fair and then moved to the boardwalk. Adjacent to that is a skating rink named for Abe Stark, who rode an advertising sign at Ebbets Field ("HIT SIGN WIN SUIT -- ABE STARK -- Brooklyn's Leading Clothier") to the Presidency of the City Council (where he fought in vain to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn) and later to the Presidency of the Borough.
Outside the park is a statue of Dodger legends Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, symbolizing the friendship of the 1st nonwhite player in modern Major League Baseball, and the Southern-born team captain who chose to defy prejudice and assert his friendship with the man. Although Jackie, buried in Brooklyn's Cypress Hills Cemetery, has many honors throughout The City, this was his 1st statue anywhere in the Five Boroughs.
* Site of Washington Park. The team now known as the Dodgers -- previously known as the Grays; the Bridegrooms, because 3 of their 1880s players got married in a single off-season; the Superbas, after a circus troupe, Hanlon's Superbas, due to their manager being name Ned Hanlon; and the Robins, in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson -- played in 2 different places named for George Washington. (Ironically, Los Angeles also had a baseball facility named Washington Park.)
The 1st Washington Park was bounded by 3rd & 5th Streets, and 4th & 5th Avenues, in the Gowanus neighborhood. The property contained an old building then called the Gowanus House, which stands today, albeit largely reconstructed. It was Washington's command post during the Battle of Long Island. The proto-Dodgers began here in 1883, and won the American Association Pennant in 1889 and the National League Pennant in 1890.
The 2nd, which the club began using in 1898, opened at 1st & 3rd Streets, and 3rd & 4th Avenues, on the opposite corner of 4th Avenue from its predecessor. There they remained until 1912, winning Pennants in 1899 and 1900 -- Brooklyn's last "world championship" in baseball until 1955. Although its 18,800-seat capacity was big for the 1890s, the ballpark building boom that began in 1909 made it completely inadequate, and Charlie Ebbets began buying up lots in Flatbush where he built the stadium that would bear his name.
* Site of Union Grounds. Built in 1862 as the 1st enclosed baseball ground, and named for the country in that time of Civil War, this was the home of several amateur teams that helped to popularize the game, who were actually "clubs," just as the early soccer teams in Britain still are, and, unlike today's baseball teams, which only call themselves "ballclubs," still have "Football Club" as part of their official names: The Atlantic, the Excelsior, and the Eckford among them. In the winter, it was flooded, and turned into an ice rink.
The 1st baseball stadium, the Elysian Field in Hoboken, New Jersey, was designed for cricket rather than for baseball, and was never enclosed. It did not last long, being demolished in 1883.
* Site of Capitoline Grounds. Named for a famed hill in Rome, this 5,000-seat wooden stadium opened in 1864, meant to rival and surpass the Union Grounds. The Atlantics made it their home, and it was here, on June 14, 1870, that, in the first "greatest baseball game ever played," they ended the 89-game (or 130-game, depending on whose records you believe) unbeaten streak of the 1st professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
* Brooklyn Paramount. Opened in 1928, this 4,084-seat theater was a major jazz venue in the 1930s and 1940s. But it was the late 1950s that imprinted it on people's memories: Alan Freed, and later Clay Cole, hosted 10-day Christmas-season rock-and-roll festivals, featuring all the legends and semi-legends of the era. If you've ever seen the film La Bamba, about Ritchie Valens, one of these shows was depicted. (Although they probably had to use, ironically for Brooklyn, a Los Angeles theater as a stand-in for filming it.)
Like its contemporary, the Paramount Theater in Manhattan's Times Square, it still stands, but is no longer used as a theater. Rather, in 1962, it was converted into the gymnasium for Long Island University. Now named the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center, the LIU Blackbirds played basketball on the stage once rocked by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and Dion, until 2005, when they moved into a new gym.
The building is still used for sports, and the LIU Student Union is next-door. 1 University Plaza, at Flatbush & DeKalb Avenues, in the Fort Greene neighborhood, just east of downtown. B, Q or R train to DeKalb Avenue.
* Teaneck Armory. The Nets played the 1st season of the ABA, 1967-68, as the New Jersey Americans -- making them the 1st team to represent New Jersey in anything resembling a major league since the 1915 Newark Peppers of the Federal League. They played at an armory in Teaneck, Bergen County, built in 1936. They didn't do well attendance-wise, and moved to Long Island after 1 season.
The building still stands, and in 1997 was renovated. It is now known as the Soccer Coliseum, and indoor soccer is played there. 1799 Teaneck Road at Liberty Road. New Jersey Transit 167 or 177 bus from Port Authority.
The ABA team arrived, and, to rhyme with the Mets and the Jets, changed their name to the New York Nets -- admittedly, a dumb name with a dumb reason. They were terrible in that 1968-69 season, and found the floor unacceptable, full of pits and gouges, and with condensation from the ice beneath coming up, making it slick. After 1 season, the Nets moved again, for reasons that had little to do with poor attendance or performance.
* Island Garden. Built across the street from the original Island Garden, which hosted rock concerts from 1957 to 1968, the Nets managed to stay here for 3 seasons, from 1969 to 1972, including Rick Barry's ABA scoring leader season in 1971 and their 1st Division title in 1972.
* Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Nets and expansion Islanders moved into the brand-new Coliseum in 1972, and while it took the Isles a while to find their bearings, the Nets won right away, including the 1974 and 1976 ABA titles with Dr. J, Bill Melk and Super John.
In 1976, they were invited to join the NBA. But in order to get in, they had to pay the NBA an expansion fee, and pay the Knicks a territorial indemnification fee. As a result, they had to sell Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nets went from being the best team in a 6-team league to being the worst team in a 22-team league. They had to get out, and they did.
Meanwhile, the Isles were building the team that would win 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, and win a record 19 straight postseason series from 1980 to 1984. The Coliseum became known as "Fort Neverlose," and the Isles' battles with the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins became legendary.
Which is just as well, for many reasons. Getting there is not half the fun, and neither is getting back. It's a pain in the ass to get in and out of: First you have to get on the LIRR at Penn Station, then you have to change trains at Jamaica, then you have to take the Hempstead Branch to the Hempstead Terminal, then you gotta ride the N70, N71 or N72 bus down the Hempstead Turnpike, and then you gotta schlep across a desolate parking lot.
In addition, as Devils fans found out at the Meadowlands, having 1 level of concourse for 2 levels of seating means cramped confines, and long lines for food and bathrooms. It's a terrible design. Actually, the seating area isn't so bad: The 16,170 seats are comfortable, and sight lines are good. But by the time you get there, you're already in a nasty mood, and regardless of whether you're rooting for the Islanders or the visiting team, you're loaded for bear. No wonder the place, when it has any atmosphere, has a bad one.
Elvis Presley sang at the Nassau Coliseum on June 22, 23, and 24, 1973, and on July 19, 1975. The 1st concert on his Fall 1977 tour was supposed to be there, but it was not to be. It's also hosted many other renowned concerts, including major ones by Long Island native Billy Joel and a recent 2-night show by Miley Cyrus' BANGERZ World Tour. (Perspective: The last time the Isles reached the NHL's last 4, Miley was 6 months old.)
A plan is in place to redevelop the Coliseum, to downsize its seating area, and make it home for a new minor-league hockey team, while the Nets and Islanders would return to play preseason games. 1255 Hempstead Turnpike at James Doolittle Blvd. The mailing address is Uniondale, but it's part of the Town of Hempstead.
To the west, across Earl Ovington Blvd., is the campus of Hofstra University, including Weeb Ewbank Hall, the former offices and practice facility of the New York Jets. Across Hempstead Turnpike from that is another part of the Hofstra campus, including James M. Shuart Stadium. Although Hofstra no longer plays football, they play other sports there, and the new version of the New York Cosmos, as the original version did for a time in the early 1970s, plays their home games there while they look for a stadium closer to The City.
* Louis Brown Athletic Center. Built in 1977 as the Rutgers Athletic Center, it's still known as the RAC (pronounced like "Rack"). The Nets played there from 1977 to 1981, while waiting for the Meadowlands Arena to be built.
It wasn't the worst arena in NBA history, but if there was
a worse one used from 1980 onward, I'm not aware of it.
The Nets had to get out of there, and Rutgers really, really needs a better arena. 83 Rockafeller Road (that's right, not "Rockefeller") at Avenue E.
* Meadowlands Arena. Opening in 1981 as the Brendan Byrne Arena, it was renamed the Continental Airlines Arena in 1996, by a Republican-controlled State Legislature, just waiting for the original naming rights to run out, so they could get revenge on the Democratic Governor who got it built -- not for that, but for signing into law the State's 1st income tax. Byrne, who is still alive at age 90, was sanguine about it: "I was immortal for 15 years."
For most of their time there, the Nets were dreadful. The joke that the only reason people go to Jets games is that they can't get Giants tickets was true for basketball: Pretty much the only games the Nets sold out were against the Knicks, Dr. J's 76ers, Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers, and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. The only time people went there were when they wanted to see those teams, and couldn't get into The Garden to see them play the Knicks.
Yes, for a time, the Meadowlands Arena
had a parquet floor like the Boston Garden.
No one was fooled into thinking the Nets were a dynasty.
Once the deal to move the Nets to Brooklyn was sealed in 2004, New Jersey, never truly in love with the Nets, abandoned them completely. The delays in getting the Barclays Center built made them a lame-duck team for 8 years -- twice as long as the Montreal Expos were. Newark didn't embrace them, either, even though Newark is a great basketball city.
The IZOD Center still stands, although most people have only ever called it "the Meadowlands Arena." In January 2015, it was closed. It look like it will be demolished soon, meaning that Governor Byrne, now 91 years old, may actually outlive the arena formerly named for him.
* Prudential Center. Home to the Devils and Seton Hall University basketball since 2007 and the Nets from 2010 to 2012, the atmosphere isn't very good for basketball, but it's pretty good for hockey. I wish the Nets had stayed there instead of moving to Brooklyn: The City of Newark would have embraced them, and the State of New Jersey would have rediscovered them. Alas...
* Other Sites. If you have more than 1 day (and more than a little money) to spend in and around New York, I do recommend the American Museum of Natural History (79th Street & Central Park West, C train to 81st Street), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (82nd Street & 5th Avenue, 4, 5 or 6 train to 86th Street and then walk 3 blocks west to 5th Avenue), the observation deck of the Empire State Building (34th Street & 5th Avenue, 2 blocks from The Garden, B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square and walk 1 block east), and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (the only President thus far born in The City was born at 28 East 20th Street, N or R train to 23rd Street).
The Borough has its own world-class Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, at 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue. 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum. It's at the top of Prospect Park, a 5-minute walk from the Brooklyn Public Library and Grand Army Plaza, with its impressive Civil War Monument. Prospect Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Boston's "Emerald Necklace") also has a famous carousel, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
From 1929 until 2010, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower -- unlike the Brooklyn neighborhood, and the historic Virginia city of the same name, it has an H on the end -- with its Art Deco stylings and its clock tower, was the tallest building in the Borough, at 512 feet. 1 Hanson Place at Flatbush Avenue, on the other side of the Atlantic Terminal from the Barclays Center.
It has now been surpassed by The Brooklyner, a 515-foot-high apartment tower at 111 Lawrence Street at Willoughby Street, downtown. A, C or F train to Jay Street-MetroTech. It's a short walk from the Brooklyn Paramount, Borough Hall and 215 Montague Street at Cadman Plaza, the former location of the Dodgers' team offices, where Branch Rickey interviewed Jackie Robinson in 1945, told him of his plan to reintegrate baseball, and got him to agree to a contract. A bank is on the site now.
I can't recommend the Statue of Liberty for a tourist's visit, as it's not cheap, it's time-consuming both to get there and to get through, and the view from the crown isn't what you might hope. And the new World Trade Center isn't open yet, and the 9/11 Memorial is expensive and has long lines.
Plenty of movies have been set in Brooklyn, including the 1950 The Jackie Robinson Story starring the man himself, and the more recent 42 starring Chadwick Boseman; Dog Day Afternoon, the Al Pacino film about a real-life Brooklyn bank heist gone wrong; The French Connection, also based on a true story; Saturday Night Fever, based on a real Brooklyn disco; Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time In America; some of Spike Lee's films, including Do the Right Thing; and the gang film The Warriors, which concludes on the Coney Island boardwalk. Can you dig it?
TV has also used Brooklyn, no show more famous for doing so than Jackie Gleason's groundbreaking
The Honeymooners. The address for the Kramdens and Nortons, 328 Chauncey Street, is real, off Howard Avenue, although it's in Bushwick, not Bensonhurst like the show claims. C train to Ralph Avenue, which may be where Gleason, who grew up at 358 Chauncey, got the name for the character. In contrast, Gary David Goldberg's 1990s show about growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bridge, really was set in Bensonhurst.
The Patty Duke Show of the 1960s and The Cosby Show of the 1980s were both set in Brooklyn Heights, although both were taped in Los Angeles, and the townhouse used as the exterior for the Huxtables' home is actually in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. New Utrecht High School was used as the exterior set for both James Buchanan H.S. in the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter (series star Gabe Kaplan was both a graduate of, and a teacher at, that school before hitting it big as a comic) and Millard Fillmore H.S. in the 1980s sitcom Head of the Class, both on ABC. 1601 80th Street. D train to 79th Street.
Currently, Williamsburg is the setting for 2 Broke Girls, Greenpoint for Girls, and the police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine in, as the title suggests, the 99th Precinct. New York cop shows usually use precincts that don't exist in real life: Barney Miller in the 1970s used the 12th, as does Castle
now; Life On Mars used the 125th (the highest-numbered in real life is the 123rd), and the film Frequency (which, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, featured Andre Braugher as a detectives' squad leader) used the 74th.
The Nets, under any name, are the only one of the New York Tri-State Area's 9 major league teams to have never won a World Championship -- although, if you count the ABA, they're still the last basketball team in the Area to win a league championship.
They may never "take over New York." The Knicks are simply too ingrained into The City's culture, despite their 40 years of failure, including some crushing near-misses and infuriating sabotages, both from without and from within.
But at least the Nets now give the impression of trying, of losing now being unacceptable. They're no longer just trying to survive in the Knicks' shadow. They've done the best possible thing they could do, short of winning a title: They have formed their own brand, marketing themselves not just as a Brooklyn team, but as a New York City team that happens to play in Brooklyn. It's not, "You can't get in to see the Knicks, so try us, we're a decent second choice." It's, "You're from New York, and you love basketball. We're in New York, and we play basketball, and we're going to be winning soon. Be a part of this. Knicks who?"
If you want to be a part of it, here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of something special. All they have to do now is keep their part of the bargain -- the way they didn't went they finally started winning in New Jersey.