Never Say Newark?


For a few years now, Newark has been an oft-proposed alternate destination for the Nets if their controversial move to Brooklyn ever falls through. The Prudential Center, which opened in 2007 as the new home for the New Jersey Devils – who had toiled alongside the Nets at the inaccessible and undesirable Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ, for years – has been received warmly by attendees and is just a short walk away from Newark-Penn Station, providing access from both New York and New Jersey.

The Nets have always been coy about these proposals, which have been made from a wide-range of sources, including diehard New Jersey-based fans, opponents of the Brooklyn plans, and politicians like Newark Mayor Cory Booker. A lot of time, energy and most importantly money, has been spent on trying to making the Brooklyn Nets a reality. Publicly being open to a “Plan B,” while “Plan A” is under assault in the court of law and the court of public opinion, would be a poor strategic decision for ownership, which is currently trying to amass financing before the end of the year to qualify for tax-exempt bond status.

Or so we thought. While ownership is still publicly saying “Brooklyn or bust,” the team has agreed to play two preseason games at the Prudential Center over the next two weeks, including the first of two tomorrow night against the Cetics. And last week, the organization held its “Netstoberfest,” a free pep rally, at the Prudential Center rather than in Brooklyn or at the Izod Center.

“We’re promoting our preseason games in Newark,” a Nets spokesman told the Bergen Record last week about all of the Newark events.

Regardless of their public positions about Brooklyn and Newark, the Nets organization shouldn’t be surprised that they opened themselves up to scrutiny. On Wednesday, opponents of the Atlantic Yards Development will have their day in New York State’s highest court, as they argue the planned use of eminent domain by the developer to build the prospective Barclays Arena in Brooklyn. While some are painting this hearing as the “last stand” of sorts for the opposition, there is no indicator that this will be the last legal block thrown at Nets ownership in their quest to land in Brooklyn. In fact, quite the contrary. Next on the legal itinerary is a lawsuit that claims a state development board failed to do due diligence before approving the Atlantic Yards plans, the New York Post reported last week.

So while it’s seemingly the intention of the Nets ownership, and the NBA as a whole to have basketball in Brooklyn, I think it’s appropriate to wonder how playing two, otherwise harmless, typically under-the-radar preseason games in Newark could potentially affect the course of this long-planned and long-stalled real estate move to Brooklyn. Opponents have been fighting the Brooklyn move for years and show no signs of letting up. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has signed a letter of intent to take a majority stake of the team, but how much of that ultimately hinges on the move to Brooklyn? Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils have watched their attendance go up nearly 11 percent since they moved to Newark. Walking through New York’s Penn Station the other day, there were a stream of blue Rangers jerseys headed towards Madison Square Garden, and another line of red Devils jerseys headed towards NJ TRANSIT. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that on days when both the Knicks and Nets were at home.

There are a number of reasons Newark won’t and shouldn’t happen. The league doesn’t want it. NBA basketball has already proven to be a failure in New Jersey. Why would the league approve a reshuffling of the same deck? Also, the Nets would be beholden to the Devils, an organization they’ve had some heat with in the past, in order to share the space. Why do that when they can have their very own space in Brooklyn, or perhaps, elsewhere?

But there’s basketball being played in Newark this week, and ownership is still fighting lawsuits preventing ground from being broken in Brooklyn. As long as those two things coincide, the question will inevitably be raised and the possibility still exists, regardless of the organization and the league’s ultimate intent.