The New Jersey Swamp Dragons That Weren’t

Swamp Dragons logo (via ESPN)
Swamp Dragons logo (via ESPN)
Swamp Dragons logo (via ESPN)
Swamp Dragons logo (via ESPN)

The NBA has some timeless what-ifs. For example: what if the Blazers had taken Michael Jordan over Sam Bowie? What if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh didn’t team up in Miami?

But the league’s biggest, perhaps least-reported what-if of all has finally come to (more) light: what if the Nets hadn’t voted against themselves to become the New Jersey Swamp Dragons?

Zach Lowe of had a chance to unearth some of the greatest gems from that time in an oral history with relevant players, as well as some incredible artwork for jerseys, court designs, and various merchandise. We’ve talked in the past about how the Nets voted against themselves, but there’s a plethora of never-before-seen details about the potential rebrand, including some thoughts from the dissenting voter himself, then co-owner David Gerstein.

The whole oral history is full of gems, like this one from former NBA commissioner David Stern that’s so dry you could get fired as a sommelier for pairing it with the wrong dessert.

SPOELSTRA: David told me, ‘This is the stupidest f***ing idea I’ve ever heard.’

O’GRADY: He did say that. It wasn’t the first time he said something like that. I had an open-door policy on dumb ideas.

STERN: If they say I said that, I’m sure I did.

Lowe interviewed numerous people involved in the project: Jon Spoelstra, former Nets president, various members of the “Secaucus Seven” ownership group, and logo designer Dick Sakahara, who detailed the incredibly rigorous guidelines they set out for him.

SAKAHARA: I thought, ‘Oh, cool, I get to draw a dragon!’ They said, ‘No, a swamp dragon.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ I didn’t give a whole of thought to the swamp. I was just excited to draw a dragon. I called him, ‘Swampy.’

It’s frankly amazing this idea didn’t get traction. “Draw a dragon.” “Cool!” “No, but swampy.”

After the idea started getting backlash from everyone from Stern to then-New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, the team tried to go with a different, still-appropriate name.

SPOELSTRA: Fire Dragons didn’t come from us. We wanted Swamp Dragons. The funny thing is, that swamp caught fire every summer anyway. The water would literally burn because of all the chemicals in it. Talk about fire dragons.

Read the whole oral history below.

ESPN — The legend of the Swamp Dragons