Point, Counterpoint: Jerseys and Ownership

Mark’s Take: Own Who You Are Nets

For a team that’s supposed to be in the bottom of the league’s standings this coming season, the New Jersey Nets have certainly generated a lot of mainstream media buzz during an otherwise sleepy week in the summer off-season. And not for the right reasons.
First, they ruffled the feathers of a New Jersey legislator when the organization said they would be wearing new road uniforms this season – jerseys with the words “New Jersey” noticeably absent. Team officials said it’s another part of the “regionalization” of the franchise, but those who have followed owner Bruce Ratner’s quest to bring the Nets to Brooklyn as part of a larger and development, saw the move as a slap to the face to New Jersey.

Then, in an effort to boost ticket sales, the team announced a promotion where fans who bought tickets to 10 select games would receive “reversible jerseys” – with one side featuring Nets players like Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, and the reverse side featuring some of the top stars from other teams, like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The promotion has received mock and scorn on a national level and speaks volumes about how many tickets the team thinks it can sell by marketing around only Nets players in 2009-10.

Maybe, after following this team for two decades, I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by these things anymore. Playing in the shadow of one of the biggest cities in the world, in an arena that, by most accounts, is inaccessible and undesirable, has to affect how a team sees itself. Clearly, ownership is just playing out the clock, waiting for when a move to Brooklyn is possible, paying no mind to any damage left in their path.

The problem with this attitude is, those running the basketball operations for the Nets seem to be sincerely working towards building something on the court. Kiki Vandeweghe spoke at length recently about the Nets young core and accepting some losses now for an expected gain in the future. The positive direction of the Nets was also acknowledged by Dwayne Wade, who in a recent visit to New Jersey, said it was a “class organization” that should be able to “get the players they need to get.” That may not end up being a Lebron, or a Wade or a Bosh next year, but with cap flexibility, and guys like Harris, Lopez, Yi and others hopefully maturing into better ballplayers, the Nets might just be a few veteran pieces away from something special.

So if Nets ownership has any interest in keeping a good faith relationship with what’s left of their fan base, it would behoove them to acknowledge the team’s potential on the court, rather than the team’s potential in the world of real estate development. A move to Brooklyn is not going to be determined by what’s said on the front of the team’s uniforms, or how many dozen Lebron fans can be sucked in to buying 10-game season tickets packs in order to get a free jersey. Brooklyn is going to be determined by lawsuits and court hearings, tax exempt bonds and arena naming rights.

The start of the season is drawing closer and it’s time for the Nets organization from top to bottom to own who they are and what they’ve built on the court and leave the soap opera about what’s being built off the court, off the front (and inside) of their jersey’s.

Sebastian’s Take: The Outrage Isn’t There

When I read through all of the “news” reports this week, it was hard for me to get outraged about them like most other Nets fans. I have no idea why that is, I mean I love the Nets, and I don’t like seeing them embarrassed by the national media, but I don’t think I could call my feeling outrage.

Maybe it is like what Mark said; maybe after following this team my whole life (close to 20 years), I am numb to all of the silly things the front office does. I can’t even begin to list them all. The one that comes to mind first though is the stadium. The location of it is awful, as everyone needs to drive about an hour to get to it. Not to mention that the stadium itself has been allowed to become run-down an awful to be in. Maybe in the back of my mind I think that if they are to move, they would be better off.

Maybe it is me being naïve, thinking despite all of the stuff going on with ownership, the basketball stuff can be kept separate and the Nets can still be successful. In my opinion, the Nets have two of the most respected and most talented front office people in the NBA. I feel like if either of these two men were being forced to make moves by ownership (moves like salary dumps), they would very well leave this organization and get picked up by another team. So you know they believe in these moves. They have done a great job over the past few years rebuilding the roster from one that had aging players with bloated contracts to a flexible roster full of youth, potential, and most importantly, expiring contracts, leaving the door open to pick up a big-time free agent this upcoming off-season. Roy Rogers came back despite taking a pay-cut, so you know he sees big things coming for this team.

Maybe it is my business background in me, but looking at what the Nets did the past couple of weeks, I see these as smart moves financially. I have stated a lot of times in the past that most owners don’t buy teams to put a winning product, they do it to make money. Now you make more money by putting out a winning product no question, but you can’t really blame owners who make decisions based on money. The basketball people hired are and should be the ones making the basketball related decisions. Is taking the “New Jersey” off of the road jerseys a slap in the face to people from New Jersey? Sure. Do we have the right to be pissed off about it? I am not sure. Even before the plans to move the Nets to Brooklyn were announced, people didn’t show up to see games. Now, people want to get defensive about them? To me, this whole proposal of taking the Nets’ tax money away just seems like someone trying to make a name for themselves politically. Moreover the move makes sense basketball-wise too. One of the ways we are going to be able to lure big free-agents to the Nets is if the Brooklyn move happens, and taking the New Jersey off the jersey shows these players that the move is in the cards.

Speaking of jerseys, this whole reversible jersey nonsense is causing quite a stir. A lot of people are saying that the Nets are marketing to other teams’ fans instead of their own. The way I look at it though, the Nets are merely marketing to the people who are going to show up to the games. You wouldn’t be able to tell me with a straight face that when the Nets play the Cavs, the Knicks, the Lakers, or the Celtics there are more Nets fans in the arena. It just doesn’t happen, and we would be kidding ourselves if we thought it did. But can we really blame the ownership if they try to make a couple more bucks out of them by selling LeBron jerseys instead of having them show up in their own?

I know a lot of this might come off as me bashing Nets fans. This isn’t the case, in my opinion, true Nets fans are some of the best NBA fans out there. For some reason though (my guess is it has something to do with the location of the stadium), a lot of them don’t really show up to games, especially during this financial crisis. That doesn’t make them worse, not in the least, but it is something that needs to be considered. Anyway with all of this being said, I hope that this is the last time (although it probably won’t be) we have to talk about ownership this off-season.