Well, the first major theme just received another substantial boost with the announcement a couple of days ago that the NHL's New York Islanders will move from their antiquated arena on Long Island in Uniondale to the Barclays Center. Barclays is, of course, where the relocated Brooklyn Nets will be playing their first regular season game very soon.
|Photo source: wikipedia.|
According to the linked Bloomberg piece, the move is set for the 2015-2016 season, assuming the NHL someday ends the lockout and actually starts playing hockey games again. Putting that aside, for those of you keeping score at home, the deeper sports story here is that both of the pro teams that started playing at the Nassau Coliseum -- ABA New York Nets of Dr. J fame, and the New York Islanders -- in the early 1970s are now going to be reunited in Brooklyn, of all places. Call it fate.
Now, the Islanders aren't just any team to me. They were quite simply my hockey team as a young lad and my God they were good. During their glory years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the team was replete with the likes of Denis Potvin (whom Ranger fans still jeered wtih "Potvin Sucks" more than a decade after he retired), Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith, and Butch Goring, just to name a few, they won 4 (!) Stanley Cups in a row and played some of the most exciting, balanced team hockey the league has ever seen. Since then, it's been a long, painful and effectively permanent descent to the basement for the Isles. A descent punctuated, at least in my mind, with the criminal, after-the-whistle hit that virtually talent-free Washington Capitals enforcer Dale Hunter put on Pierre Turgeon after Turgeon's goal clinched the 1993 Wales conference semifinal series for the Islanders. Psychologically, Hunter didn't just crumple Turgeon, he injured the whole franchise. Whether the move to a new arena will be the thing that shakes the Islanders out of their doldrums and makes them competitive agian remains to be seen. There's at least some hope that it will lead to a brighter future.
The second theme, the one about sweet vindication and the phoenix-like revivication of the County of Kings, is also boosted by the imminent coming of the Islanders. As is well known, the borough's beloved Dodgers decamped for Los Angeles in 1958, leaving behind a deeply distraught and embittered fan base that I can still remember as deeply distraught and embittered as a young child, more than a decade later. Even though the Mets had been bestowed upon the region and had success in 1969 and again in 1973, everyone knew, deep down, that soul-less Shea Stadium (an armpit the day it opened) was hardly a replacement for the intimate Ebbets Field and an expansion team was no match for the blood, sweat and tears Brooklyn had put into the Dodgers. Branch Rickey deserved immense credit and a place in the Hall of Fame for integrating major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947. But what Rickey and Walter O'Malley did to their host city a decade later was undeniably devastating.
And as Brooklyn and the entire city itself entered into a painful decline over the ensuing quarter century, including, without in any way implying limitation, such joyous events as two major blackouts, the Son of Sam murder spree, municipal bankruptcy, the mayoralty of Abe Beame, the Westway debacle, the loss of a million residents, and the rise of Donald Trump, it was hard to deny what many were saying: that our best days were behind us (I seem to recall a New York magazine article that even pinpointed 1946 as the city's best year, period -- thank you New York magazine!), and the future was elsewhere. Turns out the future was in Brooklyn all along, with its growing population, two major sports franchises, state-of-the-art arena, newly-rebuilt train station, and perhaps the greatest per-capita hippitude of all stripes on the planet, led by a troika of moguls from 3 very different worlds - hip hop, real estate, and precious metals. Go figure.