A City Rises: The New York Islanders Join the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center

The New York Islanders will be moving from the Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn when the lease runs out at the Coliseum after the 2014-2015 season. They will play at the Barclays Center, the new home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. But they will not change their name. They will remain the New York Islanders.

The hockey team up until now has been the centerpiece of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Hempstead, and, during much of this time, the pride of Long Island. Indeed, for at least the last nine years, the owner of the team, billionaire Charles Wang, who founded CA Technologies, which is based in Islandia, tried mightily to get Hempstead to approve the restoration of that aging facility and make it the centerpiece of a new development with glistening skyscrapers—Hempstead would be the capital city of Long Island—but Hempstead would not go along with it. Now the lease is running out. The Islanders will move.

This is amazing and wonderful news, in my opinion, and that’s because I was born in Brooklyn and my uncles and aunts all lived there and when I was a boy we often went to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team playing at Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a wonderful team. Year after year they’d win the National League pennant, and year after year they’d lose in the World Series to the New York Yankees.

There are people around today, and I am one of them, who have never forgotten our childhoods when we rooted for Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider and Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson, and time after time were so humiliated by these annual defeats.

And then we received the ULTIMATE humiliation. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Now there was NEVER a chance we would win. After that, the energy seemed to leave Brooklyn and it went into an enormous economic decline. Ebbets Field was torn down. Much of that borough became slums. It was awful. I am among the few people who today, when asked who we root for in baseball, answer “Every team that plays against the New York Yankees.” Needless to say, I felt a modicum of satisfaction when Detroit decimated the Yankees in four straight to take the American League Pennant. How about that. The team with by far the biggest pool of money to buy the best ballplayers, beaten by the Detroit team. Well, it was something. And now THIS.

Brooklyn now has, suddenly, not one but TWO professional sports teams. It is part of the triumphant moment, a long time coming, for that community to return to the forefront of this nation’s stage. What an achievement.

As I have rooted for Brooklyn as my place of birth, I have also taken note of how this return has taken place. Among the pioneers in its return have been several Hamptonites. David Walentas and his wife, Jane, bought the Two Trees Farm in Bridgehampton, where our summer polo matches are held, in 1993, after which they restored it. He also took a huge gamble in 1981 when he bought an enormous, rundown, two-million-square-foot patch of Brooklyn industrial property between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge overpasses. Filled with abandoned factories, it was part of the disaster that befell that borough after all manufacturing plants left that community. Walentas began to develop this part of it, renamed it DUMBO, and brought life back to it. Another Hampton figure, developer Bruce Ratner, is constructing the Atlantic Yards mixed-use complex. And he has brought that area back to life, suffered the terrible recession we have gone through, winning some battles and losing others to create a whole new center of the city, the centerpiece of which is the Barclays Center. Construction there continues. But the Barclays Center is open now over a month. Jay-Z performed there to open it. Barbara Streisand performed there next. Four rounds of world championship fights were held there the other night. The Nets are just starting to play games there.

The resurgence of Brooklyn may have begun only during this last generation, but its fall from grace began long before I got there to witness the flight of the Dodgers and the collapse of the economy all those years ago.

In the 19th century, Brooklyn was not a borough of New York City. It was its own city. And when all the grand institutions of our cities were built, mostly in the late 19th century, Brooklyn got its share. There was Brooklyn City Hall, Brooklyn Courthouses and the Brooklyn Museum. All are still standing today, but, with the exception of the museum, are used for different purposes. And that is because, after the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to connect Brooklyn to the City of New York in 1883, the wealthy industrialists and high society of Brooklyn, all living in great mansions in the borough, made the incredible decision to join up with the already-in-existence City of New York. Approximately one million people lived in Brooklyn when that happened in 1898. Brooklyn’s prosperity peaked soon thereafter but then after that began a slide slowly downhill. All roads now led, it seemed, to Manhattan. And Brooklyn’s economic collapse, which accelerated in the 1950s largely, some say, with the collapse of the daily Brooklyn Eagle newspaper, led to the disastrous state of affairs in that community in the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s just so wonderful to see Brooklyn coming back. It is going to be great fun. And its centerpiece, a basketball team owned by a Russian oligarch, played in a stadium named after a British bank, now joined by a hockey team owned by a Chinese-American, all overseen by the prominent Jewish developer Bruce Ratner, just shows the world what we are made of.

As for other more modest East End connections, one of my sons, Gabriel Rattiner, is opening a music studio in a loft building there and I wish him well. In music, Brooklyn now rivals Nashville and Austin. And I can go to Brooklyn now via Hampton Jitney, which has opened a route to that borough from the East End.

Go Brooklyn!! And take THAT, Yankees.

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I should like to mention that I think Brooklyn is a part of Long Island. It seems almost crazy to have to say that. But most people don’t think of it as Long Island. They see it as part of New York City. But physically, Long Island’s shores run not only around our East End and what we call the “west” end of the island, but also around Brooklyn and the borough of Queens.

Sometimes you see on the side of a truck the name of a firm and under it a map of Long Island with Brooklyn and Queens missing. It looks like a fish with its head cut off. Below it is invariably the phrase “Serving all of Long Island.” But that is not all of Long Island.

I submit that when they discovered Long Island, Brooklyn was attached. George Washington fought and lost “The Battle of Long Island” on the plains of Brooklyn. If it was good enough for George Washington, it was good enough for me.

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