This week, the New York Islanders announced that they’ll move to Brooklyn in 2015 after their lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum. The hockey team will share the Barclays Center with the Brooklyn Nets, the second time in history these teams have called the same arena home. Bill talked with New York Times columnist George Vecsey about what this move means for the Islanders and the people of New York.
Q: The Islanders have stunk for a long time, and their current home building, the Nassau Coliseum, has been described as “shabby” and “decrepit.” Will this move help rejuvenate the team and its fan base?
A: The fan base is going to have to shift, because clearly people in Nassau and Suffolk are not going to want to make the move in, although as I’ve pointed out, given mass transit, it’s easier to take the Long Island Railroad into the basement of the new Barclays Center than it is to drive to the Nassau Coliseum. There’s certainly a lot of yuppie money in Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens that they can have their own fan base on the subway line.
Q: You wrote about the Islanders during the team’s glory days, what was that like?
A: First of all, it was a lazy man’s decision, because there they were: Stanley Cup champions near my house, but secondly, it was a great story. I mean, having these guys playing and winning championships in the middle of then-fairly promising, upbeat Nassau County. Even though the setting was drab—the Coliseum was always a dump—and there was nothing around. These guys would win a Stanley Cup Championship and come home and have a parade in a parking lot. There was no there there, and it’s not exactly a setting for a championship team.
Q: From 1972 to 1977, the Islanders shared their current home, Nassau Coliseum, with the Nets, back when they were the ABA’s New York Nets. Will the two teams be compatible tenants once again?
A: The Islanders will be the tenants, Charles Wang and his team will be tenants. And they will be the second in, and lesser tenants. The Islanders have had to make their deal with fate in taking a smaller arena. We were told early on that you can’t get a hockey arena in there. All of a sudden, you could get hockey in there, but only with 14,000 seats, as opposed to places where you can get 18-20,000, which is a lot of money different.
Q: When the Jazz moved from New Orleans to Utah, they rather inexplicably kept their nickname. Will “New York Islanders” still work when the team moves to Brooklyn?
A: Well, it’s still Long Island. I had to laugh the other day—there were people in Brooklyn who were saying, ‘uh yeah, we have nothing to do with Long Island,’ and you say, ‘well dude, have you ever looked around the perimeter of Brooklyn?’ There’s water on three sides and Queens on the other side. But, they didn’t know they were living on Long Island. Walt Whitman knew that when he traveled westward to get from Huntington to Brooklyn, so yes—I hate to break the news to some people in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn’s on Long Island.
Q: Is there any sense early on as to how Long Islanders, or New Jerseyites for that matter, feel about being jilted by their pro sports team?
A: Some fans will feel broken-hearted in New Jersey. But the Nets were always sort of a turnpike team: they played at Rutgers, they played at some armory, they played all over the place in New Jersey. And now they’re gone. It’s almost as if they were never there. But that’s easy for me to say, I don’t have much to do with New Jersey except go through it. And I think Long Island is the same, but who am I to tell people in Nassau and Suffolk County, ‘you won’t miss that hockey team’? They have every right to miss what they were doing last year, which was going and watching a bad hockey team get beat in a dismal barn. But it was their team, and I can’t tell them not to miss the Islanders.