Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and many mentions of a town no Nets will live in (Getty Images)
When word hit over the weekend that the Brooklyn Nets were looking for a place to design and construct their own practice facility, the timing seemed a little off. Hadn't the team aligned its prospects with the borough of Brooklyn years ago? Didn't they have enough time to already have a facility, with the new Barclays Center about to open, in place? Then we read that the Nets were still going to practice in East Rutherford, New Jersey this year and perhaps next. A trip to Mapquest reveals that East Rutherford is 15 miles away from Brooklyn, and then an email to our resident Brooklynite Dan Devine relayed the information that the jaunt could take the better part of an hour, give or take.
Then word hits, from the New York Times on Tuesday, that this will go a long way toward quashing any sort of lingering idea that the Brooklyn Nets will be strolling out of their brownstones on their way toward that night's battle. For reasons both pragmatic, personal, and professional the Nets' residences will be dotted throughout both New Jersey and Manhattan. Just as was the case when the team played in East Rutherford, before 2010, and Newark for the last two seasons.
The reason, as the Times' Howard Beck points out, is because a team's practice facility is the true home base for an NBA player. Teams squeeze in over 90 home and away games, counting exhibition contests, from early October until late April, and the facility acts as the hub that holds it all together. Whether it's for a rare full-on in-season practice or to merely get your meal on, it's the practice room — and not that massive arena — that the players need to be nearby.
And Brooklyn's New Jersey-based facility, opened during John Calipari's heyday with the team in 1998, is a humdinger. A word you're probably not allowed to say in Brooklyn, anyway. Here's Crain's New York on the hub:
The Nets facility in East Rutherford includes two regulation-size NBA courts; a custom-built clubhouse locker room with lounge and kitchen and a whole lot more. It also boasts a treatment center with training room, a hydrotherapy pool and whirlpool; a strength and conditioning center; and a video theater room, plus locker rooms. It also has approximately 32,000 square feet of office space and 2,000 square feet of warehouse space.
As Beck details, a sterling practice facility is one of the major selling points a team can offer a player, and teams have gone to great lengths over the last two decades to put together a building that a potential happy player would want to spend at least half his season in.
Placing that facility a healthy jaunt away from the team's home arena is nothing new. The Chicago Bulls were ahead of the curve in both creating a massive facility (The Sheri L. Berto Center, in Deerfield, Illinois) and constructing it away from the team's public place of business; though the franchise has recently decided to re-locate its facility to aid in what can be a lengthy drive from the Chicago suburbs to the city's west side on game nights. The New York Knicks may work out of Manhattan at the famed Madison Square Garden, but for years the team has trained in the sedate suburbs of Greenburgh, New York.
Still, for a team that practices in East Rutherford, flies out of Newark (where the team's private charter is located), and plays in Brooklyn 45-plus games a year? This is a whole lot of extra work.
"I actually wanted to live in Brooklyn," said the Nets' C. J. Watson, who has friends in the borough. But he chose Edgewater, a 12-mile drive from East Rutherford, because "I just had to stay close to the practice gym."
A player commuting from Brooklyn to the PNY Center might exhaust his patience and his brake pads by the end of the first month. To get to practice, he would have to cross two rivers and the expanse of Manhattan and navigate potential bottlenecks at various bridges and tunnels. The distance would be around 15 miles, but the trip might last more than an hour.
Beck, a Brooklynite for years who is now charged with covering his adopted hometown's new team, reveals that seven Nets will be living in New Jersey this year. A more well-heeled cadre of Net veterans — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kris Humphries and Jerry Stackhouse — will make do with living in Manhattan. No player will call Brooklyn home.
To hear the Nets and Crain's tell it, once the team moves away from the East Rutherford facility for the 2013-14 season (though their lease runs until 2015), acquiring a space in Brooklyn to train is no sure thing:
The search for a Brooklyn location has been going on for over a year now. Last year, the Nets weighed three sites in Brooklyn, according to another real estate source. But team officials decided not to pursue those opportunities because a number of key players reside in New Jersey and wanted to practice closer to home, the source said. The Nets also have a lease on the facility in East Rutherford that runs through June 2015.
"Yes, we are looking for a practice facility location, but we will not comment on any specific site," a Nets spokesman said. "We are evaluating all options and we will do what's best for the team."
Beck mentions that a Brooklyn facility could draw some Nets into the borough; but a combination of either lifestyle (for the single cats) and family concerns could only draw certain players from New Jersey and into Manhattan. Deron Williams, for one, had no such luck finding a four bedroom home that suited his growing family's needs. Apparently the Huxtable residence in Brooklyn Heights is not for sale.
The very good Times piece points out all the cultural touchstones of Brooklyn living that the Nets are missing as they camp out in Jersey or on the upper west side. The unfortunate truth of an NBA season is that, despite the relative luxury that these players live in, there just isn't a whole lot of time to take such trappings in. The hours are strange, the travel is heavy, and nap and recovery time is of paramount importance. And that's just for the single boys; not even taking into consideration those with families, or those that might have a reality show on a tacky basic cable network to consider.
New York City has been smitten with basketball for a century, now, and its most famous and well-remembered teams have long embodied the spirit of the metropolis area; even if that connection is trumped up a bit by the media covering those outfits. Still, for a city yearning to get back to the championship days that featured Walt Frazier's urban modernity, Phil Jackson's subway rides home, and Bill Bradley's upper crust bookishness, a winning group of would-be Brooklyn-ites could have gone a long way toward swaying some fans away from the Knicks and toward those encroaching Nets.
For now, at least, the team still can't seem to shake the Jersey from its showing roots. No shame in that, Netsies. You've got actual basketball to think of.
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