No one notices as Nets leave New Jersey
Tonight marks the end of a 35-year experiment of professional basketball in New Jersey, and the team is leaving in much the same way it came here, with its head hung and tail between its legs.
The Nets host Philadelphia at the Prudential Center in a meaningless game, as far as the standings go for the home team, which will again miss the playoffs. It's meaningful, perhaps, to consider the team's abysmal attendance record as a warning to another franchise to take up residence in Newark, though. While Newark Mayor Cory Booker and celebrity native Shaquille O'Neal both say getting an NBA team is a priority, actually getting one in the door will be a huge challenge. The Nets are last in attendance this season, have had crowds of barely 1,000 attend home games, and many of the people who do show up watch the games with bags over their faces. But at least they're getting a good deal — online ticket resellers like StubHub have posted plenty of penny seats in the building. Apparently, an urban home isn't enough to attract a large fan base.
An interesting side note — the team dumped "New Jersey" from its uniforms, logo, etc. when its owners decided to uproot a lot of Brooklynites to move the team into a shiny new facility that, from the outside, looks an awful lot like a baseball cap. But now, you can't drive within a few blocks of the arena without seeing signs with this logo, also printed on tickets.
You can't pin all this on the Prudential Center — the team set new lows for its losing ways last year, and everyone involved knew this was just a temporary stay. But at least it gave the arena a reason to turn the lights on 41 nights a year. If the NHL locks out again next season, or if the Devils wind up leaving in the near future, the much-publicized fears about its ability to be a long-term economic engine in Newark may come to pass. Unlike the Nets, that might be something to which people actually pay attention.
I'm even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.