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History repeats itself as Nets branch out to Long Island

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Long Island native Anthony Puccio takes a look at the Nets eastward trek, then and now., with both a Long Island native as head coach and a D-League team, the Long Island Nets.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets had some of their most glorious days on the court, not as the New Jersey Nets, not as the Brooklyn Nets, but rather as the New York Nets ... of Long Island. They won two championships as a team in ABA behind one of the ABA/NBA's greatest of all time, Julius "Dr. J" Erving.

That history is hardly ever talked about, but that could change. The Nets D-League expansion team and their new coach are both about Long Island.

The Island connection started in the 1968-1969 season, the franchise's second season inn the ABA. The Nets played at the Long Island Arena, better known as the Commack Arena, which seated only 4,000 people. The decision to move to Commack was rushed and didn't exactly produce a positive result.

Before the team's official move to Long Island, the then-New Jersey Americans had a game against the Kentucky Colonels at the Commack Arena in 1968. The Americans and Colonels were tied in the standings, and needed to play a "do or die" game to determine who would qualify for the playoffs.

The Americans were forced to move the game at the last minute because their normal home, the Teaneck Armory, was booked with the circus. When the teams arrived at the Commack stadium, the court was filled with holes and condensation from a hockey game that took place the night before.

This sort of thing lasted for only one season.

Then from 1969-1972, the New York Nets played at the Island Garden Arena in Hempstead, an 8,500-seat arena that's now the hotspot for AAU basketball on the Island.

"It was a trip," Lavern Tart shooting guard for the Nets from 1968 to 1972, told the New York Times. "There were two sections of the arena that leaked whenever it rained or snowed, and it dripped onto the court. We knew where those spots were, but the teams coming in had no idea. I remember one night Darrel Carrier of the Kentucky Colonels was guarding me, so I dribbled and backed him into one of the spots. Then I made a quick move and he went down. That's when home-court advantage really meant something."

In 1969, the Nets grossed about $45,000 for the team's 42-game home schedule, Mike Manzer, the former head of sales and promotions for the Nets, told the Times. All the seats in the arena were great, but the best way for the Nets to attract fans was by promoting free giveaways, most notably -- the red, white and blue ABA ball.

Playing basketball and growing up on Long Island, the (renovated) Island Garden was a place where I enjoyed so many greats wins and endured so many tough losses. For the average Long Island baller, it was a place that created so many memories.

Like Commack Arena, the Island Garden was only a temporary home for the Nets.  They played there for three seasons. The reason: they were in the midst of a playoff run in 1971, but were unable to play any home playoff games at home. Other events already booked! After three seasons at the I.G., the Nets moved five minutes away to a brand new arena in Uniondale that fit 17,800 people, better known as the Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders.

The Nets won two ABA Championships in the Coliseum with Hall of Famer Julius Erving leading the franchise to its first ever championship in the 1973-1974 season. Just two seasons later, the Nets won another championship in 1976. Following that season, the Nets joined the Nation Basketball Association as part of the ABA-NBA merger. They played one more (miserable) year at the Coliseum and then departed to New Jersey in 1977.

The rest is unspoken history.

The Coliseum shut down this past season in 2015 and the Islanders moved in with the Nets in Brooklyn... 43 years later. The ties to Long Island had just begun.

On October 30, 2015, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov agreed to take control of the revamped Nassau Coliseum from Bruce Ratner, his former partner in both the Nets and Barclays Center. Not long after, the Nets announced their D-League team the Long Island Nets would begin playing the renovated coliseum in 2017.

"We are proud to bring the Nets brand back to Long Island, and to establish synergy between the team's storied roots at Nassau Coliseum and its contemporary history in Brooklyn," said Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which is parent company of the Nets, Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum (as well as the L.I. Nets).

He also noted the historic connections between the L.I. Nets logo and the old New York Nets signage. The logo features the ‘Nets’ wordmark in red script, reminiscent of the Nets’ logo used from 1968-78. The wordmark appears against a black and white basketball with a ‘Long Island, New York’ mark in a circular shape that mirrors the secondary logo of the Brooklyn Nets.

In the press conference introducing the Long Island Nets, GM Sean Marks noted how important the D-League team will be given that "we're short one or two draft picks." It's a step towards developing a brighter future.

Then, in his next move, Marks further exploited the Long Island connection, hiring Kenny Atkinson, a Northport native, as head coach. Atkinson grew up less than a half hour away from the Nassau Coliseum. His initial press conference will no doubt include discussion of his New York and Long Island connections

The Nets have long coveted the Long Island market, but less than 10 percent of Brooklyn Nets fans come from Nassau and Suffolk.  The Nets are hoping the connection with the Islanders will change that. The ultimate goal is to make sure Nets fans become Islanders fans and Islanders fans Nets fans, say Nets officials. (However, Devonte Green, Long Island's top high school player --and Danny Green's brother -- told our Thomas Duffy last week he was unaware of that Long Island is getting a D-League team.)

So, the Nets are using their roots to get this thing on the right track and maybe even lure some Long Island fans to Long Island Nets and Brooklyn Nets games.  Will it work?  Too early to tell, but One thing is for sure: there's a certain Nets blogger from Long Island who's thrilled about all of this.

(For more on the Nets peripatetic history in Long Island, go to Remember the ABA: New York Nets