It's been a long slog. The Nets have seen Long Island as a growth opportunity and little by little they're trying to exploit it, but so far without a lot of luck. The synergy with the Islanders didn't do much. They did hire a Long Island native as their head coach. Next, they'll try the Long Island Nets.
The D-League Nets will play at the renovated Nassau Coliseum after their inaugural season in Brooklyn. Nets officials have talked about setting up a training facility near the Coliseum as well. Making the connection is part of a plan.
As Long Island native Kenny Atkinson told News12 Long Island this week, during an off-moment at the Nets Southhampton basketball camp, "My dream is to have more and more Nets fans from Long Island. it's important to me. I love it out here. ... I have a strong, strong connection." he told Jamie Stuart of News 12.
Indeed, he does. He grew up on the Island, part of a big family, playing for perennial champion St. Anthony's High School, but turning Long Island fans into Nets fans, to paraphrase a certain Russian oligarch, hasn't been easy
The Nets have coveted the Long Island market since their move to Brooklyn but fewer than 10 percent of Brooklyn Nets fans come from Nassau and Suffolk. And that famous New York Times map of NBA fandom showed the Nets barely cracked double figures of support in any Long Island zip code. It's long been Knick (and even Laker!) territory despite the Nets heritage, playing their ABA years in Commack, West Hempstead and Uniondale at the Coliseum.
Last year, the Nets tried to restart the connection with the Islanders move to Brooklyn. So far, though, that synergy hasn't yielded what they hoped for. It didn't help that the Isles first season at Barclays was fraught with challenges ... and the Nets won 21 games.
They tried everything. The Islanders wore a (controversial) black-and-white sweater and the Nets wore a "heritage" jersey that was a black-and-white version of the ABA Nets final uniform, with stars on the side, "Nets" on the front. The LIRR put on extra trains for fans.
The Long Island Nets are the next step, the next logical connection. The Nets have set up a team website and social media where they are pushing the team's red, white and blue personality. This year, they're marketing Long Island Nets jerseys. The road uniform proudly sports "Long Island" on the front. Next preseason, the team will play one game at the Coliseum as a way of welcoming their D-Leaguers to the Island.
Will it work? Brett Yormark is hopeful. At the press conference introducing the team's uniforms back in March, he said, "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."
For Northport's Kenny Atkinson --and the Nets brass-- that's the dream. Reality is a ways away.