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For Kenny Atkinson, Nassau Coliseum is a return to glory days

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For Long Island native, Kenny Atkinson, Wednesday will trigger some special memories. It’s not just the Nets’ preseason finale, but a return to glory on the hardwood, a special reunion.

The last time Atkinson was at Nassau Coliseum was around 30 years ago —April 24, 1985 to be exact— after his senior year of high school, when the future basketball vagabond and Nets head coach played in what he called one of the biggest games of his life.

“We won the Newsday Classic and the Newsday Classic back then was the city versus Long Island,” he said, smiling. “Long Island had never beaten the city. Long Island had really good teams – for a kid from Long Island, city basketball was the best.”

Atkinson, meet nostalgia. Nostalgia, meet coach Kenny.

The Coliseum was a special place for a high school kid from South Huntington’s St. Anthony’s high school, even before his game of games. In 1983, he was at the legendary contest that featured stars galore, one of them a future Net.

“I remember going to the Coliseum to watch Pearl Washington play in the Newsday Classic,” he reflected, thinking of a game that took place a couple of years earlier. “I could be wrong, but Pearl Washington, I think, scored 52 points (close enough, it was 53) in the Newsday Classic. He never warmed up. He sat on the side and then they rolled the ball out and he – I was like ‘who was this guy?’ I could be wrong, but that’s my recollection. He went crazy.”

“Kenny Smith was there; it was a huge game,” he added, as you can see the excitement beam on his face. “Our team came in there and we beat the city. Think I had a pretty good game … 17 or 18 points (it was 18). I sound like I’m bragging here. I don’t usually brag because I wasn’t that good of a player, but it was great. Long Island basketball is good too.”

It’s not that Atkinson didn’t venture into the city.

“I used to go into Brooklyn sometimes,” he continued. “I used to drive around to all the programs to try and prove myself. When I got my license it was part of the deal, I was everywhere. The reputation of the city was the mecca of basketball – all the great players would come out of the city at that time.”

Apparently prior to that historic Newsday Classic game, Atkinson made a bold Joe Namath-like prediction that Long Island would beat the city. He says he can’t actually recall the details, but acknowledged that the story is probably true.

“Yeah, I don’t remember that prediction – I’m sure it was me being the cocky, ignorant young person that I was,” he said with a laugh.

The return to his glory days won’t be without friends and family. Atkinson says he has about 20 tickets he’ll distribute.

Wednesday night won’t be his last trip to Uniondale either. He’ll be scouting. The Coliseum will be home to the Long Island Nets starting this year.

Atkinson says he has yet to visit the new Nassau Coliseum, with its $165 million in renovations that took nearly two years to complete. And that’s fine. He wants to be surprised, wants to soak all in again. And why not? Glory days.