On a recent Tuesday night at Barclays Center, tucked in a corner of the building, just off the practice court, things were happening. A dozen VIPs — players’ wives, significant others and their children— were watching the game or moving between their private space and the adjacent practice court.
Trevor Booker’s sons were shooting on a small basketball hoop —the older boy showing off a neat bank shot. Three women wearing black-and-white (of course) t-shirts that read “Babysitters” worked with the kids, one feeding an infant with a bottle. Ball boys corralled those who strayed too far. In charge of it all were the Nets H.R. coordinator for basketball operations, Savannah Hart, and Sean Marks executive assistant, Amanda Bucci.
The private space is the Nets’ new family lounge, just down the hall from the home locker room, aka the “players campus.” Put it on the “little-things-mean-a-lot” list, things fans may not know or, quite frankly, care about but players —and coaches’— families appreciate.
“With this being Trevor's seventh year and being on two teams previously, our family is used to adjusting to such a fast-paced life, but the Nets have made it feel like home by letting us know that FAMILY MATTERS,” says April Booker, Trevor’s wife.
The lounge was Sean Marks idea. The team did have a lounge before he arrived, but it was small and closer to the visitors’ locker. After touring Barclays on his first day of work last February, Marks felt the lounge needed freshening up. He began working on finding a bigger, more convenient space ... and establishing it as part a broader community for the families as well as the players.
Good thing he did. The number of children using the facilities jumped from three to 33.
The way the lounge developed is typical of the way Marks et al work the Nets system to get things done. Brett Yormark was engaged in finding a room inside Barclays. A storage room, with about 1,000 square foot of space at the back end of the practice court, was selected for a makeover. Placing the lounge next to the court gave it additional room, an element of additional creativity.
An architect was brought in to lay things out. A diaper changing station was penciled in at one end, a small kitchen at the other and in between, a broad space for the families to mingle. There would be television monitors galore. And this being a detail-oriented Marks project, the first thing kids would see as they entered was a poster-sized photo of themselves playing pick-up ball at the HSS Training Center. A babysitting service was contracted.
When that was all done, Mikhail Prokhorov wrote the check —nearly seven figures— and It was ready for opening night. And, this also being Marks, there was no publicity, no tour ... until we spied it and asked to take a look.
It’s all about building camaraderie among not just the players, but among the wider Nets’ community — family, if you will. Wives can live a pretty lonely existence in pro sports. They move around and may not know anybody when they arrive in a new city. Players have teammates, an immediate and close fellowship. Wives and kids? Not so much. The lounge becomes a place where families can bond, can call on one another when in need, a center.
Hart and Bucci organize the wives, whether they're doing charity events --a food bank is one coming up— or just a get-together in Manhattan. They've arranged wives' dinners when the team is on the road, babysitting nights at HSS.
“They allow Trevor and his teammates to be away from their families without worrying because they do such an amazing job making sure we have everything we need,” noted April Booker. “When you're on a new team and instantly feel like family, it makes it easier on the players knowing their families are in good hands.”
And it is all theirs, players and their families, part of their domain, an enclave Marks is trying to establish, literally and figuratively. HSS is theirs, the locker room is theirs, the family lounge is theirs. The Nets think families should be able to come in, feel totally secure, totally at peace, to say, act, do whatever they want without management judging them.
And yes, the Nets do see it as a recruiting tool. It’s not going to determine whether a player comes to the Nets, not when millions of dollars are at stake. But it’s on the checklist along with how a team interacts with its players. How they’re coached. How they’re cared for. How their families are cared for. The communication between player, coach, management. It’s ALL going to be talked about, you know, the culture ... or what Marks has sometimes called their “secret sauce.”
A league source agreed, “Players talk. ‘Can you do this with your family? We can.’ It all matters.’” It’s part of what Adrian Wojnarowski told WFAN last month. “I talk to players around the league, agents, people. They like what's (going on) in Brooklyn ... The coaching, the organization, everything around it.”
"There's been feedback from all sorts, agents, players,” Marks told us. “Everybody has given us very positive feedback on the changes that they've noticed beyond just the family room. I give Mikhail a lot of credit because he had to pay for this, he understands it and he’s seen that it does change the culture, it does make a difference."
The Nets GM is quite proud of it all. The night we first saw the room, Marks was showing it off to Masai Ujiri, the Raptors GM.
These rooms are quite common around the league, but the Nets see theirs as top-of-the-line and their integration of the bricks-and-mortar and culture unique. It’s a good thing, amidst a lot of bad things. But losses on the court shouldn’t stop the organization from being creative with off-the-court improvements. It all gets noticed and hopefully wins the day.