By Barry Janoff
May 1, 2012: Fuhgeddaboutit. How yooze doin'? Waddehvah.
Both Avery Johnson and Billy King, head coach and general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, respectively, say they are anxious to "learn how to speak" Brooklyn.
"I'll have to speak some Brooklyn-ese now," laughed Johnson, who still speaks with the distinct twang from his native New Orleans. "You might hear me say something when I'm yelling at the players in the huddle. It's all good."
"I don't speak Brooklyn, but I will," agreed King. "I've even been taking some tours of the borough, getting to know the neighborhood, finding the restaurants, figuring out the subway system."
Johnson and King were part of an event in which the Brooklyn Nets unveiled their team logo and merchandise at Modell’s Sporting Goods on Flatbush Ave., across the street from Barclays Center, now under construction but due to open for the 2012-13 NBA season.
The team’s black-and-white color scheme and logos — one a '"B" in a basketball surrounded by the phrase Brooklyn New York that harkens back to the days of baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers; the other a shield with Nets and the "B" basketball positioned over the word Brooklyn — were created by Jay-Z, the award-winning musician, producer and entrepreneur who has a minority interest in the franchise.
The 18,000-seat Barclays Center is scheduled to open Sept. 28 with a concert headlined by Jay-Z.
That, however, may be less of a priority than putting together a winning team and immersing the franchise into the community. On the court, the NBA's Nets left New Jersey after 35 years with a whimper. The team's record this season was 22-44, following seasons of 24-58 (2010-11) and 12-70 (2009-10).
But off the court, the march to Brooklyn has come with a bang.
"It's taken a long time for us to get here, but it's a sweet day for the organization," said Brett Yormark, CEO of the Nets. "Brooklyn finally has a team they can rally around, and we'll make them proud. It's all about Brooklyn and we're all in. This is the start of something special."
Although it was the merchandise — including various T-shirts, hats, shorts and other paraphernalia — that took center stage in Modell's, it was the team's plan to become a legitimate part of the neighborhood on which management focused. This week, the team is overseeing events throughout the community, anchored by a 40-foot mobile unit that converts to a hoops-shooting, music-playing, videogame center.
"This is something that Billy and I and the owners have talked about for a long time, and to see it come to pass is thrilling," said Johnson. "Through some of our hard times last season with injuries, playing in what basically was a transient building (Prudential Center), knowing that we were going to Brooklyn was something that really gave us hope. Now, we are glad to be in Brooklyn."
King agreed. "The move from New Jersey to Brooklyn has been two-fold: Brooklyn knew we were coming, New Jersey knew we were leaving. So the hardest part has been the last few years of transition. Now we are really going to be 100% a part of Brooklyn 100% of the time. What I like about Brooklyn are the neighborhoods. People walk around, they know each other. That's the great thing about it. We are in a borough, a neighborhood, that has a great history. It has grew pride. We want to be part of it."
The franchise has no shortage of marketing and sponsorship partners. At the new arena, in addition to naming rights partner Barclays, founding partners include EmblemHealth, MetroPCS, Ticketmaster, TicketsNow, Cushman & Wakefield, Stoli and Foxwoods Resort/Casino. Legacy partners include adidas, Apollo Jets, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Coca-Cola and Haier.
You'll also find a lot of Brooklyn on the marketing roster: Brooklyn Water Bagel, Long Island Univeristy-Brooklyn, Marriott Brooklyn, Maimonides Medical Center and Modell's.
"When it comes to our marketing partners and sponsors, everyone is excited about this," said Yormark. "Our suites are more than 75% sold out; sponsorship has more than tripled what we did our last year in New Jersey."
"Brooklyn knew we were coming, New Jersey knew we were leaving. So the hardest part has been the last few years of transition." — Billy King
Modell’s CEO Mitchell Modell wouldn't discuss sales numbers, but said the alliance as the team's official sports retailer was a slam-dunk for both sides. "Any time a team changes logos, changes cities, changes states, it's phenomenal [for business]," stated Modell. "It brings new excitement. The fact that we are right across the street from Barclays Center, we are undergoing a major renovation to make this our flagship store. Beyond the merchandise at all Modell's we have other plans with the Nets that we will be announcing. They have a great product. It may take time. But good things will happen. They'll be here, we'll be here for a while."
Brooklyn Nets merchandise is now available at Modell’s outlets in all New York metropolitan area locations, the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue and online at the Nets Web site. For the record, Brook Lopez, who was part of the Modell's event, was the first Nets player to put on a hat with the new Brooklyn logo.
However, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has a bigger vision. "I love the logo and [merchandise], but as they say in Brooklyn: Waddehvah! As long as it reads 'Brooklyn.' "