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Bob Ryan

The Brooklyn Nets have quite a history — and a stupid nickname

The Brooklyn Nets were named after the piece of equipment that DeMarre Carroll is trying to shoot into here.Mark J. Terrill/AP/Associated Press

Let’s start with this: The team is named after, after, ah, um, I’m not even sure what to call it. It’s not really “equipment.” It’s, I don’t know, a thing.

I’m talking about the Brooklyn Nets. Have you ever thought about it? “Nets?” Can you imagine the Chicago “Backboards?” Same thing.

It’s rather pathetic, really. This team was nicknamed a piece of rope because it rhymes with “Jets” and “Mets,” who preceded them into existence seven and five years, respectively. And no one thought there was anything foolish about that? Apparently not.

And you want to talk nomadic . . . they began life in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans. They played in the Teaneck Armory. The basketball version of the Taj Mahal, it wasn’t. After a year they proclaimed themselves that rhyming rope, and since the 1968-69 season they have been known as the “Nets,” wherever they have chosen to hang their hats.

Among those venues was the Island Garden in West Hempstead, (I believe), Long Island. All I know is that when the Celtics played the Nets in an exhibition at that place, they chose to dress and shower back at the motel rather than in the dingy facility where the Nets were playing. This is first-hand info, folks.


They were early tenants at the Nassau County Coliseum, which was perfectly OK. But when they entered the NBA as part of the 1976 merger things got dicey again as their new home was the Rutgers Athletic Center on the campus of Rutgers University. No offense to the Scarlet Knights, but an 8,000-seat edifice in the middle of New Jersey (but quite near a strip joint) was not exactly an NBA-appropriate site.

The next move was to a new building alongside the Jersey Turnpike originally named Brendan Byrne Arena after a New Jersey governor. This was memorialized in John Pizzarelli’s priceless ditty, “I Love Jersey Best,” when he sang, “ . . . the Jersey Nets went thataway, Piscataway no more.”


The structure was later named Continental Airlines Arena, but by either name it was soulless, and attendance was, as an old history teacher of mine would say, “honored in the breach, rather than the observance.” It was a motherless child of a franchise, regardless of the team’s actual quality. I take great pride in re-nicknaming them the “Exit 16W Nets,” for there truly was no there there (apologies to Gertrude Stein).

The Nets were the New Jersey Nets from 1977-2012.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File

From there, they went to downtown Newark, once more playing to an indifferent population. And now, since 2012, they have been in Brooklyn, playing in the ultra-modern, easy-to-locate (believe me, the subway drops you right there) Barclays Center.

Forgive me if I missed a stop or two. It’s so darn hard to keep track.

Now then, let’s get to the new news. You may have heard that the Nets have agreed to contracts with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This has shocked and saddened Knicks fans while delighting their own. But what both fandoms may not know is the true potential of these signings may be far greater than anyone currently realizes.

For that, I introduce you to Boston native Tom McCarthy, a man who knows more about Chinese basketball than anyone (yes, even the Chinese), having spent more than three decades coaching and promoting that sport, and several others, in the world’s most populous country, and, of course, largest market.


McCarthy is now semi-retired as a consultant splitting his time between China and the United States. He proudly carries a government title of “Chinese Friend of Basketball.” He know what he’s talking about when it comes to the subject of Chinese basketball, and he says the fact that Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai, a 49 percent owner of the Nets, may soon be a 100 percent owner is a matter of no little significance.

Referring to Messrs. Durant and Irving, Mr. McCarthy says via e-mail that “those NBA contracts they are going to sign are PEANUTS in comparison to what both players & Nets will be making in the long term! . . . (Nets CEO Brett) Yormark has been in China for years working on building the Nets profile looking for sponsors, but had NO real assets (players) but now he and Joe (Tsai) have a different and fabulous story to sell and I’m sure the phone has already been ringing off the hook! Watch for Nets courts on broadcasts to be blanketed with Chinese advertising!”

And, finally, “I’m quite sure the NBA is going to change the China TV schedule to feature the Nets more and more now that the Nets are the hottest ticket (sorry, Yankees and Giants) in NYC. Have the Knicks changed their name to the Manhattan Knicks yet?”

Ooh. That’s rubbing it in, and we all know the Dolans deserve it.

But it’s still a stupid nickname.


Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.