By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It began six or seven years ago when then-New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang played a little game of "Wouldn't it be nice?" during their periodic friendly lunches.
Both men were eager to have a new arena deal in place for their struggling franchises.
Ratner, determined to bring the Nets to Downtown Brooklyn from East Rutherford, N.J., and Wang, trying in vain to land a deal for a state-of-the-art facility in Uniondale, N.Y., pondered the possilbility of both area teams landing in the same building.
At approximately 1:15 p.m. EDT on Wednesday afternoon, Wang made it official; revealing a 25-year "iron-clad" agreement to bring the Islanders to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season.
"Hello Brooklyn!" Wang proclaimed from the podium just inside the main entrance to the Barclays Center, where the Nets will open their historic inaugural season on Nov. 1 against the East River rival Knicks.
"[Bruce and I] both had a dream six or seven years ago to build something special for our fan bases. We wanted to keep our teams local. The Islanders will join the Nets at Barclays Center in 2015. It's been a long journey, but we're finally here."
Ratner, who ceded control of the Nets to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov three years ago but retains ownership of the arena, welcomed his friend and frequent lunch companion to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues with open arms, as did Barclays CEO Brett Yormark. The two men had openly campaigned for Wang to bring the NHL to Brooklyn over the years, and both were proud to help keep the Islanders within an LIRR trip of their loyal fans on Long Island.
"Charles Wang is the real hero today," Ratner noted. "Charles got offers, good offers, to move the Islanders out of state. But he kept the Islanders here."
"The Brooklyn Nets are excited to welcome the Islanders to Barclays Center and Brooklyn," Yormark added. "Barclays Center will offer the Islanders an exciting opportunity to grow their fan base and to build their brand. Islander fans are going to love Barlcays Center for its intimacy, sightlines, Brooklyn Taste culinary program, and customer service. We are looking forward to opening our doors for the Islanders and bringing the best in sports and entertainment to Brooklyn."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in the midst of dealing with a season-threatening lockout that forced the cancellation of a planned Islanders-Devils exhibition game at Barclays on Oct. 2, was glad that Wang finally had a place for his Islanders to call home after watching the owner get shot down on numerous occasions in his bid to keep the Isles in Uniondale.
"[Wang] spent the better part of the past decade and tens of millions of dollars in search of a new home for the New York Islanders," revealed Bettman, who also indicated that there was no significant progress in the ongoing labor talks between the NHL's owners and players with Thursday looming as a deadline for the league to stage a full season.
Wang, who attended Brooklyn Tech High School and bullt a new football field for his alma mater in the previous decade, intimated that the deal was officially signed last night and that the parties involved wanted to make the announcement as soon as possible, despite the current state of the lockout and the Nets' historic opener just over a week away.
"We came to the conclusion last night to tell all the fans at one time," noted Wang, whose team hasn't won a playoff series since 1993 after collecting four consecutive Stanley Cup trophies from 1980-83 under previous ownership. "It was our goal from Day One to keep the Islanders in the local New York area. This has been a long journey for the Islanders family, starting with our loyal fans, sponsors and employees. I want to personally thank them for their patience, loyalty and support. I am excited about today's announcement and I am looking forward to a long and successful tenure in Brooklyn."
One of the major issues concerning the move was the seating capacity for hockey at Barlcays, currently listed at 14,500, which would be the lowest of any NHL arena. But Bettman revealed that he's already discussed the addition of several hundred more seats with Ratner and Yormark, insisting that the 16,200 seats at the Nassau Veteran Memorial Coliseum didn't make much of a difference to a franchise that has consistently been near the bottom of the league's annual attendance averages.
"It's not an issue," Bettman said. "You don't have to worry about the future of this team. It's remaining local."
Of course, the event wouldn't have been complete without an appearance by always-animated Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was bursting with Brooklyn pride.
"Today is another great day for Brooklyn!," Markowitz exclaimed, donning his new Islanders tie, which Wang passed out to all the attendees on the dais, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "When I first campaigned for BP, I made the promise that I would bring a major league sports team to Brooklyn. But never, in my wildest dreams, did I think we would be home to both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders. Wtih the Nets and Islanders, Brooklyn is beginning a dominant power play."
"More than ever before, Brooklyn is the place where everyone wants to be," added Bloomberg, who handed Wang and Islanders general manager Garth Snow Metrocards for their trips into the city on one of 11 subway lines running under the arena. "I want to thank Charles for his determination in keeping the team in New York and for having the vision to bring his club to Brooklyn."
The announcement put Yormark in a precarious position as his twin brother, Michael, is currently the president of the NHL's Florida Panthers.
"I'm all Islanders now," said Yormark, who also announced that Barclays was already in the process of taking deposits for season tickets for the 2015-16 season, with current Islanders season-ticket holders getting first crack at the ducats.
Unlike the Nets, who had a nine-year wait to arrive here following their initial relocation announcement in 2003, the Islanders are on the fast track to Brooklyn, just three years shy of dropping the puck on the "Coolest Game on Ice" in our fair borough.
And to think, it all began with a software magnate from Brooklyn and a real estate developer from Cleveland having a little lunch. And dreaming a little dream.
Check out previous Eagle stories on the Islanders' move to Brooklyn: