Nets, Islanders could make for strange bedfellows
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Glenn "Chico" Resch has an old basketball jersey buried somewhere in his Minnesota home. Now might be a good time to dig that out.
"Julius [Erving] gave me a jersey back then," Resch, a 14-year NHL goaltender who won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders, said of the time nearly 40 years ago when the Islanders and Nets shared a home at Nassau Coliseum. "Our locker rooms were next to one another. There would be Christmas parties where we'd all meet and talk. It was a fun time."
The Islanders and Nets again will share a home when the Isles move to Brooklyn in 2015, but things will be very different from what they were when the Coliseum opened in 1972 for the expansion Islanders and the Nets of the American Basketball Association.
For starters, the Barclays Center crowd already is pumped for the Nets but might be wary of the Isles. Barely three seasons into their existence, the Islanders already were selling out the Coliseum and challenging the elite teams of the NHL, and the Nets, despite Erving and two ABA titles, were the clear second fiddle.
"They always say, 'If you win, they'll come.' Well, those Nets teams were very good, and no one came," said John Sterling, who was the voice of both the Islanders and Nets at the Coliseum and now is better known as the Yankees' longtime radio broadcaster. "Basketball really didn't take off anywhere until the 1980s, so you had Julius playing there to just a few thousand people and you couldn't get in to see the Islanders."
Resch said he and Erving were friendly and that there were plenty of opportunities to interact between the hockey players and basketball players.
"I didn't see too many of the Nets guys on skates and we certainly weren't playing pickup [basketball] games with them, but you could certainly talk about the different sports and the leagues and all that," Resch said. "The '70s was an interesting time in sports . . . . You had hockey growing, the ABA was kind of a renegade league and we even had Joe Namath practicing right next door [with the Jets] for a time."
Sterling said that even at the outset, the Coliseum wasn't exactly a luxury arena. "It was a cinder block, a very utilitarian building," he said. "But the Isles filled it up and the sight lines were great, so it worked."
The end of the six-year run as co-tenants ended in 1978, when Roy Boe was forced to sell both franchises. That was a year after he sold Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers to help defray the Nets' $3-million entrance fee into the NBA, effectively dooming the team's already poor attendance.
The Nets left, and the Coliseum was a one-team building.
Starting in 2015, after 37 years, the franchises will be reunited.
"When I came to the Devils, I was back with the Nets," said Resch, who has been the analyst for Devils games on MSG Network since 1996. "The Rangers and Knicks have that at the Garden too. There's a camaraderie there, and a chance to get fans of one team into the other. It never quite worked with us and the Nets at the Coliseum, but maybe it will now."