Fearless truth-teller or home-team ingrate?
It's hard to have no reaction to Howie Rose's on-air comments about the aging Nassau Coliseum and the sports-mad, peninsula-shaped island on which it resides.
"You know," the MSG play-by-play man said during Tuesday's broadcast of the Islanders-Panthers hockey game, "You look at those Nets banners and you look at those Islanders banners and you look at this building and remember what was -- how Long Island was major league in every respect. And once the Islanders leave here and go to Brooklyn, now the objective is to bring a minor league team here? So you look at this place and think of what was and this is all you need to know about what's happened here in Nassau County. Now they aspire to be minor league -- and that's just an absolute shame."
Please don't ask Howie about the Long Island Ducks!
The New York Nets, you may recall, played in the Coliseum as an American Basketball Association franchise before joining the NBA, moving to New Jersey and, most recently, Brooklyn. Come next year, they'll be double-bunking at the Barclays Center with the Brooklyn-bound Islanders.
The way he spoke on Tuesday night, the veteran Mets-and-Islanders broadcaster didn't just focus his blame on hockey-team owner Charles Wang. He was speaking more broadly than that. It was the county's political leadership, he seemed to suggest, who let the Coliseum deteriorate and showed up belatedly with a too-little-too-late proposal to shove the dowdy arena into the modern age. By then, Wang was all but outta-here.
Howie has been calling Islanders games since 1995. He knows the game, the team and the role that both played on Long Island. His words were less an attack than a wistful reflection born of pain. He owes the fans nothing but the truth as he sees it, even fans who won't agree or prefer not to hear.
Clearly, one professional sports franchise does not define a diverse two-county region of 3 million and change. But get ready for next season, and all the goodbye Islanders hype. And cross your fingers we do get some kind of team in the spruced-up arena. Call it minor league, if you want to. There's nothing more minor than an empty arena night after night after night.
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