Alton Byrd lives in what he calls a “parallel universe,” one rooted in the present in the heart of Brooklyn and another aimed at the not-too-distant future in the heart of Long Island.
It is a little strange, certainly, but the payoff begins on Wednesday, when the new Long Island Nets play their first home game, welcoming the Canton Charge at 1:30 p.m. at Barclays Center. (More about the peculiar start time later.)
“You think it’s never going to happen, and then next week it’s Game 1,” said Byrd, who arrived in April as the NBA Development League team’s vice president of business operations.
The wrinkle is that this season is but a first step toward the real destination: as an anchor attraction in the renovated Nassau Coliseum, which is to open in April and be the Nets’ home starting in 2017-18.
So the D-League Nets are doing the geographical reverse of what the Islanders did in 2015 — minus the four championships and iconic brand.
“My focus this year is to build the brand as its inaugural season here in Brooklyn, deliver a little bit of a fan base, closely align ourselves with the Brooklyn Nets,” Byrd said.
But as he and his staff are doing that, he will be looking ahead, “seeding and building a fan base on Long Island at the same time.”
That includes community and sponsor outreach “ahead of what really is going to be our inaugural season in Long Island next year.”
The most glaring quirk on this season’s schedule is that all 24 home games are scheduled for the afternoon, most often before a game that night for the Brooklyn Nets, the team’s NBA partner.
That includes not only weekend and holiday afternoons, but even afternoons on regular work and school days. That is unusual, to say the least.
“There’s an opportunity for schools, there’s an opportunity for colleges, there’s an opportunity for folks who may do shift work to come to a game at 1:30 or noon or 2 o’clock,” Byrd said.
The hope is that some will make a long basketball day and night of it, turning them into D-League / NBA doubleheaders, although the games will require separate tickets.
Still, why afternoons? Mostly because Barclays can do better with Nets and Islanders games and concerts and other events at night.
“We’ve had [Bruce] Springsteen and Barbra Streisand,” Byrd said. “I think the Long Island Nets, as much as I would love to play night games, I can wait a year ... When we move to Long Island we will be playing at night, hopefully not the same night as the Brooklyn Nets.”
Ticket prices were kept as simple as possible for this season, with general admission seats at $15, group tickets for $10 apiece and premium, courtside seats at $50. Season tickets also are available.
Hofstra’s WRHU is the team’s radio home, with New 12 Long Island’s Kevin Dexter on play-by-play. Dexter’s call is simulcast over game video carried on Facebook Live. Byrd said the Nets will seek a local broadcast partner for next season.
When the Nets move east, their marketing aims will be similar to that of a minor league baseball team such as the Ducks. Byrd calls his branding the “three As”: aspirational, accessible and affordable.
The first refers to the aspirations of players aiming to graduate to the NBA (as well as off-court staffers seeking to develop themselves to move on and up).
The second suggests aggressive community outreach by both players and the business side, which already has begun on Long Island.
The third is self-explanatory. Fans will have a chance to see players who have been or will be in the NBA up close for a fraction of the price of a ticket in Brooklyn or at Madison Square Garden.
Said Byrd, “I have no doubt that if we are affordable and our players are accessible and fans get a chance to see us in a family setting where we’re competitive price-wise, I think the only thing you could say that would be minor [league] about us is the word ‘minor.’”
Byrd said the team likely would unveil season ticket and group plans for the Coliseum era in January.
“The majority of my time is spent really trying to build a fan base in Long Island,” Byrd said. “We are committed to the basketball market and the family market on Long Island and that’s what we’ve been doing really through the summer and now through this season.”
In the meantime, there is Brooklyn.
“It’ll be fun,” Byrd said. “We play not dissimilar to the way the Nets are playing: We play hard, we play tough, we play physical and we play fast.”
And they play early.
ABOUT THE D-LEAGUE
The NBA Development League, commonly known as the D-League, consists of 22 teams owned by or affiliated with NBA teams, including the Westchester Knicks, who began play in 2014, and the Long Island Nets, one of three 2016-17 expansion teams, along with the Greensboro Swarm and Windy City Bulls.
The Knicks, Nets and Swarm play in the Atlantic Division, along with the Delaware 87ers, Erie Bayhawks and Maine Red Claws.
The far-flung league, which began play in 2001-02, has teams in Utah, Nevada, South Dakota and Ontario, Canada. Its oldest team is the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Skyforce, founded in 1989 as member of the Continental Basketball Association.