Nets to Change Name, and May Not Use 'Brooklyn'

A lot of Brooklyn politicians—and local residents—gave their support to the Atlantic Yards complex assuming it would be host to “the Brooklyn Nets.” Now, they can’t be so sure.

A team spokesman, Barry Baum, confirms news reports that the team submitted an application to change its name to the NBA. The timing, he said, was in order to be ready for the move to Brooklyn, expected in late 2012. But Baum wouldn’t specify what the desired name would be or whether it would use “Brooklyn” or “New York” as the geographic name. The NBA also wouldn’t comment.

While the sports world is abuzz with speculation over a nickname change, local officials are more concerned about the geography.

"The owners from day one—the one pledge they made, beside other pledges, was that the name would be the Brooklyn something,” Borough President Marty Markowitz said. “And I don’t care what the second name is as long as the first name is Brooklyn.”

But Markowitz is talking about the team’s previous owners, a group led by developer Bruce Ratner, who used the Nets' move as a key selling point for his 22-acre housing and entertainment complex at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Ratner’s group sold a majority stake in the team last year to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Markowitz says he hasn’t spoken with Prokhorov about the name change.

The name “Brooklyn Nets” is used on the website for the Barclays Center—the arena where the team will play. But Ratner retained majority control of the arena under the conditions of the sale; Prokhorov only bought a 45 percent share in it. 

An agreement that Ratner’s group negotiated with state officials to secure subsidies they needed for the project leaves open whether New York or Brooklyn would be used. That agreement was signed last October, about a month after the sale to Prokhorov was announced but before it closed.

“The company shall cause the team to play all of its home games using a name that incorporates the words ‘New York’ or ‘Brooklyn,’ unless otherwise agreed to in writing by ESDC,” the document states, using the acronym for the Empire State Development Corporation.

Markowtiz says he wasn’t aware of the document and would be disappointed if the team chose “New York” for its name.

“I know my colleagues in Brooklyn would feel very upset about it,” he said.

But Markowitz said he didn’t see any business reason why Prokhorov would break Ratner’s promise. “The whole idea of locating a basketball team in Brooklyn is because of the Brooklyn persona, the Brooklyn brand, the whole Brooklynish thing,” he said. “The name ‘Brooklyn’ is probably better known or at least equally known in the world as ‘New York.’”

Markowitz threw out a couple of other name suggestions of his own that would keep the borough’s name intact—the Brooklyn Bridges and the Brooklyn Attitudes, for example. Prokhorov has been a bit more cavalier about the issue, once suggesting to reporters that he could rename the team after his girlfriend, except that would mean he’d have to change the team’s name often.