Barclays Center becoming the place to be

12/22/2012 9:06 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Charles Wang's Islanders will join the Nets in Brooklyn in 2015.(AP)
For anyone who thought the Barclays Center would just be a “basketball arena,” think again.

When the Brooklyn Nets return home to Barclays to take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, that will mark the second of four Nets battles scheduled in Brooklyn in the final 12 days of 2012 – but just the fourth of nine events overall at Barclays.

Overall, in just the first three months since it opened, Brooklyn’s newest beacon has quickly becoming a premier entertainment venue in a metropolitan area that already houses “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and a trio of outdoor stadiums among other venues.

The Nets may be the main tenant of the Barclays Center, but since Jay-Z opened the building back in late-September, the building has already hosted more than 50 events, with musical guests including The Who, Barbra Streisand and Jay-Z so far, with Coldplay, Green Day, Rihanna and Lady Gaga among the guests set for 2013.

"I don't think there's an arena like it," Deron Williams said during the Nets’ first tour of the facilities back in October. “They spared no expense, they thought about everything."

Boxing and college basketball have also made their way to Barclays, with a handful of festivals and tournaments (like Saturday’s Brooklyn Holiday Hoops Invitational) on the bill, and even World Wrestling Entertainment got into the act with Dec. 16’s “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” pay-per-view event.

Based in Stamford, Conn., WWE has run hundreds of shows at various metro NYC venues over the last half-century, and called Madison Square Garden home for at least one show a month for the first 30 of that – but their debut in Brooklyn gave hometown hero Steve Lombardi, who competes in WWE as the “Brooklyn Brawler,” a chance to do something he had never done before.

“It felt great to be home, and the greatest feeling in the world is to wrestle in front of the crowd in Brooklyn and win a match in my hometown, which was a lifelong dream of mine,” said Lombardi, who turned in his usual New York Yankees-based wrestling attire to compete in a Deron Williams jersey on Sunday.

Like Lombardi’s win, there are many more magical firsts coming soon. The Atlantic 10 Conference will move its men’s basketball tournament to the venue starting in 2013, Ringling Bros. Circus will make its Brooklyn debut later next year, and in 2015, the New York Islanders will move to Brooklyn to make Barclays a multi-sport facility.

Many believed that Barclays Center would be an ill fit for hockey, as the arena was configured mainly for basketball – many, that is, except for developer Bruce Ratner, who said flat out in April that Barclays Center “was made for hockey and basketball.”

Islanders owner Charles Wang made that notion a reality on October 24 when he announced the team would leave Nassau Coliseum behind in 2015, and Nets head coach Avery Johnson was fully on board when asked about it that day – ironically, while at Nassau Coliseum itself preparing for a preseason game against the New York Knicks.

“It’s a sad day for many people (on Long Island), but I think (the Islanaders’ mover) is good,” Johnson said. “You know, I’ve often used college football as an example; at the end of the day, we are the college football program. Even though a university has other sports, we are the major tenant and the driving force. But at the same time, the building needs to produce revenue, and now they have 40-some more dates a year, and I think it’s great.”

Avery’s squad may be the marquee tenant in the new building on Flatbush and Atlantic, but from the looks of the first 90 days, they’ll be one of many. To use his own analogy, the Nets are just one piece, albeit the biggest one, of a burgeoning pie – and it’s only going to get bigger in 2013 and beyond.

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