Wang ‘true hero’ for keeping Isles local
Former team owner instrumental in franchise remaining in N.Y.
Charles Wang graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1962, but his love affair with our fair borough and his alma mater resumed long after he went on to become the billionaire owner of the NHL’s New York Islanders.
I first crossed paths with Wang, then known primarily as the co-founder of Computer Associates and as the new owner of the New York Islanders, in 2001 on 510 Clermont Ave. between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue.
What had once been a vacant lot was transformed into what is still a fully functional and since-renovated football field for his Brooklyn Tech Engineers, a program that had lacked a pitch of grass and goal posts to call its own for the previous half century.
Wang, along with former New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch and the Take the Field Foundation, helped transform that empty space into a pro-level gridiron, providing a place for Brooklyn Tech athletes to practice and play during Saturday afternoons in the fall.
Unknown to all who attended the groundbreaking ceremony that day was that Wang was just getting started on his quest to make things better here in the city that he began calling home at the age of 8, after his family moved to the states from Shanghai.
Wang, who died Sunday in his Oyster Bay, Long Island home at the age of 74, didn’t get to raise a Stanley Cup Trophy during his 15 years at the helm of the Islanders.
Nor were the Islanders particularly competitive during his tenure.
But the one thing he did do, which will serve as his longest-lasting legacy to the sport of hockey, was keep the Islanders a New York-based franchise.
“It was our goal from day one to keep the Islanders in the local New York area,” Wang proclaimed proudly at Downtown’s Barclays Center back in October of 2012, when he, along with then-Barclays Center owner Bruce Ratner, revealed that the Islanders would begin playing in the newly-built arena in 2015.
“This has been a long journey for the Islanders family, starting with our loyal fans, sponsors and employees,” Wang added. “I want to personally thank them for their patience, loyalty and support. I am excited about today’s announcement and I am looking forward to a long and successful tenure in Brooklyn.”
We already know that the Islanders aren’t long for Brooklyn as they are scheduled to move into a state-of-the-art arena in Elmont, N.Y., adjacent to the legendary Belmont Race Track, for the 2021-22 season, and have already begun splitting their regular-season slate between Barclays Center and the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
But before Wang and Ratner announced six years ago that Brooklyn was getting its second major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers fled for Los Angeles back in 1957, the Islanders were rumored to be heading north of the border to a Canadian locale.
Despite his inability to convince local lawmakers and taxpayers that his well-chronicled Lighthouse Project in Uniondale, N.Y., was the answer to the Islanders’ future on Long Island, Wang remained steadfast in his belief that the franchise that had won four Stanley Cups in the 1980s belonged here in New York.
So, with the Barclays Center housing the Nets, Wang and Ratner struck what was then announced as a “25-year, iron-clad deal” to move the Isles into Brooklyn.
“[Wang] spent the better part of the past decade and tens of millions of dollars in search of a new home for the New York Islanders,” revealed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at the press junket that morning on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
“You don’t have to worry about the future of this team. It’s remaining local.”
Wang eventually agreed to sell his Islanders to current co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, both of whom were adamant in their praise of the man who wouldn’t take a more lucrative deal to move the team elsewhere.
“Charles loved the Islanders unconditionally,” Ledecky said in a statement Sunday after the news spread of Wang’s passing following his bout with lung cancer.
“The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of his many legacies left to the team and to Long Island.”
One condition of Wang’s sale of the team to Ledecky and Malkin was that he would remain in charge through the franchise’s initial season here in Brooklyn.
He was finally rewarded for his efforts that year as former team captain John Tavares’ overtime goal against the Florida Panthers in the clinching Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs marked the first time during his ownership, and since 1993, that the team had managed to emerge victorious in a postseason series.
Ratner, the current owner of the Coliseum, where the Isles will play 20 of their 41 scheduled home dates this season, put it best when he described all Wang had gone through to keep the Isles from leaving Long Island and the tri-state area.
“Charles Wang is the real hero today,” Ratner insisted. “Charles got offers — good offers — to move the Islanders out of state. But he kept the Islanders here.”
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