One year of Brooklyn sports, from the highs to the lows
2019: Year in Review
A lot happened in Brooklyn this year — from environmental policies to infrastructure changes to housing reform. We’ve wrapped up the key pieces for you in “2019: Year in Review.”
As we approach the dawn of a new decade, Brooklyn sports fans can look back at 2019 as one of the most eventful in recent history.
The Nets made headlines across the nation for their offseason overhaul, the Islanders joined their Barclays Center co-tenants in reaching the playoffs this past spring, and the Cyclones won their first New York-Penn League championship since 2001 in September. And those were only some of the notable stories from the sporting world in our fair borough over these past 12 months.
Nets strike gold in offseason
While the rest of the NBA scrambled to reshuffle or rebuild its rosters in free agency in July, the Nets were finally ready to make a splash of their own.
General Manager Sean Marks and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson did a marvelous job of building a strong foundation here in Brooklyn, leading the Nets back to the playoffs for the first time in four years and enjoying the franchise’s first winning campaign in five seasons.
After going 42-40 in the regular season despite several key injuries throughout the year, the Nets were ousted by Philadelphia in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“People are going to want to play here,” Marks noted shortly thereafter during the team’s season-ending press conference at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park last April.
“They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”
Marks wasn’t lying.
The Nets jettisoned their lone All-Star, D’Angelo Russell, to Golden State after completing a blockbuster deal that would bring Kevin Durant, arguably the best player in the sport, to Downtown Brooklyn along with Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
The formation of this dynamic duo, which won’t be complete until Durant returns from an Achilles injury to begin the 2020-21 season, made the Nets the envy of the league and finally put the franchise back in the mix as a potential title contender.
But with this organizational sea shift came many other changes.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov sold the team for a record $2.3 billion to Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai just prior to the start of this season and the Nets also parted ways with long-time team and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark.
Tsai was immediately put on the spot during the Nets’ visit to China for a pair of exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October.
The Hong Kong protests became the main story despite a pair of Brooklyn wins after a Houston Rockets employee tweeted in support of the Democracy seekers within in the communist regime.
“When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn’t expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened,” noted Tsai.
The Nets also hired and fired a new CEO in former Turner Sports executive David Levy and are currently without injured superstar Irving, who has missed the past month with a shoulder impingement.
Despite not having Irving or Durant on their newly designed hardwood, the Nets have thrived, going 12-6 without their high-priced tandem.
Isles on their way out of Brooklyn
After undergoing an organizational overhaul of their own in 2018, the Islanders went from being the worst defensing team in the league to the best in 2019, advancing to the Eastern Conference playoffs and winning a postseason series for just the second time since 1993.
Barry Trotz’s clamp-down defensive approach earned him the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach and Robin Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist as one of the league’s best goalies before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks this past summer.
The Isles swept Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs before suffering the same fate at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
But they have opened the 2019-20 campaign even stronger than they finished the previous one, putting together a franchise-record 17-game points streak.
The franchise also announced in September that it was breaking ground on its new arena in Elmont, while also shifting more regular season games away from Barclays Center to the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
The Isles will likely play a handful of games here in Brooklyn next season before moving into their new digs at the start of the 2021-22 season.
“We celebrate this historic day with our loyal fans and thank Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, who has championed the Belmont Park Arena project from the start,” said Isles co-owner Jon Ledecky.
“The Islanders also thank the elected officials and our community for their support in helping reach this franchise milestone.”
No more ‘Wait ‘til next year’ for Cyclones
Eighteen years of frustration came to a joyful end at Coney Island’s MCU Park in September as the Brooklyn Cyclones edged Lowell in the decisive game of the New York-Penn League Championship Series on Coney Island.
The Cyclones grabbed their first title since their inaugural campaign here in 2001, and celebrated long into the night along Surf Avenue.
“I hope they keep this feeling,” said Cyclones skipper and former Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo while his players danced around the infield to soak in the moment.
“Any time you win the championship it’s a good feeling …You teach the guys how to play the game, but at the same time, you have to learn how to win championships. It’s a big part of the development of players in the Minor League system of any organization.”
Back in May, Brooklyn suffered quite a blow to its local sporting scene as the team formerly known as the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds morphed into the LIU Sharks.
The Downtown school announced that most of its sports programs, not including the men’s and women’s basketball squads, would be moved onto the LIU-Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., creating a “One LIU” athletic department.
The newly named Sharks began play in 2019 with new uniforms and color schemes, ending the LIU-Brooklyn era, which began in 1926.
“Long Island University students and alumni took the opportunity to set a distinct path by choosing the fearsome Shark as our mascot,” LIU Director of Athletics Debbie DeJong said in a school-issued statement after the Blackbirds and Pioneers combined to form the LIU Sharks.
A new program in Brooklyn
Though they didn’t win a single game, going 0-17 in their inaugural campaign, the SFC Brooklyn women’s soccer team made history just by stepping on the pitch at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Aug. 22.
First-year head coach and program founder Justine Lombardi’s crew lost a 1-0 overtime heartbreaker that day to visiting Lafayette, but proved throughout the campaign that it could compete with the Northeast Conference’s best squads, even if it suffered six losses by a single goal throughout the frustrating campaign.
“We realized that [creating the women’s soccer program] wouldn’t be possible without everybody’s [support],” Lombardi said. “Even the first person, whoever it was, so, so long ago, who put the idea in somebody’s head that got things rolling and finally got this off the ground. I think we have them to thank and we won’t forget those people along the way.”
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