The history of the present-day Brooklyn Nets is longer than you even probably think it is. Yes, I know you’re knowledgeable about your franchise, but if you fall in the teens-to-mid-thirties age range, you may not know much about the earlier days of what once were the New Jersey Americans, part of the now defunct ABA.
The Nets weren’t one of the first teams on the North American hoops scene. Multiple franchises predated them and became the teams of today: the Celtics, Pistons, Lakers, and 76ers, for example, started way back in time. Even the New York Knicks were born back in the distant past and still remain alive, though on life support.
For the Nets, it all started with those aforementioned New Jersey Americans in 1967. Only one season after its establishment, the team moved to New York and became the New York Nets. In 1976, the NBA and the ABA merged and along with Denver, Indiana and San Antonio, the Nets became part of the NBA, moving the franchise back to New Jersey and setting the New Jersey Nets as the team’s name for decades to come. It wasn’t until 2010 that the team settled on a new home in Brooklyn, although they played in New Jersey for two more years until the completion of the Barclays Center in 2012.
But let’s not get lost in history. What I wanted to tell you about was how the Nets always were trendsetters. How the Nets brand was always en vogue. And I wanted to write about it because of the alleged news regarding fashion brand Coogi suing Nike because of the creation of the Nets’ “City Edition” jerseys that feature the famous multi-colored pattern on their sides, which Nike labelled “Brooklyn Camo”.
If you’re a Brooklynite, you know about it. If you’re an American, you know about it. If you’re a citizen of the world, you know about it. The word “Coogi” may not ring any bell in your head, but “Notorious B.I.G.” or “Biggie Smalls” sure do. And you know what he was famous for wearing? Yes, those weirdly stripped and colored sweatshirts. Well, those were made by the aforementioned Coogi brand. Nike took advantage of the relation between Biggie and the borough of Brooklyn to design their Nets’ jersey, which are a piece of art, and add another layer of style to the renowned threads the franchise have worn over time.
Since 1967, the team has been making style waves. In a much-expected outcome, the first iteration of the franchise saw the New Jersey Americans set the foundation of the whole history of the team up to move to Brooklyn. White, red and blue were the colors chosen for the new ABA franchise, and those remained in place until the black-and-white scheme was adopted this decade.
One year later, as the New York Nets, another staple was made when the franchise introduced the scripted “Nets” across the chest for the home jerseys, although the boldest of moves happened prior to the 1969/70 season. By the summer of 1969 the Nets featured the three stars on the sides of the jerseys from the first time in franchise history, and they have been linked to the organization forever since. Known as the “Stars and Stripes” uniform and a clear homage to the original Americans name, the Nets built a unique brand not used by anyone in the Association at the time until the Sixers pounced on it a few months later introducing four stars on their uniforms’ sides, clearly copping the Nets’ booming style.
Moving into the 90s, both New Jersey and pretty much every other team in the league went in a rather distinguishing direction, rebranding and introducing a set of new uniforms that featured vivid colors and even gradients, and it wasn’t until 1997 that the team went on another round of redesign that would run for almost 15 years after the Brooklyn Nets arrived. This last New Jersey Nets iteration is one of the most famous and lauded in the franchise history. Although the only championships the Nets can claim were won during their ABA era, is in the early-to-mid aughts when the team achieved their major success with four Division titles (2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006) and back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.
Who doesn’t remember Kenyon Martin? Richard Jefferson? Vince Carter? Jason Kidd? They are ingrained in our brains and it isn’t hard to make a mental image of each and every one of them in those Nets’ threads. They conquered the hearts of New Jersey, of the Garden State. They couldn’t get closer to the chip. They almost had it. The dream couldn’t be completed and made real, but those times are well deserving of admiration still today. Problem is, after reaching such heights, the franchise went for a few more deep Playoff runs but never amounted to more than a bunch of Conference Semifinals before straight missing on the postseason from 2008 to 2012, both included. Leaving New Jersey for Brooklyn couldn’t have come at a better time, to be honest. Something needed to change and moving back to New York, to the hip borough that saw Biggie turn into the greatest of hip hop stars, couldn’t have turned into a better decision.
And with the move came new names—most of all that of Jay Z as part of the team’s ownership—and a much needed new identity.
In the boldest of moves, the Nets ditched all of its history and turned the classic white/red/blue theme into a black-and-white approach that if anything represented minimalism to the greatest of extents. Yes, San Antonio already was using the scheme, but the culture of that franchise had nothing to do with what Brooklyn meant with the change and what they were looking for with it. The logo couldn’t be simpler and crispier, and the colors couldn’t be reduced more than they were (not even a shade of gray was used during the first couple of seasons).
But history will never be erased from Nets’ veins. In 2013 they debuted a uniform celebrating the defunct Brooklyn Dodgers in gray and blue shades. By 2015 the “Stars and Stripes” design made its comeback with a couple of uniforms that brought the star-spangled sides—though this time it only featured one, on the left side—back, and from 2017 on with Nike as the manufacturer both sides made it into a special gray uniform to be worn by the franchise on the special occasion.
After the team also featured a design based on the Brooklyn Bridge last season, for this one Nike introduced the now controversial and (in)famous Coogi design based on hip hop culture and the influence of Biggie Smalls on Brooklyn and its scene and impact on the music surroundings. The Notorious B.I.G. will always be remembered as one of the best rappers to ever grace a mic. Brooklyn raised him and he gave back. By the end, in 1997, he was paraded around his home borough for a final time. He made Coogi more than a funny word. He built its image. He gave it presence. More than Coogi will ever acknowledge, probably.
In this time of wrongs and rights (pun intended), marketing and trademarks, Coogi’s position and subsequent suing of Nike’s design is understandable on a business basis, but not from the cultural standpoint. Let the Nets wear the threads. Let the Nets wear history. And most of all, embrace Brooklyn and all it encompasses because not every franchise has the background this one has built since day one.