Peter Schwartz of ESNY is on the scene as the Long Island Nets celebrate the third day of Hanukkah with Jewish Heritage Night.
When you think about the history of basketball, there are a great number of Jewish players, executives and broadcasters that have been a part of the sport like Red Auerbach, Larry Brown, Red Holzman, Ernie Grunfeld, Sue Bird, Dolph Schayes, Nat Holman, Nancy Lieberman, Marty Glickman and Jordan Farmar.
And that’s just to name a few.
So given the connection between the sport of basketball and Jewish athletes, it was appropriate that the Long Island Nets, the G-League affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets, celebrated the third night of Hanukkah Thursday evening with Jewish Heritage Night at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Nets beat the Salt Lake City Stars 108-94, but the night was much more than about that as it was a celebration of one of the many important Jewish holidays on the calendar. There was the Menorah lighting, video board mentions of some great Jewish names in basketball, and fans giveaways via a special Long Island Nets dreidel as they left the Coliseum.
Known as the “Festival of Lights”, Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt, but there’s also a deeper meaning that is celebrated over what Adam Sandler refers to as “eight crazy nights”.
“Really what Hanukkah resembles and what we commemorate during Hanukkah is the miracle and the freedom and we need to really show the world out there that miracles do happen and that we value our freedom,” said Rabbi Yossi Lieberman from the Chabad of West Hempstead who presided over a pre-game ceremony to light the Menorah.
“The fact that we’re able to come out to a sporting event like this and celebrate out in the open and show everybody how we celebrate and how we’re proud and we look forward to the freedoms that we’re so fortunate to have and live and experience.”
Being able to light the Menorah brought back great memories for Lieberman who conducted similar ceremonies on many occasions for the New York Islanders when they played at Nassau Coliseum. After undergoing extensive renovations, the Coliseum re-opened this past April and it seemed fitting that Lieberman presides over the first ceremony for the Long Island Nets.
“It’s so wonderful to be back after missing it for two years,” said Lieberman. “It’s a new venue, it’s exciting and I think everybody is really having a nice time.”
In their inaugural season on Long Island (they played last year at Barclays Center while the Coliseum was being renovated), the Nets are off to a solid 11-5 start but they’re accomplishments go far beyond what they’ve done on the court. In a short amount of time, they’ve become a big part of the community.
“It’s kind of like a commitment to all of the organizations and communities that reside on Long Island,” said Alton Byrd, the Long Island Nets Vice President of Business Operations. “We’ll do something for MLK, we’ll do something for colleges, we’ll do something for cancer awareness, and we’ll do something for moms. I think it’s such an important part of who we are as an organization to celebrate different cultures and to celebrate different religions.”
As the Nets continue to grow as an organization and build a fan base, they do so as the current anchor tenant at the Coliseum, now called “NYCB Live Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum”. An evening at a Nets game is a family affordable experience and it’s been a big part of the community getting a chance to see the transformation of the building while also enjoying a very good brand of basketball.
“It looks fantastic,” said Lieberman. “I think it has a lot of potential and I’m really excited because we have to bring life back to this part of Long Island. It’s old and it’s got the nostalgia, but it’s new and it’s going to bring in the new life. I’m loving it. My kids are having a blast.”
Don’t forget your Long Island Nets Dreidel when you leave the game 👌 pic.twitter.com/fjhsc7wsFK
— Long Island Nets (@LongIslandNets) December 14, 2017
Nights like Jewish Heritage Night as well as other themed events will be commonplace at Long Island Nets games as their carve out their place in the sports landscape on Long Island. The ABA/NBA New York Nets are part of the Coliseum’s DNA from back in the day, and now that this is a new era for the building that Dr. J used to play in, the Long Island Nets will try to combine what’s old with what’s new.
“This year, and probably for years to come, there’s always going to be a connection to who we were and who we are now,” said Byrd. “We don’t deny it. It’s a good thing. We’re excited about it and I think everything we do will get better.”
I have so many great memories from the original Nassau Coliseum including those nights when Rabbi Lieberman little Hanukkah Menorah at Islanders games. To be able to have that experience with my wife and kids this year, at the new Coliseum for a Long Island Nets game was a special way to spend one of the eight nights of this great holiday.
As a family, we’re going to be opening a lot of gifts during the course of Hanukkah but one gift we would all like to see is a G-League championship for the Nets!