The story of the New Jersey Swamp Dragons|
For most of their history the Nets have been one of the most maligned teams in the NBA. They've been the eastern conferences version of the Clippers. A team who habitually loses and does so many stupid things that it becomes comical. And if comedy is what you like that the tale of the New Jersey Swamp Dragons is for you.
Swamp Dragons? What the .... are the Swamp Dragons? what is a Swamp Dragon? In the summer of 1994 the New Jersey Nets considered rebranding their franchise the Swamp Dragons.
To fully understand this you have to go back to the early 1990s. The league had just experienced its first full explosion into American society and pop culture. The 1980s had been great for the NBA, it added 5 new teams, and the Magic-Bird rivalry had driven fans to the arenas like nothing before. Then, add Michael Jordan and the 1992 Dream Team, fans could not get enough of the NBA. On top of this, teams like the Charlotte Hornets had catchy new uniforms that fans ate up. On the flip side was the Nets. Relegated to East Rutherford, NJ, a small city across the Hackensack River from Union, New Jersey in the New York City metropolitan area. They were not New York's team, that was the Knicks, and they had sucked for most of their NBA history. They were also last in merchandising sales being surpassed by expansion teams like Charlotte, and Minnesota.
The idea was a simple, latch onto the glitz and the glam of bright colors and goofy mascots and cash in. But before the Nets could move forward with their idea the NBA announced that it was expanding once again, this time into the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto - and Toronto just so happened to be considering naming their new team the Dragons.
With the Toronto team wanting the name Dragons it pushed Nets leadership into copyrighting the name Swamp Dragons. This move let the proverbial cat out of the bag. ESPN quickly picked up on the story and fans everywhere knew what the Nets wanted to do, and to the Nets surprise fans didn't like it. NBA Commissioner David Stern is reportedly to have said "This is the stupidest f---ing idea I've ever heard." And fans mocked the team too. nobody liked the name.
The overall thinking was that the Nets may not have had a great history, but they did have a history and an important one at that. The Nets began life as the New York Americans during the first year of the American Basketball Association, and changed their name to the Nets the following season.
The Nets were one of the most successful ABA franchises winning two ABA championships one in 1974 and another in the last year of the ABA in 1976. Their success was one of the reasons they were added to the NBA when the ABA merged in 1976. They had star players like Julius Erving who had played with the Nets.
The NBA wanted the franchise to focus more on substance of flash. The league felt if the Nets could focus on winning that fan support and merchandising would follow. But the Nets went forward with the name change. Several free bet offers were placed that the Nets would not go through with it at the time. In fact Vegas had a lot of interesting bets regarding the name change once they heard about it.
The league, while opposed to the name change, actually supported the franchise. The ownership of the Nets agreed to change the name and for a moment it looked like the NBA would get a Swamp Dragons franchise.
The Nets needed a majority of the owners to allow the name change, so they began courting the most powerful owners like Jerry Buss and Bill Davidson. The owners loved it too. But than came the public backlash. Fans where not happy and the state of New Jersey was upset too.
The Meadowlands is a wetlands area right outside New York City. Its a nature preserve teaming with life. But residents of New York City referred to the place as a swamp in a negative way. The NBA and Nets disagreed with that assessment and wanted to keep the name.
Representatives from New Jersey governor Christine Whitman's office called the Nets and they and some of the fans wanted the name to be Fire Dragons as they liked the Dragons part. The irony to this was that the swamp would frequently catch fire due to all the chemicals in the water.
The NBA board of governors voted 26-1 to approve the name change, the lone dissenting vote-The New Jersey Nets. The Nets were owned by 7 different owners and they rotated voting duties. Though all 7 had initially approved the name change the owner who was at the board of governors meeting David Gerstein got cold feet at the last moment and voted no. Gerstien later said that the name was derogatory to the area and to New Jersey.
With the Nets voting down the name change the issue died, or did it? In 2019 the Nets ownership has once again filed paperwork to copyright the name Swamp Dragons. Could we see a Brooklyn Swamp Dragons soon? Only time will tell.