The Brooklyn Nets are one of the most moribund franchises in the NBA, without a competitive team or the draft picks to build one. But hey, at least they’re in Brooklyn, in a new arena and with a cool color scheme.
But back in the early ’90s, before the glory days of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and young Richard Jefferson, they didn’t even have that. They were the second franchise in their market, they had the most boring name in all major American professional sports, and they played in New Jersey, which may as well have been Canada for the New Yorkers they were so desperate to draw. That desperation led to some kooky ideas, none kookier than the recently-unearthed plan to rename them the Swamp Dragons.
Now that’s some raw, uncut ’90s garishness — it’s incredible. According to Zach Lowe’s wonderful oral history, Nets executive Jon Spoelstra (father of Heat head coach Erik) wanted to do something, anything to increase fan engagement, and he thought capitalizing on the trend that saw the Charlotte Hornets become a merchandise powerhouse and drove the designs for the expansion Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies would be a good idea. And since the Meadowlands, where the Nets played, was a swamp, why not tie the new mascot to the club’s identity? It was perfect and beautiful and was literally one vote away from happening, even though Commissioner David Stern reportedly called it “the stupidest f*cking idea I’ve ever heard.”
We highly encourage you to go read the whole thing, but the main thrust is this: Even though most people around the league thought it was at least kind of dumb, and at most a disastrously childish idea, Spoelstra and his colleagues worked tirelessly to convince people it could work, and the NBA Board of Governors voted 26-1 to approve the name change. The only team to vote against it? The Nets themselves. Depending on who you believe, either one of the Nets’ seven owners got cold feet or they all did, and they decided to instead simply redesign their logo rather than overhaul their whole identity.
Of course, now all we can think about is how desperately we want this to have happened. Dragons, as everyone in the oral history agrees, are cool, and that design might have been the best of the ’90s schemes (those flames on the warmups? Perfect). It’s even funnier to imagine the minimalist redesigns they probably would have done in the mid-2000’s to add an air of respectability, like the Raptors and Grizzlies have done. Damn you, Nets owners, for depriving the sporting world of the greatest throwback uniforms ever.