This year, Barclays Center has become a place where people go not just to watch and listen but to be heard, shuttered by COVID-19 but still an integral part of the community. And the man in charge told The Post it’s not just an honor but a goal.
Instead of playing home to the Nets, Islanders and Liberty, Barclays Center this summer found itself the epicenter for the city’s biggest social justice protests. Then, when New York opened up early voting for the first time in a presidential election, it was offered as a polling place for Tuesday’s election.
Tuesday won’t be the first time Barclays Center becomes interwoven into the community. And in his first published interview since the early days of his hiring, BSE Global CEO John Abbamondi doesn’t want it to be the last.
“I’m proud of this organization and the role we’ve been able to play in this community all summer and into the fall,” Abbamondi told The Post. “Every sports franchise aspires to be more than a business, more than a source of entertainment, but be interwoven into the lives of the folks in the community. We saw that happen spontaneously.”
That spontaneous reaction turned the plaza in front of Barclays Center — controlled by Nets owner Joe Tsai’s BSE Global — into an accidental town square.
There were protests in May and June after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and August over Jacob Blake’s shooting by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. Finally, 2,000 gathered a month later over Kentucky prosecutors’ failure to charge the Louisville police officers who killed Breonna Taylor.
“The fact the citizens of our borough felt this was the appropriate place to gather … we’re honored to be associated with that,” said Abbamondi, adding the activism of Nets players played a role. “We have a long history in this league of social activism, particularly around issues of racial equality.
“That’s a history all those who work in and around the NBA are proud of, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The players have spoken out on issues that not only did they care about but resonate with many, many, many of our fans and fellow citizens. Those two things coming together is behind what you saw this summer.”
It also contributed to BSE Global contacting the New York State Board of Elections in June to offer the arena. The result was Brooklyn’s biggest polling site, with tens of thousands casting votes.
“We were thrilled we were able to step forward and assist with that effort so that [Brooklynites] could come to [the arena] and exercise their right to vote,” said Abbamondi. “Just because the building is shuttered, and we weren’t able to entertain fans the way we’re used to, doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in the community.”