HSS Training Center Opens to Complete Nets' Home in Brooklyn
By Cory Wright
It takes a lot to stop a 6-foot-8 forward like Thaddeus Young in his tracks. The view from the HSS Training Center will do it.
It's a spectacular panorama - downtown Brooklyn sprawled beneath you, the Manhattan skyline running a screen on the horizon. The iconic landmarks stand out; your eye catches One World Trade Center rising above the rest of lower Manhattan, which leads you to the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, to the red, fluorescent hands of the clock at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower next to Barclays Center and finally the Nets' home arena itself.
The view is impossible to miss through a wall of 16-foot windows. Sunset - one imagines - is beautiful, fitting for a building bordering Sunset Park.
"Being able to practice and look at the water, all of Brooklyn and New York City, it's crazy," Young said on his first tour of the facility, nearly completed in mid-January. "The guys in Miami were saying their practice facility is in the arena and you look out the window and you're looking at the beach, but we're looking at a beautiful skyline of New York City. I think it's one of the most amazing things."
There's a lot more to the HSS Training Center, the Brooklyn Nets' new 70,000-square-foot practice facility that opens Wednesday, than just the view.
Situated in an old warehouse in Industry City once used to produce Topps baseball cards, Hospital for Special Surgery and the Nets have completely refurbished the eighth floor. Call it reconstructive surgery, as a state-of-the-art practice facility has risen out of the ashes of old industry and Hank Aaron baseball cards.
Everything is first class. Two spacious courts have new hardwood, new retractable hoops, rims and glass. The 3,000 square-foot players' lounge has all the comforts of home and the luxuries most homes would dream of, including an 80-inch TV mounted on the wall and an 18-seat theater. There's a rooftop lounge, offering refuge from the cold concrete below.
"I was impressed," Brook Lopez said after touring the facility. "Just look at the vista over there. It's crazy to look upon all of Brooklyn and finally be completely all in on Brooklyn. Just seeing the entire facility, it's a great situation to be in. I can definitely see spending a lot of time lying in that players' lounge and on that rooftop lounge."
It's a far cry from the Nets' old practice facility, the low-level, windowless gym that resided on Murray Hill Parkway in East Rutherford, NJ.
"It's on a whole other level," Lopez said. "Obviously it's the NBA, but even then, it's best of the best."
If the old facility was reflective of its suburban New Jersey surroundings, then the HSS Training Center is a microcosm of Brooklyn.
The old factory building has a raw, rough brick and mortar exterior, weathered through years of repeated winter assaults. But like many other warehouse spaces in Brooklyn, it's been revitalized into a beautiful and functional loft space. The inside has been refurbished, the old 20th century machinery replaced with sparkling new hardwood floors on the court, a brand new hydro room and floor-to-ceiling windows among other amenities.
If you want to see how much work went into this fixer-upper, take the elevator down a couple of floors. You would think you had gone back in time.
"When I first walked into the actual building downstairs, I was like, 'this building?'" Young said. "When I actually got into the building I was like, 'this is amazing, it's incredible.'"
Of course, like many other buildings - and especially loft spaces in Brooklyn - it embraces its industrial roots by keeping some of the gritty elements that make industrial chic so popular today. Let's put it this way; you're not going to see too many NBA training facilities where the weight room looks into the gymnasium through an elevator shaft.
"We wanted to preserve a lot of the character in [the Industry City site]," said Will Hon of MANICA Architecture, one of the two firms that designed the HSS Training Center. "There's an industrial texture attached to Barclays Center, Atlantic Yards and we kept a lot of the raw elements exposed. We didn't go in and try to cover up all the imperfections and the little things that made the original building what it was and what it is. We tried to be expressive as we could about what was there."
And while aesthetics were important, the main priorities were the functionality of the space and the comfort and wellness of the Nets players.
"No question [we got to put our stamp on it]," Lopez said. "We've seen blueprints and plans, things ranging from what kind of padding we want on the lockers, where we want the outlets to be, drawers, all sorts of things. From chairs in the players' lounge, they pretty much kept us in the entire process, they always came by with blueprints, all sorts of concept art and showed us everything. They definitely involved us in it."
The padding on the lockers will likely be black, one of the many similarities the facility will have to the Nets space at Barclays Center.
The 80-inch TV and theater highlight communal space in the players' lounge. State-of-the-art training facilities, featuring cryogenic chambers and whirlpool tubs in the hydro room will help the Nets with their recovery during the physically grueling NBA schedule.
"The training center itself is such a state-of-the-art, modern facility, replete with all the latest in sports medicine and recovery treatment strategies, that it will definitely help the players with regards to injury prevention and injury treatment moving forward," said Dr. Riley Williams, Nets' Medical Director and Head Team Physician. As Sports Medicine Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. Williams and his team will continue to care for the players in Sunset Park, building on a 10-year relationship between the Nets and HSS.
Hon added that Nets ownership and management did right by their players when designing their space.
"Hats off to the Nets for going above and beyond on those spaces and being very generous with the size of everything," Hon said. "You see bigger team areas in the locker training hydro areas in off-site facility like this - not in the arena - because you usually have a bit more room to grow and expand. The player lounge - the player lockers they are just great spaces, big spaces. It's not a cramped space. It wasn't forced in 'what was left.' It was really there was a team-centric mentality to it, which is weird, but sometimes can get overlooked. The Nets did a great job of really thinking about the players and their needs."
Ownership's player-first philosophy is something Young said will help when he and the Nets make pitches to players in free-agency.
"It will definitely attract a lot of guys to come here and play for Brooklyn," he said. "Just the fact that the owners are putting a lot of money into the foundation/organization of what we're trying to do."
The Brooklyn Nets are now finally, and fully, Brooklyn's Nets.
Though the team began playing at Barclays Center in 2012, the team still practiced in East Rutherford, NJ. When the first ball is dribbled at HSS on February 17 the transition will be complete. The Brooklyn Nets, from the top brass, to the players, equipment managers and interns will all be in the same borough.
"We totally bought into the Brooklyn-pride thing," Shane Larkin said. "A lot of people still live in New Jersey. With the new facility, people will be able to move over to Brooklyn, live in Brooklyn, play in Brooklyn and really adopt the city."
Young has already made Brooklyn his home. The Nets forward lives in Brooklyn Heights, so the daily commute to East Rutherford, across two rivers and through Manhattan - where it's not a matter of 'will there be traffic?' but how bad it will be - was getting old.
He had extra reason to smile when he toured the facility for the first time in January. His commute from the Heights took him five minutes door-to-door.
When he pitches Brooklyn to free agents around the league, he'll be selling them on the whole package: living in one of the premier cities in the world, playing at Barclays Center and now laying down roots at the NBA's newest practice facility.
"Everything about it; the lounge, the rooftop, to the training room, to the steam room, to being on the court," Young said, trailing off as he admired his surroundings. "It helps me to develop my career and continue to grow as a player. Who wouldn't want to look forward to all of those things?"
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov vowed that the team will have the best of everything and with the opening of the HSS Training Center, they now do.
They even have the best view.