I was 13 and a hard-core child of suburbia when they opened the Nassau Coliseum in 1972. Long Island was not my suburb -- I grew up in one of NYC's other doglegs -- but as a young sports fanatic it still seemed like a pivotal moment when the New York Islanders started playing in the NHL that same year. It was the first major pro sports franchise that was unabashedly suburban --playing in this symmetrical concrete structure, surrounded by a gigantic parking lot. right off a major highway but not especially convenient to mass transit.
It was the future.
In the 1970s, any team looking to re-locate looked at the suburbs first. Just like the fans -- they'd been leaving the city and moving to places like Long Island in great numbers since the late 1940s (ever hear of Levittown, the original one?) and that really accelerated after the riots and unrest of the 1960s. In 1980, I was a summer intern at Long Island's Newsday mostly covering murders and the like, and so I encountered waves of refugees from Brooklyn, who'd thought they'd gotten away from crime, who valued their small green lawns but especially their privacy. Still, they were living the Dream -- especially when their Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups and when offices and malls came to Long Island and there was really no need to go into the Big Apple at all