JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Newark, and sports lies

The Prudential Center in downtown Newark, N.J. is a spectacular arena. It’s large, it’s lavish, it’s loud. As I sit here, watching the Raptors play the Nets, I can find no real flaws. There’s an enormous scoreboard hanging overhead. The seats seem comfortable. All the nooks and goodies you expect at top-flight arenas are readily available.

When one walks a block away, however, he is thrust into the middle of one of America’s most depressed, crime-and-drug-infested hell-holes. In 2010, Newark was ranked the nation’s 23rd most dangerous city, which was actually an upgrade. That March, 2010 marked a month without a homicide was, literally, celebrated by officials. It was the first time someone had not been killed in a 31-day span in Newark since 1966.

What I’m trying to say is, Newark needs help. Its public schools are awful, its tourism is nonexistent. Whereas New York City is related to Los Angeles and Chicago, Newark is closest to Gary, Indiana and Compton. It’s a bad, bad place.

When the idea of the Prudential Center was initially proposed, promises were made. The city, later led by mayor Cory Booker, threw in $210 million—then argued that, since the dough came out of the Newark Airport and Port Authority leases, no taxpayer funds were touched. They also said that the arena would lead to jobs. And development. People would work at the arena selling this and that. Folks would come from all over to buy pretzels and sodas and beers. The neighboring blocks would fill up with bars and restaurants; hotels and hotspots. It would be the beginning of a new era; of a new city.

Pfft.

Newark remains terrible. People who come to the arena come to the arena, then immediately leave the arena. There are no hotels, and few restaurants. A block away, all the stores remain the same—discount shoe outlets; $1 shops; fast food restaurants and barber shops. Nothing has been revitzalized or, for that matter, improved. Newark is Newark.

Meanwhile, what else could that money have been spent on? How many new text books can be purchased for $210 million? How many small business loans could have been offered? College scholarships?

The arena is beautiful.

The reality is not.