When former New York Islanders majority owner Charles Wang passed away earlier this week at the incredibly tough-to-swallow age of 74, it brought about an outpouring of love and appreciation for a great man and terrific owner.
Things didn’t all go to plan during his time with the Isles, but whatever missteps Wang took at the helm of this proud franchise were ultimately made out of love and wanting the best for his team.
And oh, did he love his team. In the early 2000’s, I vividly remember Charles Wang, flanked by dynastic former Isles such as Bryan Trottier, Bob Nystrom, and Billy Smith roaming the concourse of the Coliseum pre-game and during intermissions.
Most fans flocked to their favorite players growing up, unabashedly sharing those facts. Wang would hang back, politely smiling and laughing along with a starstruck fan’s anecdote.
More often than not — after not saying two words during the proceeding conversation, allowing fans to speak to their heroes uninterrupted — Wang would personally thank every fan who stopped for their continued support. All class, all the time.
Keep in mind, these were dark times for this franchise. A string of losing seasons — some of which were absolutely torturous — left this fan base a bit jaded. And the fact that this team had been the cream of the crop just 15-or-so years earlier, not to mention the other team in New York being themselves on a perennial basis — only magnified issues more.
Wang made every effort to restore this franchise to greatness and, on a few occasions, it almost worked. The key word being almost, of course. Alas, the Islanders still haven’t been able to shed their post-dynasty cloak of mediocrity, but you can never say Charles Wang didn’t try his damnedest to pull this organization out of the doldrums all on his own.
When the Islanders were being forced into a corner regarding their future on Long Island, Charles Wang pushed The Lighthouse Project until he could literally push it no further. He offered to foot the entire bill of the project himself — several hundred million dollars, easily — and was still denied his bid.
As has been mentioned quite often over the last few days, one of the main and, quite possibly, the only reason the New York Islanders are still here and not in Kansas City or Quebec City is that Charles Wang kept them here. When he realized that his dream to keep the Islanders at the Coliseum was dead, he made sure that the Barclays Center was a fall-back option.
Why the Lighthouse Project never succeeded or whether the Barclays move was a wise one or not is inconsequential and will remain so. The Islanders will have a new home in a few short years, the current crop of young stars and promising prospects that are littered throughout this organization will sprout and bloom, and we will have Charles Wang to thank for a great deal of it.
Rest easy, Charles. Thank you for everything.