While it might not receive as much recognition for its sports scene as neighboring New York, New Jersey has a rich history with professional sports franchises and has produced numerous Hall of Fame athletes. Among other well-known athletes, Olympian Carl Lewis, three-time MLB MVP Mike Trout, and three-time NBA Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal were all born in the Garden State.
In regard to professional sports teams, only one — the New Jersey Devils — has the state in its name. However, multiple New York teams are actually based in New Jersey, while the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets were previously based in the state for more than 30 years.
New Jersey Devils (NHL)
The Devils are the first team that comes to mind when one thinks of New Jersey given it actually bears the state’s name. Playing out of the Prudential Center, the team has only made the playoffs once in the past eight seasons, but has a decorated history.
The team won three Stanley Cups from 1995 to 2003 thanks in large part to Hall of Fame players like Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, and Martin Broduer. The franchise’s leading scorer is Patrik Elias, who spent his entire 20-year career in New Jersey and recorded 1,025 points through 1,240 career regular season games. He was also part of the Stanley Cup teams in 2000 and 2003.
The Devils franchise began play during the 1974–75 season as the Kansas City Scouts. It spent two seasons there and an additional six seasons in Colorado before relocating to New Jersey for the 1982–83 season. Other notable players to have played for the team since then include Brian Rafalski, John MacLean, Ken Daneyko, and Zach Parise.
New Jersey Nets (NBA)
The NBA’s Brooklyn Nets have called the New York suburb its home since the 2012–13 season, prior to which it spent 35 years in New Jersey. The franchise launched in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans and moved to New York and rebranded as the Nets the following season.
It moved back to New Jersey for the 1977–78 season and began playing out of Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway. It spent four seasons here before moving to the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, where it remained until 2010. The team played its final three seasons in New Jersey at the Prudential Center in Newark.
While the Nets failed to win an NBA championship during its time in New Jersey, the team won back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships in 2002 and 2003 but lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. Players synonymous with the Nets and New Jersey include Buck Williams and Jason Kidd, the latter of whom was on the team in both years it reached the NBA Finals. Kidd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Launched in 1995 as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, the MLS franchise now known as the New York Red Bulls played its first-ever home game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford in front of more than 46,000 fans. The franchise adopted the Red Bulls moniker in 2006 and, in 2010, began playing its home games at the newly-constructed Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls have never won the MLS Cup, but reached the final in 2008. It has, however, won a trio of Supporters’ Shield titles. Its list of most iconic players includes Thierry Henry, Giovanni Saverese, Tony Meola, Dave van den Bergh, and Clint Mathis.
New York Giants and New York Jets (NFL)
The NFL has two New York teams — the Jets and Giants — but both play all their homes games in the Garden State. The Giants and the Jets originally played in New York, but the former made the move to New Jersey in 1976. Prior to this, the team played out of Yankee Stadium, but was seeking a stadium to call its own. It signed a 30-year lease with the New Jersey Sports Authority to move into a newly-constructed stadium in 1971 and played games at several different venues until completing the move five years later.
“It was huge,” notes Ryan Kelly, the producer of a documentary on the Giants’ move to New Jersey. “We interviewed former governor Thomas Kean, and he couldn’t stop going on about how big a deal that this was for New Jersey and how it kicked off an economic boom for the state that lasted throughout the 80s.”
The Jets, meanwhile, moved into Giants Stadium in 1983 and pledged to return to New York City in 1989 if a new stadium was built. Both teams have called MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford home since 2010. The Giants have won four Super Bowls while in New Jersey. The Jets, meanwhile, haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1968, but reached the Conference Finals in 2009 and 2010.
Trenton Thunder (MLB Draft League)
The Trenton Thunder minor league baseball team has been in New Jersey since 1994, during which time it has been an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. It has won 12 division titles and four minor league championships since moving from London, Ontario to Trenton.
The Yankees dropped the team as its Double-A affiliate in 2020, but the franchise will continue operating as part of the new MLB Draft League, which will give young prospects a chance to showcase their skills in hopes of being picked in the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft.