The New Jersey Nets, who debuted in the NBA in 1976, played the last home game in its history Monday. The franchise is moving to Brooklyn next season, and the Nets were in no danger of making the playoffs this year. For the last game, the team brought back a battalion of former players from throughout the franchise’s 35-year history. They interviewed many of the players and asked them about their favorite memory from their Nets career.
And it was astonishing to hear how uninterested the players from recent years sounded. The players from the Nets teams in the late 70s and 80s were full of stories you could barely believe. The players from the last 15-20 years looked as if they were explaining a bee sting or some other mildly unpleasant memory. Below are the verbatim responses from several former players and coaches about their favorite Nets moment, along with the years they played for the Nets:
- Tim Bassett (Nets forward, 1976-80, captain of first Nets team): “Super John Williamson telling [coach] Slick Leonard from the Indiana Pacers that he was going to score 50 points on him when he came in. And he did. Super John, was a great player he was. I miss him.”
- Albert King (Nets forward, 1981-87): [A very long, detailed story about having to catch a yellow cab with fellow first-round draft pick Buck Williams after the 1981 draft to make the Nets' press conference in New Jersey because owner Joe Taub's Rolls Royce failed to show. "Joe, if you're listening, you owe me the tab."]
- Derrick Coleman (Nets forward, 1990-95): “Always going to the playoffs, playing against Cleveland [in 1992 and '93]. My teammates more than anything.”
- Kenny Anderson (Nets guard, 1991-96): “There’s so many, but we were just a fun, lucky team. I guess a lot of people would say that we had a lot of talent but that we were immature, a lot of us was young. And we said and did some silly things at times. But hey, that’s what it’s about — growing and maturing. So, it is what it is.”
- Vince Carter (Nets forward, 2004-09, on the move to Brooklyn): “It’s been a long time coming. When I first got to Jersey, it was always talked about. They had their situation over there or whatever [chuckles]… But more than anything it’s good to just get it out of the way and get it done.”
- Devin Harris (Nets guard, 2007-11): “Just every time I stepped on the court. The whole time I was here was fun. I can remember the first game I got here, and I played that game, uh, and throughout the highs of the All-Star year and the low of only winning 12 games [in the 2009-10 season], it’s all a great learning experience. But I enjoyed every minute of it.”
- Avery Johnson (Nets coach, 2010-present): “For me, it’s the first game and the last game. The first game, we played here and we won. And it’ll be this game. And there have been a lot of challenges in between. [...] I think it’s kind of the first and the last, and obviously there’s a lot to be written about the in-between [chuckles].
- Chris Christie (New Jersey governor, 2010-present): “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight, and my message to the Nets is goodbye.”
The messages might have been more mixed if Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin had been able to participate. But the core of the Nets’ Eastern Conference champions in 2002 and 2003 is still playing in the league, all with other teams. Other than guard Kerry Kittles, the Nets from the early 90s had fewer specific memories. That happens when your franchise has two successful years in its 35-year history and fails to win a championship.
Against that backdrop, I had to have a running diary of the Nets’ last game in the Garden State, a clash with the Philadelphia 76ers, who would clinch a playoff berth with a win.
–For the final introduction of the “New Jersey Nets”, that was awfully perfunctory.
–On the very first possession of the game, Humphries blows a dunk attempt. He got fouled, but still.
–Looking back over my notes much later. “Ball randomly thrown into backcourt by Knicks (9:30 left in first quarter)”
–Lou Williams hits a floater to beat the first-quarter buzzer. Natch. Philly 31-18.
–YES announcers Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel perk up when the camera pans to Derrick Coleman, the Nets No. 1 pick in 1990, a can’t-miss power forward prospect who missed.
Eagle: “There’s Derrick Coleman”
Spanarkel: “Boy, when he was motivated…[trails off wistfully]”
–Nets’ minority owner Jay-Z is wearing a hat with an ‘NY’ logo on it. Salt, meet wound.
–The team gets tepid applause from a half-full crowd at halftime. Philly 53-43.
–The halftime show kicks off with a video montage over “The Best of You” by The Foo Fighters. I love how the title can be taken two ways – the fans getting the best moments in Nets history, or the team getting the best of its fans by moving to Brooklyn.
–They’re bringing former Nets players out one at a time…
–Drazen Petrovic’s mom gets a huge hand from the crowd. That’s nice to see. The Nets star died in a car crash in 1993 when he was only 29 – just a tragic loss.
–Big hands for Coleman and longtime executive Rob Thorn.
–Another shout-out to Kidd. He is deified by these guys. If he were in the arena the place would go nuts.
–Hold that thought…
–This is exactly what Kidd said in his video message they just showed. I kid you not.**
Hey Net fans. Congratulations on the celebration of 35 years. That’s a long time. Ahh… being a Net was a great time in my career. Man, being a Net was a great honor. So hopefully you guys enjoy tonight, and hopefully I’ll see you guys soon. Take care.
**I can’t fathom how depressing it would be to have the most successful player in team history – a guy who led the Nets to their only real glory in those 2002 and 2003 playoffs – basically pay lip service to his time with the team. To be fair, Kidd did praise the New Jersey fans in an interview that aired during the pregame show. But for the one thing that the fans who attended the game would see… that’s cold. As lukewarm as the player comments before the game had been, this was still shocking to see.
–A handful of attendees from the 2002-2003 Nets team that won the Eastern Conference are given fireworks treatment…for winning the Eastern Conference. Not exactly the Canyon of Heroes.
–Former Nets center and monster dunker Darryl Dawkins joins the guys before the third quarter, wearing a pink striped suit. Dawkins, after giving a shout-out to his five children: “I got a whole buncha kids now. And I’m going to adopt 4 or 5 more…[inaudible]… Put that credit card down!”
–Dawkins shows off one of his “Yo Mama” dunks and riffs on breaking two backboards on dunks in a single season. He named each dunk. I’d reprint each name but he delivered them in rapid-fire vignette form.
–Eagle, two minutes into the second half and five minutes after Dawkins leaves: “One of his suits could house my family. Literally, they could live in it.”
–YES sideline reporter Jessica Taff interviews Thorn up in the stands. Thorn was New Jersey’s general manager from 2000-2010 and built the Jason Kidd teams. Tonight, Thorn is in the building rooting for the 76ers. Which can be forgiven – he is their general manager.
–The Nets cut the lead to 63-62 and have put Philly on its heels to open the second half. Could a win to send things off be in the cards?
–I’m pretty sure the crowd just chanted “M-V-P!” while New Jersey forward Kris Humphries (best known for his marriage-honeymoon-divorce with Kim Kardashian in a three-month span) was at the line. Nice, guys. Got me to chuckle anyway
–Philly’s up 76-68 after three quarters, in case anyone’s watching this game.
–Former Nets guard Otis Birdsong artfully expresses his mixed emotions about the Nets leaving New Jersey. He says he’ll miss the relationships he made while with the team “from the players down to the ballboys”. Philly up 86-75, eight minutes left.
–Nets hear boos after they get lazy and Philly grabs an offensive rebound. Philly 94-83, four minutes left.
–Two minutes left, Philly 96-85. Will the fans stand at the end?
–With 15 seconds left they stand. A strong ovation that nonetheless feels terribly small. Philadelphia 76ers 105, New Jersey Nets 87.
And that was it. There was no ovation after the final buzzer, and most fans headed for the exits immediately. The end of 35 long, mostly torturous years for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets was marked with the sound of one hand clapping.