NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — If Brooklynites listen closely on Monday night, they might hear a whimper rising from the west. That will be the sound of the Nets playing out the clock on their 35-year run in New Jersey, hoping to start next season with a bang, or at least a clean slate, in the new Barclays Center.
The Nets’ New Jersey chapter will end for all practical purposes Monday as they play their last game in Newark’s Prudential Center against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The official close to the season will be on Thursday night in Toronto, and of course it will cap a fifth straight non-playoff season.
"If there is one word that describes this team's time in New Jersey, it's misfortune," said Herb Turetzky, the Nets’ official scorer, who will work his 1,177 consecutive home game on Monday. "Every time we seemed to be building something to get up to respectability some crisis came up."
The problems ranged from money, to drugs, an automobile-related death and injuries that would knock the Nets off track for extended periods that sometimes lasted close to decade.
"It's hard to believe that basketball won't be in New Jersey anymore," said former Nets and current Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who grew up in Teaneck, where the franchise played its first season in 1967-68 as the Americans of the ABA before a move to Long Island the following season. "Having grown up there and coached there, obviously there's a lot of deep-seated feelings. To me, there was a little bit of separation when the team went to Newark, but the fact they'll no longer be playing in New Jersey - it's going to be sad."
If there was a glory time for the Nets in New Jersey, it was 10 years ago when Jason Kidd jumped on board and turned a team accustomed to failure into one which made the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. The second team, which won 10 straight postseason games, also featured Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles, had a legitimate shot at a title, losing the finals to the Spurs in six games. The final loss came in a game in San Antonio where it blew a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead with the series on the verge of returning to the Meadowlands for a deciding game.
"I remember before the start of the '01-02 season, Jason got up and told us at a dinner before training camp that 'the losing was over,'" said Mitch Kaufman, the long-time Nets' director of video operations said. "It was a speech that I have never seen a player made at a dinner. We took off out of the gate that year and we were the shocking story of the year."
After the second loss in the Finals, Kidd got fed up with Byron Scott and the coach was fired halfway through the following season. The Nets made a couple of playoffs runs but Kidd's knee problems never allowed the Nets to get back to championship round. The point guard was eventually traded to Dallas in 2008, and won a title last season.
The Nets have gone downhill since, but that's the story of this franchise.
It has been close to putting things together, but something always happened.
It started the first year in the NBA. Facing a fee to join the league after the NBA-ABA merger and an unexpected $4.8 million indemnity due to the Knicks, then cash-strapped owner Roy Boe was forced to sell Erving's contract to the 76ers. Without Dr. J, the Nets first eight or so years in the league were embarrassing.
The first four years were played at Rutgers, a roughly 9,000 seat arena on a college campus. There were no seat backs on the bench and the locker rooms were very small. It was mostly a college crowd sprinkled with season ticket holders hoping to get the good seats when the team moved to the Meadowlands in 1981.
"I remember Red Auerbach one night had a big problem with the building," Kaufman said. "It was Larry Bird's rookie year. He needed a space to smoke his cigar and there wasn't big enough in the locker room."
The Nets didn't start to turn around things until around 1984 with a team that included Micheal Ray Richardson, Buck Williams, Darryl Dawkins and Mike Gminski. They stunned the defending champion 76ers in the opening round of the playoffs and seemed on the way up.
Two years later, the team collapsed after Richardson, who was as good anyone in the league when in the right frame of mind, was banned for drug use.
The Nets rebuilt in the early 1990, drafting Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson in the first round and getting Drazen Petrovic in a trade with Portland in 1991. They made the playoffs in '92 and 93, with the second one with Chuck Daly as coach. However, tragedy struck after the '93 season when Petrovic, one of the NBA's best pure shooters, was killed in a car accident in Germany.
"He was as hard a worker as I have ever seen," Turetzky said. "He took two extremely talented players (Coleman and Anderson) who weren't reaching their potential and turned those guys into All Stars. They were embarrassed to not work hard when he was there. They were both All Stars (in 1993) and when he was killed their careers floundered. They never retained that drive."
"That was the tragedy of all tragedies," Kaufman added.
The Nets fortunes did not turn until the team hired Rod Thorn as general manager in 2000. He engineered the post draft trade with Phoenix in 2001 that brought Kidd to New Jersey and almost earned the Nets a title.
That doesn't explain why the team is moving. After Boe, the franchise was owned for a group known as the Secaucus Seven. It sold the team to a group of Newark real estate developers led by Raymond Chambers and Lewis Katz in 1999. It was their intention to move the team from the Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands to Newark, and they signed a deal with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to form a company that would own both teams and their broadcast rights.
The only problem was Chambers and Katz could not get the state to pay for a new arena in Newark. They eventually sold the franchise in 2004 to real estate developer Bruce Ratner, whose plan all along was to move the team to Brooklyn. The planned move went into high gear late in 2009 when Ratner worked out a deal with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to become the majority owner and to provide most of the money to build the arena in Brooklyn.
"It's going to be the best thing that happened to me," said Bruce Hershfield of New York, who has had season tickets for roughly 20 years. "New Jersey people will have a problem and I don't think there will be many going. There are seven or nine trains that go to the new arena so it will be a 20-minute train ride."
Hershfield hopes the move to Brooklyn will finally give the team a fan base that will root for the team all the time, Too many times, there seemed to be as many people rooting for the opposing team.
"When they go to Brooklyn, it's going to be a whole different fan base," Frank said. "You feel bad for those fans who stuck with it both good and bad; you had to suck it up until we had our glory years, which was a short window."