As I sit down to write this article now, I can’t help but think how unbelievably fast this season has gone by and how there will never be another Nets game in New Jersey. Most people will say that the Nets’ time in New Jersey has been filled with failure, and I will not disagree with them there. However, I want to reminisce about the good times in New Jersey, because those are the times that filled much of my childhood. In this article, I will talk about some of my favorite memories as a Nets fan in New Jersey and my journey to becoming a Nets fan.
Unfortunately, I will admit that when I was very young, I was a supporter of the New York Knicks. The reasons for this were simple: I was living in Manhattan, the Knicks had made the finals a few years earlier, and the Nets were terrible. At that time, I did not know a whole lot about basketball and was probably only able to name a few players on the team. When I was about 7, my dad bought me an Allan Houston Knicks jersey which soon became one of my favorite pieces of clothing to wear to school. Then, just prior to the 2001 NBA playoffs, an incident occurred which altered my rooting interest in basketball. A group of Knicks led by Charlie Ward appeared in a Sunday article in the New York Times magazine where they gave anti-semitic comments against Jews. I was only 8 years old at the time and couldn’t care less about the comments, but, as a Jew, my dad told me that we would not be rooting for the Knicks in the playoffs that year. I was too young to have an opinion myself, so I agreed and rooted against them. The Knicks promptly lost to an underdog Toronto Raptors team led by a young Vince Carter, 3 games to 2. During and after that series, I would still wear my Allan Houston jersey to school. The difference was that the name on the back was crossed out with black tape.
The next season, I still did not want to root for the Knicks, but I needed a team to root for. 2002 was right in the middle of the Kobe-Shaq Lakers dynasty and I suppose I became a Lakers fan for a bit. That year, the Knicks were much worse than the previous year and did not come close to making the playoffs. However, there was a different team a short bus ride across the river that was starting to make some noise. That team had acquired Jason Kidd from the Phoenix Suns in the offseason and was actually playing very well for the first time since its ABA days. That team was of course the New Jersey Nets. In the 2002 NBA finals, the Nets got swept by the Lakers, but I was tired of rooting for a team in three time zones away. It was time for me to become a Nets fan.
In 2003, I was 10 years old and we may have went to a few regular season Nets games. That year was highlighted by a return trip to the NBA finals for the Nets, where I got nosebleed tickets to game 3. The Nets lost the game and the finals, but they were still one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA. Then, in the 2004 season, the Nets added some excitement and flair to their team. The Nets had gotten off to a rough start that season and needed to do something to give the team a boost. That boost was Vince Carter, a young, acrobatic dunker from the Toronto Raptors. I remember exactly where I was when I found out that VC was going to the Nets. I was watching TV waiting to go home from a tennis lesson when it was officially announced that Carter was being traded to New Jersrey and I became very excited. Over the course of Vince’s time in New Jersey, he transformed himself from a dunker and playmaker into a scorer and leader. His time with the Nets was only about 5 years, but he is definitely one of the most memorable players in their history.
Even though the Nets never returned to the finals, they made the playoffs every year until 2007 and were a fun team to watch, led by the Big 3 before the Boston or Miami Big 3: Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson. The Big 3 era came to a close in 2007 when the Nets beat Carter’s former team, the Toronto Raptors, in the first round of the playoffs, before losing to the eventual eastern conference champ Cleveland. Even though, the Nets’ success has gone away recently, it was quite amazing that a team with as bad a history as the Nets was able to make the playoffs in 6 straight seasons from 2002-07.
The next season, 2008, was my first year of being a Nets season ticket holder after being a playoff ticket holder in 2007. Unfortunately, 2008 was also the Nets’ first year out of the playoffs since I became a Nets fan. This year was the beginning of the fall of the Nets Big 3. At the trade deadline, the Nets traded Jason Kidd to Dallas for a package featuring Devin Harris. Harris had some exciting moments while with the Nets including some awesome buzzer beaters, but he was no Jason Kidd. That offseason, the Nets traded Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee, and the next year, they traded VC to Orlando and the Big 3 were all gone.
The Nets were officially in rebuilding mode, and in a big way. The 2009-10 season was one of the worst in NBA history and the Nets went 12-70. In previous years, the Nets had always been better than their cross-river rivals, the New York Knicks. However, since that 12-70 season, the Knicks have been the better team. These years have really tested my loyalty to the Nets, especially when I was at a high school which was filled with 95% Knicks fans. Over the last couple of years I have been mocked by people telling me, “the Nets suck” or “why aren’t you a Knicks fan?”, but I still have faith that the Nets will turn it around.
The Nets have made some progress this season, but have been mostly slowed due to injury. Next season, they will officially be the Brooklyn Nets and they will be playing in the nicest arena in the NBA, the Barclays Center. They hope to no longer be the laughing stock of the NBA and they hope to change their image to one of a contender. They will definitely no longer be the lovable loser New Jersey Nets, who will always hold a special place in my heart. I will never forget those great teams of the mid-2000′s, nor the terrible teams of the early 2010′s. Those half-filled arenas will always remind me of good times.
Now, I will like to share with you just a few of my favorite memories and stories as a Nets fan:
- When we had season tickets for the Nets, our seats were about 20 rows behind the basket at the Izod Center. Luckily, the Nets were rarely sold out, and we were usually able to move down a few rows. Late in the game in blowouts, or sometimes even in close games, I would try to move down as far as possible without getting in trouble, maybe the fourth or fifth row across from the Nets bench behind the basket. However, usually with about 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, a security guard would come down and sit in maybe the 10th row to try to prevent kids like me from moving down. The security guard that was usually working in our section was an obese old woman with a strange accent. I’m guessing she was from Ireland or Scotland or something. For some reason, I called her the “Skeleton Lady” which didn’t really make sense because she was very fat. Every game that I went to, it seemed like it was a race between me and her. I would try to move down before she got there, but if she was already positioned in the 10th row, I would need an excuse to move down. A great excuse was if they had a t-shirt toss in the last few minutes. Whenever there is a t-shirt toss, it is very hectic and I was usually able to sneak by without her noticing. Another excuse was pretending to move down to take pictures of the Nets huddle during a timeout, and then just staying where I was standing. Unfortunately, the Prudential Center in Newark has been more strict about moving down, which is annoying because The Rock has had just as many open seats as the Izod Center had. The next couple of stories are about moving down at the Izod Center.
- This story takes place during a preseason game in 2008. I think the Nets were playing the Philadelphia 76ers and there were probably less than 8,000 people in the crowd. At halftime, my sister and I moved down all the way to the second row behind the basket, in the courtside seat section. This is very much against the rules, and if the security guard had seen us, he may have kicked us out of the building entirely. But he did not, and we watched a very boring game from the 2nd row. As Jason Kidd was preparing to leave the game for good, he tossed his wrist band into the crowd and I caught it. It had his #5 sewn into it and it was very special. I have caught plenty of wrist bands/head bands over the years due to moving down, but that one will always be special because it belonged to a future hall-of-famer.
- Another wrist band story is when I caught one from my favorite all-time Net, Mikki Moore. Mikki was only with the team for one season in 2007, but was my favorite Net because of his hustle, great rebounding, and exciting dunks. He was also probably the friendliest player on the team and I often talked to him if I went to the game early for warmups. Since his time on the Nets, he has bounced around the NBA and the D-League. He was recently signed by the Golden State Warriors, and he will be with them for the rest of the season. I caught a few of Mikki’s headbands and sweatbands in 2007, with his #33 on them.
- One last story of getting gear from a player. In 2007, Cliff Robinson was the oldest player in the NBA at 40 years old. In a game against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, we showed up early for warmups. We were watching courtside as the Nets and Heat shot around. After shooting around, Cliff Robinson came over to me and my sister and just handed us his size 16 shoes. We were shocked and surprised, but of course we happily accepted them. A few minutes later, we yelled at him to come back over and sign the shoes, which he did. He was a very nice guy.
- During Vince Carter’s last year with the Nets, he was giving a basketball clinic to the children of season ticket holders. We went, of course, to the clinic at the Nets practice facility in New Jersey. We did some drills and learned some things about basketball and then we got to meet Vince and ask him some questions. The year before, the Nets beat his former team, the Raptors, in the playoffs, so I asked him if it felt good to beat his former team and shut up the Toronto fans who hate him. He said that he was just happy to win a playoff series and didn’t care who it came against. I feel like Vince has a reputation of not caring about the fans and thinking he is a superstar, but he is not a bad guy.
- In the 2009-10 season when the Nets went 12-70, in addition to having one of the worst overall records in NBA history, they also started off the season 0-18. They fired their coach, Lawrence Frank, and replaced him with Kiki Vandeweghe, who was much worse. I remember they snapped the streak on a Friday night game against the Charlotte Bobcats (who else) and it was one of the better Nets games I have been to. Even though it was a very meaningless game between two bad teams, it felt like a playoff game when the Nets were winning late in the fourth quarter. I’m happy to have been there.
- Later on in that 2010 season, the Nets had a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks despite there being a huge snow storm in the New York area. Most fans couldn’t get out to the game, but I made the trek in the snow anyway. We actually got there on time for the start of the game and were shocked to see how few people ended up going. After the game, the announced attendance was 1,016, the smallest amount of people to witness an NBA game in who knows how many years. Soon after the game started, the Nets announced that fans could move down and sit wherever they want. I sat next to the ball boy who wipes the floor if a player falls. At halftime, Jerry Stackhouse of the Bucks came up to me and said, “Hey, thanks for coming out to the game”. That’s how few people there were. The Nets lost the game by 20 to fall to 4-48 on the season (yikes!). They played significantly better in the last few weeks though, going 8-22 in their last 30 games.
- I feel like I need to have at least one story from the Prudential Center in Newark. So here it is. Last season, a few of my friends and I went to a game against the Golden State Warriors. My friends do not attend basketball games often, so after the game (which the Nets won, by the way), my friends wanted to play that stupid game where you shoot the ball as many times as you can in 24 seconds with the possibility of winning something. The grand prize that night was a shoe autographed by Vince Carter, something that would definitely be cool to have. However, in order to win the prize, you needed to score at least 11 points in the 24 seconds. You could either take a foul shot, worth one point, or an NBA 3 pointer, worth 2 points. After the 24 seconds, you have one “money shot” from probably close to where half court would be, worth 3 points. They had people under the basket rebounding for you. My friend, who was very excited to play, went first. He is probably better at basketball than I am, but he tried shooting foul shots and didn’t win the prize. For those of you who don’t know me and my basketball skills, I am not a great player, but I am a very good 3-point shooter. However, I was not warmed up at all and honestly I didn’t even want to play the game. I didn’t want to waste $5 on something I had almost no chance of winning. But my friend convinced me to play, so I did anyway, and I was only going to take 3-pointers. My first shot was a swish, which got the adrenaline flowing. The excitement caused my second shot to be long off the backboard, but luckily it was on line and went in. My third shot was off the back of the rim and went out. But I had so much adrenaline that I ran, got the ball before the rebounders were able to get it, retreated behind the 3-point arc, and chucked up another 3. Swish. I then made two more 3′s just before the 24-second buzzer sounded to give me a total of 10 points. However, I needed 11 to win the shoe. I had one last shot, the money ball, for the win. I knew if I thought about it too much, I would miss, so I just chucked it up right when they tossed it to me. Swish. There’s no way I would be able to put my excitement into words, so I’m not going to try.
Those are just a few of my many memories of the New Jersey Nets. What are your best memories of the team? Post your favorites in the comments section.