Two years ago today, in a packed Prudential Center in downtown Newark, the Nets said goodbye to New Jersey.
The New Jersey Nets played 35 years in the Garden State, in three different arenas, and to mostly sleepy crowds and little back page exposure. They had more losing seasons than winning ones and always seemed to fall off just as things were looking up. Being a Nets fan during the New Jersey years was often times anything but fruitful.
This was the franchise that went from winning the ABA championship with Dr. J as the league’s most marketable star, to entering the NBA a year later with no Dr. and playing at Rutgers’ athletic facility while their stadium was being built. There would be more bad news over the years: bad draft picks, washouts, trade demands, guys who didn’t care and the way too early death of Drazen Petrovic.
Despite all of this, in 1998, I won tickets to my first Nets game and been a fan ever since.
Sports wields incredible influence in American society. For me it was seeing a team representing the state I was living in and was generally fun to watch in spite of the losing. One memory in particular stands out. In 2001 I was in the barbershop and taking some good natured ribbing from my barber for being a Nets fan. Angrily, I told him the Nets would not only make the playoffs, but make the Finals and play the Lakers. He broke out in laughter and told me “that will never happen.”
One year later, it happened.
Seeing the Nets make the Finals in 2002 and 2003 are memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.
These days the Nets play on the corners of Fulton and Atlantic at the 18-month-old Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Perhaps years from now I’ll take my son to a Nets game and tell him about the wizardry of Jason Kidd, the box office appeal of Vince Carter, the euphoria of making the NBA Finals, the horrors of 12-70 and moving on from a previous identity. The stadium may be different, the uniforms may have changed, the fan base may still be relatively new, but in the end, I’ll tell my son, you can’t forget New Jersey when discussing the Nets.