NEWARK – The Nets played their final game in New Jersey on Monday.
So … whoop-de-damn-doo?
It’s been an eventful, but not so successful 36 years (one as part of the ABA, the last 35 in the NBA) of Nets basketball in the Garden State. Only 12 winning seasons and 16 trips to the playoffs. More disappointments than successes. And no championships, of course. Their ABA titles came on Long Island.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie says “good riddance.” And given the Nets’ attendance over the last several years, you’d assume that they won’t be missed much.
But among the 9 million Jersey residents, there’s still a pocket of passionate Nets fans. And among those 36 years of Nets basketball in the state, there are plenty of great memories.
Those fans and those memories came together Monday, as the Nets sold out the Prudential Center and celebrated their New Jersey history by bringing back several retired players for a halftime ceremony.
Kenny Anderson, Otis Birdsong, Derrick Coleman, Darryl Dawkins and Mike O’Koren were among the players introduced. No, it’s not the greatest roster of alumni, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a connection with the people in the stands.
Of course, nobody connected with Nets fans more than Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, two guys that played with passion and who made everyone around them better. The late Petrovic was represented by his mother, Biserka, and a video message from Kidd was played on the jumbotron.
Kidd’s 2001-02 Eastern Conference championship squad was given special mention during the ceremony. And if it weren’t for that team, New Jersey would have much less of a connection with the Nets. It was a team that came out of nowhere, led by the one-of-a-kind Kidd. That team galvanized the fan base, but its run of success lasted just three seasons, coming to an end when Bruce Ratner bought the team and diminished the product, more concerned with his real estate deal in Brooklyn.
Eight years later, the move to Brooklyn is a good thing for the Nets organization. They need a new identity. They need more people with easy access to their building. And it will help that it’s their building, not someone else’s.
But that doesn’t mean that Jersey was given a fair shot to support their team. For most of the Nets’ tenure here, they played in a building on the side of the highway, with no mass transportation or amenities nearby. And by the time they moved to Newark, it had been six years since they told New Jersey that they were leaving. And the team was pretty awful too.
Now, the Nets move again, leaving behind some people who really did care.
Good night, New Jersey.
Next stop: Brooklyn.