Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Hard to Justify "What Ifs" with the Nets
I hope I have some English fans reading this, so that they think that, by "Spurs," I mean Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, a.k.a. "Spurs," or, as they're known to my fellow Arsenal fans, "The Fucking Spurs," "The Scum" or "The Spuds."
(They're also known, due to an alleged Jewish fan base, by some anti-Semitic nicknames that I won't print here. Though they have no moral high ground, as they have some of the most notorious hooligans in the world. Ask fans of Rotterdam-based Feyenoord, along with Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven one of the big three of Dutch soccer: They've got a pretty nasty firm as well, and from European competition dating back to the 1970s, they think Spurs fans go too far.)
No, I mean the San Antonio Spurs, winners of 4 NBA Championships since 1999, and, like the Nets, one of the four teams absorbed from the American Basketball Assocation in the 1976 merger. (The other two are the Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets.)
The last NBA game I saw live was on March 2, 2008, when the Nets hosted the Spurs, and, despite holding tough much of the way, lost 93-83. To make matters worse, the Nets have rapper-business mogul Jay-Z as a co-owner, and the Spurs have Tony Parker as a player, and neither Mrs. -Z, singer-actress Beyonce Knowles, nor Mrs. Parker, the non-singing actress Eva Longoria, appeared to be sitting courtside. (Scott Clark's sports report on that night's Channel 7 Eyewitness News did show Eva, but not Beyonce.) That night, the Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker, pretty much did as they pleased against the Nets.
Not last night: The Nets beat the Spurs, 90-84, to reach a record of 10-64 on the season. Pathetic, yes, but that 10th win means they will not finish with the worst, or tied for the worst, single-season won-lost record in NBA history. In the 1972-73 season, the Philadelphia 76ers, not that long before and not that long until they were again one of the league's top teams, finished 9-73.
The Nets have now won 3 of their last 4, and have looked better lately. They have 8 games left in the regular season: Tomorrow night, home to the Phoenix Suns (almost certainly a loss); this Saturday night, home to the New Orleans Hornets (probably a loss); Sunday night, at the Washington Bullets, I mean Washington Wizards (could be a win, the Wizards have injury issues); a week from tomorrow night, in Milwaukee against the Bucks (probably a loss); the following Friday night, home to the Chicago Bulls (probably a loss); the next night, at the Indiana Pacers (probably a loss); the following Monday, against the Charlotte Bobcats (should be a win, as they've beaten the 6th-season-expansion Cats twice this season, although the Cats have clinched their first-ever Playoff berth); and they close it out on Wednesday night, April 14, at the Miami Heat (probably a loss).
If those predictions come to pass, the Nets will finish 12-70, the 4th-worst record since the NBA went to an 82-game schedule. The 1993 Dallas Mavericks and the 1998 Denver Nuggets went 11-71.
Monday night, April 12 against Charlotte, will be the last regular-season NBA game, and probably the last-ever regular-season major league sporting event, that will ever be held at the Meadowlands Arena/Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center/Swamp/Drafty Old Barn at Exit 16W.
Like a lot of facilities built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the 20,089-seat (19,040 seats for hockey) arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford was designed to bring one or more major league sports teams into a city/state/region -- or keep it there, to stop it from moving to another place with a new stadium or arena -- and served its purpose. But it is time for the place to go.
That dreary night against San Antonio, when I looked at and heard and felt the Meadowlands Arena for what will almost certainly be the last time, I realized just how much of a gem its replacement, the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, is.
The Nets will play the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons at the Prudential, and then, assuming the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn is ready, move in there for the 2012-13 season and thereafter, bringing New Jersey's original major league sports team to an end after 35 seasons (1977-2012, and, remember, as long as the Giants and Jets continued to call themselves "New York," they are not "New Jersey teams," no matter where they play their games, practice for their games, or have their corporate offices).
My last 3 blog items have been what-ifs about the Mets. Well, I'm not going to do those for the Nets. What could I do?
* What if they'd stayed in Long Island, at the Nassau Coliseum? Staying there, instead of moving to New Jersey -- first to the even more inadequate 9,000-seat Rutgers Athletic Center in 1977 and then to the Meadowlands in 1981 -- wouldn't have helped. They still would've become overshadowed by a great hockey team in their own building. It just would've been the New York Islanders instead of the New Jersey Devils.
* What if they hadn't sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers just prior to their entry into the NBA for the 1976-77 season? They would have had to go out of business. They needed that money just to pay the NBA's entry free and a territorial indemnification fee to the Knicks. There was no way around it: It was either the Nets without Dr. J, or no Nets at all. Come to think of it, that might have been a better option.
* What if Micheal Ray Richardson had stayed drug-free? Guess what: He wasn't that good even when he was clean.
* What if they hadn't made some truly awful first-round draft picks over the years? In 1986, it was Dwyane Washington, the Syracuse star who went on to prove that the nickname "the Pearl" should have been retired for Knicks legend Earl Monroe; Dell Curry and Scott Skiles were still available, but with the Nets' luck, they probably would have underachieved in East Rutherford, too.
In 1987, it was Dennis Hopson of Ohio State, when they could have drafted Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Horace Grant, Kevin Johnson or Mark Jackson; but with the Nets' luck, anyone they drafted would have gotten hurt.
In 1989, it was Mookie Blaylock, who helped Oklahoma get to the previous season's National Championship game, and did turn into a good player... after the Nets traded him to the Atlanta Hawks; others available included Tim Hardaway, Dana Barros, Shawn Kemp, B.J. Armstrong, Blue Edwards, Vlade Divac; except for Armstrong (who was very good but only for a short time) and Divac (who played a long time but was frequently injured), all of those guys would eventually, to put it politely, have issues.
In 1993, it was Rex Walters, a sharpshooter who got Kansas into the Final Four, but did next to nothing in New Jersey; the next-best pro career in that draft, after Walters was chosen, was Sam Cassell, whom the Nets briefly got anyway, but didn't get much out of.
In 1994, it was Yinka Dare, the 7-foot-2 Nigerian from George Washington University, who played 3 minutes his first season and became known as the Three-Minute Egg, and eventually set an NBA record for most minutes logged without an assist; but it wasn't a very deep draft, as the best player drafted after Dare was Temple star Aaron McKie, who went on to a servicable career with his hometown 76ers. Actually, the biggest name in that draft was Charlie Ward, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led Florida State to the National Championship, but went undrafted by the NFL.
In 1995, it was Ed O'Bannon, who'd just led UCLA to the only National Championship it's won under a coach other than John Wooden (Jim Harrick Sr.); it wasn't an especially deep draft, as the guys taken after O'Bannon weren't a whole lot better, though Greg Ostertag was the starting center on two Utah Jazz teams that reached the NBA Finals.
In 1996, it was Kerry Kittles, a very good player from Villanova, but, to paraphrase Nelly Furtado, his game was not MVP like Steve Nash (like Furtado, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), whom the Nets passed on, along with Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Derek Fisher, Malik Rose, and, oh yeah, Kobe Bryant. Except, if they'd drafted any of those guys, they might not have been able to draft Kenyon Martin or Richard Jefferson, or later trade for Jason Kidd. And, let's face it, if Kobe could have that much of an ego in Los Angeles (and get into that much trouble in Colorado), what could he have done in, for all intents and purposes, New York (with all its accompanying trouble spots, from Times Square all the way down to Atlantic City)?
No, fixing any of those draft picks still might not have helped the Nets; fixing all of them might not have helped. Let's move on:
* What if Kenny Anderson hadn't gotten mugged by that fucking little coward John Starks? I never hated the Knicks before Starks clotheslined Anderson in the nationally-televised (NBC) game at the Meadowlands on February 28, 1993. The Nets destroyed the Knicks, 102-76, at a time when the Knicks were probably at their highest level since their last title in 1973, and also at a time when the Nets being on national TV was a very big deal. But Starks effectively destroyed Anderson's career, knocking him to the floor, breaking his wrist. Before that, Anderson was a nice kid and a very good player; afterward, he was a moody jerk who poisoned the atmosphere of every team crazy enough to acquire him.
* What if Drazen Petrovic hadn't been killed in a car crash after that season? The Nets still made the Playoffs the next season, but got beat 3 games to 1 in the first round. By the Knicks. Then it all fell apart, leading to Derrick Coleman's "Whoop-de-damn-do" remark and his "Waaaaaah!" cover of Sports Illustrated. (The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx? As if the Nets didn't have enough problems! http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/9468/index.htm) Then again, maybe, with Anderson having been turned to the Dark Side, and Coleman following him, maybe a living Petro would've wanted out, too, and the Nets would still have become what they became until the Marbury-for-Kidd trade in 2001.
* What if Bruce Ratner hadn't bought the team and held a fire sale in anticipation of building the Brooklyn arena? Maybe the Nets would have stayed competitive. Maybe they'd still have Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson, if not Kenyon Martin. Then again, Kidd has been one of the moodier pro athletes of his generation, so maybe he would have forced a trade anyway. He brought the Nets to 2 NBA Finals and within 2 wins of an NBA Championship (getting swept by the Lakers in the '02 Finals and losing the '03 Finals to the Spurs in 6), but he's never led any team he's been with any closer than that. Still better for the team, any team, than Stephon Marbury, the man we traded away to get him, has ever been.
That was pretty much it for the Nets. They became a lame-duck team in 2005, when Ratner bought them and announced his plans for the Atlantic Yards project, including the Barclays Center. They have now been a lame-duck team for 5 years; even the Montreal Expos were only one for 4, and it will eventually be 7 years before the move is actually made, unless new owner Mikhail Prokhorov decides he likes the 18,000 fans who will come out every night to the Prudential Center, realizes that Newark is a great basketball city (as proven by the 2 sellouts crowds at The Rock that these same awful Nets got in the preseason), and tells Ratner to get another team or else go fucksky himself.
It'll all be over in 2 years, whether "it" turns out to be the cloud over this seemingly cursed franchise (the Curse of Doctor J? The Curse of the Secaucus Seven?), or the franchise itself as we have known it. One thing is for sure: I will never, ever root for the New York Nets, or the Brooklyn Nets, or whatever the Ratner Team ends up calling themselves.
It's not like there will still be anybody I currently like on the team by November 2012. Maybe President Obama, as he is re-elected that month, will still be saying, "Yes we can," but the Nets? If they're not the New Jersey Nets, then, as Atlanta Hawks fan Margaret Mitchell would have said, "My dear, I don't give a damn." (The "frankly" was written into the movie's script, but it wasn't in the original novel.)
Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 5, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway this Sunday night on ESPN. It's so close, I can smell the Sox... and boy, do they smell! (Old joke, almost as old as the Sox' last legitimate World Series win, 91 1/2 years.)
Days until the Devils play another local rival: 11, Saturday night, at home against the Islanders, wrapping up the regular season the next day at home against the Buffalo Sabres. There's still a chance they could play the Rangers, or, more likely, the Flyers in the Playoffs.
Days until the last Nets game at the Meadowlands: 13, against the Charlotte Bobcats as previously said.
Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 14. Just 2 weeks!
Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 15, as it was moved back to Wednesday, April 14, due to Spurs' having advanced to the FA Cup Semifinals the preceding Saturday -- it was supposed to be Arsenal that did that, not the fucking Spurs! Come on, Portsmouth, do something good in your last month in the Premier League (for a while, anyway)! Play up, Pompey, Pompey, play up!
Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 72. A shade over 10 weeks.
Days until the World Cup Final: 103.
Days until Rutgers plays football again: 158.
Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 164.
Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 166, with the Giants playing first, and the Jets playing the next night on Monday Night Football.
Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 240.
Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 428 (estimated).
Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 592.
Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 740 (estimated).
Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 860.