Monday, April 23, 2012
Top 10 Reasons the New Jersey Nets Are Dying Tonight
The weather. Last night's game was rained out. As of yet, a makeup date has not been announced.
The New York Rangers, the top seed in the NHL's Eastern Conference, need to win Game 6 in Ottawa tonight, to keep the Senators from clinching the first-round Playoff series, and keep the Rangers' hopes alive.
The New Jersey Devils must do the same tomorrow night, against the Florida Panthers, but at least they'll be at home. If the Panthers win Game 6 in Newark or Game 7 at home in Sunrise, Florida, it'll be their first Playoff series win in 16 years.
The Vancouver Canucks, who came within 1 win of the Stanley Cup last season, and this time had the best overall record in the NHL's regular season, have been eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings, the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The Kings hadn't won a Playoff series in 11 years.
The perennially contending Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated by the Nashville Predators, who thus won a Playoff series for the first time in the franchise's 14-year history.
The New Jersey Nets should have been so lucky. Tonight, at the Prudential Center, they will play their last home game as a New Jersey team, against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Perhaps the choice of opponent was appropriate, since it was selling Julius "Doctor J" Erving to the Sixers that gave the Nets the money they needed to enter the NBA (and the Knicks' territory) from the ABA in 1976, going, in their last season in the Nassau Coliseum, from ABA Champions to the NBA's worst record.
True, in their 35 seasons in New Jersey -- the 1st 4, 1977-81, at the Rutgers Athletic Center (now the Louis Brown Athletic Center) in Piscataway; the next 29, 1981-2010, at the Brendan Byrne Arena (later Continental Airlines Arena, now the Izod Center) in East Rutherford; and the last 2 sharing the Prudential Center with the Devils -- they've made the Playoffs 16 times. But in only 6 of those seasons did they win a Playoff series. Twice, in 2002 and 2003, they won the Eastern Conference Championship, but lost in the Finals both times.
But all those other teams I mentioned will still exist next fall. The New Jersey Nets will not.
Yes, they will be the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, same metropolitan area. And, historically, it will be better, since it seems to make more sense for the Brooklyn Nets -- on the physical/geological, if not political, structure of "Long Island" -- than for the New Jersey Nets to claim the honors of the 1968-77 New York Nets as their own:
* 1970 American Basketball Association Playoffs
* 1971 ABA Playoffs
* 1972 ABA Finals
* 1973 ABA Playoffs
* 1974 ABA Champions
* 1975 ABA Eastern Division Co-Champions
* 1976 ABA Champions
Plus, retired numbers Julius Erving (32), Wendell Ladner (4) and Bill Melchionni (25) never played for the New Jersey Nets, and John Williamson (23) was already past his prime by that point. The only retired numbers the New Jersey edition of the franchise should be claiming are Buck Williams (52) and Drazen Petrovic (3, and that's due more to his tragic early death than to his talent, which was immense). When Jason Kidd retires from playing, the Brooklyn Nets can retire his number (5), but will anybody in New Jersey still care?
Top 10 Reasons the New Jersey Nets Are Dying Tonight
10. Television. The Nets have never been well-served by TV. First Channel 9 (WOR, now WWOR) would only show their games on tape-delay at 11:30 PM. Granted, they also did this for the Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, and they still got promoted well.
But SportsChannel, which established the cable broadcast rights for the Nets, Mets and Islanders in 1976, was no better. The Nets (and Mets and Islanders) stayed on SportsChannel from its establishment until 1998. Whereas the Yankees, Knicks and Rangers were all on the Madison Square Garden Network, and had that power -- and, more importantly, that desire -- behind them. The Nets might as well not have existed.
9. Roy Boe. The owner of both the Nets and the New York Islanders could have kept the Nets at the Nassau Coliseum, at least until the Meadowlands arena was ready. Putting them in the 9,000-seat Rutgers Athletic Center -- and still not being able to fill it -- was a bush-league move. Then he punked out by selling the team to the Secaucus Seven.
8. Larry Brown. Newly hired as the head coach at Dallas' Southern Methodist University (SMU), Love-Em-and-Leave-Em Larry has won more games than any basketball coach. Ever. Pro, college or high school. Male or female. Living or dead. He's also the only coach to win both NCAA and NBA Championships. (1988 Kansas, 2004 Detroit Pistons.)
Born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, he was a camp counselor, and one of the campers there was future sportswriter Tony Kornheiser. How does "Mister Tony" describe Brown's genius? "He took the Clippers to the Playoffs! Nobody takes the Clippers to the Playoffs!" (He said this before the NBA gave the Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.) In fact, Brown took both "little brother" franchises, the Nets and the Clippers, to the Playoffs twice. Sounds like genius to me.
Well, he didn't exactly take the Nets to the Playoffs twice. He got them into the Playoffs in 1982, but shortly before the 1983 regular season ended, he resigned to take the head job at the University of Kansas. If Brown had stayed with the Nets, he could have made them winners, even with the budget that would have been forced on him by...
7. The Secaucus Seven. Led by ADP founder Henry Taub, this group bought the Nets from Boe (who remained the owner of the Islanders for a while) in 1978, and were among the most incompetent ownership groups in sports history. They essentially kept the Nets in a minor-league atmosphere for 20 years.
6. The Death of Drazen Petrovic. After his car crash on June 7, 1993, the team went into a tailspin. The Nets had a good 1993-94 season, but after that, Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson couldn't keep themselves, let alone the team, together. By the winter of 1994-95, the Nets were a joke again. We'll never know what could have happened if Petro had lived.
5. The New York Knicks. The Knicks could have waived their territorial indemnification fee, $4.8 million, and the Nets would only have had to pay $3.2 million for entry into the NBA. Because they wouldn't, that meant the Nets would have had to sell Erving, by far their best player, and the most exciting talent in basketball at the time, or risk not being one of the 4 ABA teams let in, despite being the last ABA Champions and 2 of the last 3.
The Nets offered Erving directly to the Knicks in exchange for waiving the fee. In effect, the Nets were trading their biggest reason to exist for their right to exist. The Knicks could sure have used Doc: Earl Monroe was pretty much the only reason to see them at this point. Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley were in decline, and Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Jerry Lucas had all retired. The Knicks said no. So the Nets offered Doc to the 76ers, at that point the Knicks' nearest (if not greatest) rival, and got $3 million for him.
Result: Both the Knicks and the Nets were pretty much irrelevant for 5 years, before they both got their act together in the early 1980s, but neither was able to keep it together for long.
This one transaction turned the Nets from a potentially great franchise into a joke, and it didn't matter what Boe, or the Secaucus Seven, did: For the most part, their hands were tied due to money. Had the Knicks' ownership decided that having the Nets nearby would be good for business, it could have made the Nets contenders much sooner, and by 2004 the franchise might have been worth more than Bruce Ratner was willing to pay. And there might be a couple of NBA title banners hanging with the ABA title banners in the Prudential Center -- instead of those ABA banners going over to Brooklyn.
4. The House of Steinbrenner. In 1999, Raymond Chambers and Lewis Katz, who had bought the Nets from the Secaucus Seven a year earlier, sold the team to a holding company owned by George Steinbrenner. In 2003, that company bought the Devils from John McMullen -- oddly enough, a former minority owner of the Yankees who sold out to George and bought the Houston Astros. (It was McMullen who said, "Nothing is so limiting as being one of George Steinbrenner's 'limited partners.'")
But the organization, first called "YankeeNets" and then "Yankee Global Enterprises," fell apart because the Tampa Mafia -- the Steinbrenner family and hangers-on like Randy Levine and Lonn Trost -- didn't want to pay for a new arena for the Nets and Devils. You'll notice that the YES Network has broadcast the Nets since its 2002 inception, but has never given them serious promotion. At times, Ivy League football has gotten more of a push on that network than the Nets.
(George, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner all graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, a Division III school, though a very Ivy-ish one. They've all had a strong interest in college football, especially since George's wife Joan is an Ohio State graduate and George was an assistant coach at Northwestern and Purdue.)
But none of that would have mattered if not for the top 3 reasons.
3. The NBA Owners. On April 13, just 10 days ago, they officially approved the move. If they hadn't, the most likely course of action would have been for the Nets to play another season in the Prudential and, pleading poverty (never mind how rich Ratner and Prokhorov are), get the move approved for 2013-14 instead of 2012-13.
This could have bought time for a deal to keep the Nets in the Prudential Center, or to get their own arena built -- possibly a new one at the Meadowlands, or a revamped Izod Center, or a new one next to Red Bull Arena, or maybe adjacent to the Hoboken Terminal, which was a deal once offered to the Devils. The chances wouldn't have been good, but it would have been possible as a way of saving Ne Jersey's NBA team.
2. Bruce Ratner. The real estate tycoon is the force behind the creation, approval, and construction of the Barclays Center. When he bought the Nets from Yankee Global Enterprises in 2004, he did it with the intention of moving them to the arena he wanted to build at the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn, across from the Long Island Rail Road's terminal, right where Walter O'Malley had once wanted to build a new stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers. O'Malley's deal fell through, and he moved the Dodgers 2,784 miles away to Los Angeles; Ratner's deal was approved, and he's moving the Nets 12 miles, but still to another State, let alone city.
The announcement totally killed off the Nets' momentum. In the preceding 2 seasons, they had made the NBA Finals. Finally, being a Nets fan was cool -- especially with the Knicks being in the middle of the Isiah Thomas era. The Nets could have become the basketball team in the Tri-State Area. Instead, they became a "lame-duck" team, and have been one for 8 years. Even the Montreal Expos were only lame-duck for half that long.
But even Bruce's rat-ness wouldn't have mattered if not for Reason Number 1.
1. Mikhail Prokhorov. Yes, the new owner. The man Ratner sold out to, because he was desperate for cash to keep the Atlantic Yards project afloat. Prokhorov could have decided, at any time, that he could make a go of it in New Jersey, especially with a nice new arena, the Prudential Center, which is convenient for both automobile and public transit passengers.
He could have decided that he had a good thing. He could have decided to screw Ratner over -- after all, Ratner had screwed over not just New Jersey basketball fans, but the people who owned the businesses at the Atlantic Yards site.
Prokhorov chose to stick with Ratner's plan. Seeing that the patient's wound would be mortal if not treated, this "doctor" (definitely not to be confused with Doctor J) chose not to treat it.
So what will I do for an NBA team after tonight? Well, my team is abandoning me, so, officially, as of tonight's final whistle -- the Nets didn't even come close to making the Playoffs, couldn't even "die with dignity" -- I am a free agent.
Should I "re-sign" with the Nets, in their Brooklyn incarnation?
Should I switch to the Knicks -- knowing full well that they're a big reason why I had a team in the first place, but also knowing damn well that they're a big reason why I no longer have a team?
Should I be angry at both of them, and go down the Turnpike (or the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor and the SEPTA R7 lines), and switch to the next-closest team, the Philadelphia 76ers?
Should I root for someone else?
Should I just give up on the NBA entirely?
What do you think? Forgive and forget, and stick with the Nets? Forgive and foreget, and switch to the Knicks? Or walk, and take the Sixers? Or walk, and take someone else? Or walk and take no one else?
It's good to have options, but this is one option I never wanted.
Requiescat in pace, 1977-2012.
UPDATE: I walked, deciding to wait and see. Through the 2017-18 season, I have not taken up any other NBA team. The fact that the Knicks and Nets have both continued to stink, with a few brief moments of brilliance, has reinforced that decision.
The Devils are now owned by the same group that owns the 76ers, and both of those teams are on the rise. A decision may be near.