April 23, 2012 in Sports

Nets’ 35-year Jersey run ends

Luckless franchise moving to Brooklyn at start of next season
 
Associated Press photo

The 76ers’ Moses Malone (2) tries to grab a rebound from the Nets’ Darryl Dawkins (53) as Micheal Ray Richardson (20) watches.
(Full-size photo)

NEWARK, N.J. – For the past 45 years, Herb Turetzky has had the best seat in the house to watch the Nets play basketball.

It was front row, center court. between the benches, every night.

Turetzky, the team’s official scorer, has seen the Nets’ glory days of Julius Erving and the ABA in the opening decade mostly on Long Island to the team’s sometimes laughable struggles in the NBA over the last 35 years in New Jersey, whether it be Piscataway, East Rutherford or the team’s current home at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The New Jersey chapter will end for all practical purposes tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. It will be the Nets’ final home game before a move next season to Brooklyn and the new Barclays Center.

The official close to the season will be on Thursday night in Toronto, and of course it will cap a fifth straight non-playoff season.

“If there is one word that describes this team’s time in New Jersey, it’s misfortune,” said Turetzky, who will work his 1,177 consecutive home game on Monday. “Every time we seemed to be building something to get up to respectability some crisis came up.”

The problems ranged from money, to drugs, an automobile-related death and injuries that would knock the Nets off track for extended periods that sometimes lasted close to a decade.

If there was a glory time for the Nets in New Jersey, it was 10 years ago when Jason Kidd jumped on board and turned a team accustomed to failure into one which made the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. The second team, which won 10 straight postseason games, also featured Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles, had a legitimate shot at a title, losing the finals to the Spurs in six games. The final loss came in a game in San Antonio where it blew a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead with the series on the verge of returning to the Meadowlands for a deciding game.

“I remember before the start of the ’01-02 season, Jason got up and told us at a dinner before training camp that ‘the losing was over,”’ said Mitch Kaufman, the long-time Nets’ director of video operations said. “It was a speech that I have never seen a player make at a dinner. We took off out of the gate that year and we were the shocking story of the year.”

After the second loss in the Finals, Kidd got fed up with Byron Scott and the coach was fired halfway through the following season. The Nets made a couple of playoffs runs but Kidd’s knee problems never allowed the Nets to get back to the championship round. The point guard was eventually traded to Dallas in 2008, and won a title last season.

The Nets have gone downhill since, but that’s the story of this franchise.

It has been close to putting things together, but something always happened.

It started the first year in the NBA. Facing a fee to join the league after the NBA-ABA merger and an unexpected $4.8 million indemnity due to the Knicks, then cash-strapped owner Roy Boe was forced to sell Erving’s contract to the 76ers. Without Dr. J, the Nets first eight or so years in the league were embarrassing.

The first four years were played at Rutgers, a roughly 9,000 seat arena on a college campus. There were no seat backs on the bench and the locker rooms were very small. It was mostly a college crowd sprinkled with season ticket holders hoping to get the good seats when the team moved to the Meadowlands in 1981.

“I remember Red Auerbach one night had a big problem with the building,” Kaufman said. “It was Larry Bird’s rookie year. He needed a space to smoke his cigar and there wasn’t one big enough in the locker room.”

The Nets didn’t start to turn around things until around 1984 with a team that included Micheal Ray Richardson, Buck Williams, Darryl Dawkins and Mike Gminski.

Two years later, the team collapsed after Richardson, who was as good anyone in the league when in the right frame of mind, was banned for drug use.

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