The swampland of northern New Jersey does not sound like the most appealing destination. Yet the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which lies near my New Jersey home, has hosted guests from Bruce Springsteen to Pope John Paul II over the course of its illustrious history. But of course, the Meadowlands is best known as the home to the heart of New York sports – the New York Giants and the New York Jets.
The Nets play there too. Oh wait, my apologies—the Nets played there.
Despite being an afterthought and permanent little brother to the crosstown Knicks, the Nets have held a concurrently historic and tragic existence in the Garden State. Since starting league play at the Teaneck Armory in 1967, the Nets have seen historic players like Rick Barry, Drazen Petrovic, Jason Kidd, and Julius Erving pass through their franchise.
But Monday night marked the last game for the Nets at their home court in New Jersey (fittingly, with a loss). They are currently in a two-year stopover in the Devils’ new arena in Newark, N.J., before permanently moving to the majestic Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season. With the move, and an owner with bottomless pockets in Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets certainly have a bright future ahead of them.
Comparatively, though, any alternative to New Jersey is a change for the better. Since their first days in the NBA in the early 1970s, the Nets have never won a championship. In fact, for the majority of their existence, the franchise has been mired in mediocrity, rarely making the playoffs in front of persistently sparse crowds.
Of course, there have been some good times for the team. Jason Kidd came to town and led the franchise to two straight NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. But even that on-court success comes with footnotes. Those two Finals rival for the worst-rated of the past decade and, in an unprecedented occurrence, New Jersey fans failed to sell out the arena for the games.
Kidd was an exception for the Nets, as he committed to the team when he had the option to bolt for a different, more lucrative destination. Even after his contract extension, though, the Nets went back to their days of mediocrity, until they were forced to call the years even Springsteen would refer to as “glory days” dead and gone. The team traded away the centerpieces of those Finals teams, Kidd included.
A few seasons later, Kidd was finally an NBA champion with the Mavericks, following a disturbing trend of anticlimactic ends for Nets players. Even the franchise’s greats, like Kidd, did not find true success or notoriety until they took their talents elsewhere. Erving, unquestionably the most talented player in franchise history, is rarely remembered for his Nets days. Instead, he’s remembered for his championship and game-changing dunks in Philadelphia.
The Nets have come across bad luck over their tenure in New Jersey as well. Petrovic, considered by many to be the international version of Michael Jordan, died in a car accident after dazzling the league with his pure shooting touch. Recently, the Nets have thrown away boundless potential, though not in such tragic fashion. Boneheaded front-office decisions have meant loss of draft picks and, even worse, poor draft decisions. All of the superstars that have come to New Jersey over the past 20 years, Petrovic aside, have been brought in from the outside via trade or free agency.
But there’s still promise, as they are just across the river from the biggest market in the world. By joining it next season, they will certainly undergo their growing pains, but it won’t be as tough as if they needed to rebuild an ardent fan base. There was never a true following for Nets basketball in New Jersey – my state is better known for the Devils, Snooki, and that smell on I-95.
Personally, I can’t blame the Nets for bolting to the greener pastures of Brooklyn. Perhaps the ardent Jersey resident, like Governor Chris Christie, will be upset, but as a fan, I am more concerned with the stability of the franchise than the nostalgia of a few of my state’s residents.
Finishing near the bottom of league attendance is no way for a franchise to make money, especially with the allure of Brooklyn, Prokhorov, and part-owner Jay-Z. Christie will not agree with that sentiment, nor will you be seeing him at any Brooklyn Nets games at any point in the future.
“You don’t want to stay, we don’t want you,” he said.
The thing is – until 2004, the Nets did want New Jersey. It’s too bad the state never reciprocated.