It was too painful for some fans in Newark too look ahead at the Nets playing in Brooklyn next season, that they spent a little over two hours on Monday night remembering the last 35-years their basketball team spent in New Jersey.
But even then, the history of the franchise was riddled with heartache.
As the Nets played their final game in New Jersey in front of a sellout crowd at the Prudential Center by hosting and losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, a number of players in the NBA — past and present — reflected about their time slipping on the Nets’ jersey, regardless if it was during the organizations highs or lows.
Former Nets Michael Ray Richardson, Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Kendall Gill, among others were in attendance.
Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter, Buck Williams and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine were featured in video tributes about the team.
And while New Jersey capturing Atlantic Division titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 thanks to Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and later Vince Carter and consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 remains fresh on most fans minds, the Nets tenure in New Jersey was no stranger to tough times.
Selling Dr. J to the Sixers in 1976 certainly led to a string of bad luck in the following years.
Yet perhaps the passing of eventual Hall of Fame shooting guard Drazen Petrovic in 1993 caused the most strain on the Nets and their fanbase over the years.
Some still can’t forget.
“I thought we had something but Drazen [Petrovic] got killed in a car accident and that turned the organization back a few years, maybe even longer than that,” said former NBA point guard Kenny Anderson, who spent spent five seasons with the Nets from 1991-1996. Anderson was the second overall selection by the Nets in the 1991 NBA Draft.
“We were on the cusp. We could compete with the best, and it took us back. That was the problem with the Nets. Always settled for mediocrity.”
During his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers, the 6-5 Petrovic averaged 7.6 points in 13 minutes per game and was a key contributor off the bench during Portland’s NBA Finals run, before being traded to New Jersey during the 1990-01 season.
With the Nets, Petrovic became a starter and blossomed. He averaged 20.6 points per game and led NBA guards in field-goal percentage his first season in New Jersey. The next season, “Petro” averaged 22.3 points per game and was named to the all-NBA third team.
And then he was gone.
His tragic death in 1993 from a car accident in Germany that June not only rattled New Jersey, but became a national tragedy in Petrovic’s native Croatia.
That is probably the hardest part about hearing the comments from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday and his harsh farewell. Clearly frustrated the team is departing Newark for a fresh start in Brooklyn, Christie essentially slapped the history of the Nets in the face.
“My message to them is, goodbye,” said Christie at an afternoon press conference in Newark.
“You don’t want to stay, we don’t want you.”
What’s sad is, Christie either forgets or isn’t educated enough about the history of the team and all the good the Nets provided to New Jersey over the last 35 years. And instead of using a platform to lift up the memory of a guy like Petrovic and thank the franchise for all of their years of service to the community, Christie delivered a verbal Metta World Peace-like elbow to the deep-rooted history and heart of the team.
“That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn?” he asked. “Good riddance, see you later. I think there’ll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, ‘This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different.’”
Increase our fan base?
That’s one way to go about it.
At halftime of the game on Monday night, about a dozen former players who once called New Jersey home were introduced to the fans in a tribute ceremony. Representing Drazen Petrovic was his mother, Biserka, who honored her lost son’s all-star memory as a member of the Nets family.
No comments from a jaded Governor will change that.
For the Nets, that family tree now grows in Brooklyn.