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It started during the 1993-94 season. I wanted to share with my son the thrill of NBA basketball. He was seven and Charles Barkley was his favorite player so we got tickets to a Nets-Suns game at the old Continental Airlines Arena.
It was my first Nets game. I had been somewhat of a fan of the Knicks in the 1970’s but the “thugball” they played in the 1980’s, no matter how successful, turned me off. The Nets were the local team and had Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson. So why not? It was a great game but the Nets lost in the last minute when K.J. hit the dagger. Sir Charles exited the court signing autographs. We had a good time.
But the other moment that night I remember foretold my fandom. At one point I noticed a man sitting across the aisle, wearing Nets paraphernalia and living and dying with every play. I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy gets that excited for the New Jersey Nets?! Weird.”
Slowly, I became that guy, that fan.
I started following the team so my son and I could figure what was at stake when we returned again and again. A colleague of my wife’s worked as one of the scorekeepers (still does) and graciously provided us tickets. Then we started buying them. We saw Michael Jordan four times. David Robinson and Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing, Shaq and Kobe. But we cheered ever more enthusiastically for the Nets. Sam Cassell and Keith Van Horn and Jayson Williams and Stephon Marbury. I went to Nets forums to offer my opinion, found a community, even got in touch with other fans. I bought a couple of 10-game packages.
In 2001, my son and I even went to the NBA Draft, not knowing that earlier that day, Rod Thorn had secured a handshake agreement with Jerry Colangelo to bring Jason Kidd to East Rutherford. That sealed it. I was officially that guy in the Nets paraphernalia.
J-Kidd changed everything. He was a revelation: a charismatic leader, a great passer, a clutch scorer. He told the media at his introductory press conference that he believed the team that had won 26 with Marbury could win 42 and make the playoffs. Even hardened beat reporters scoffed. They won 52, went to the NBA Finals. It was magical. I still keep a magnetic 2001-02 schedule slapped on my file cabinet. Not moving it.
My son and I would sit at CAA and occasionally check the “Hustle Stats” to see how close J-Kidd was to a triple double. It wasn’t that much of a big deal. He had 60 with the Nets. It was easy being a Nets fan then. Bruce Ratner came in and changed everything too. Penny pinching ruled the day. An attempt to revive championship aspirations with the trade for Vince Carter ultimately failed although Kidd and Carter were amazing together.
Still, I was committed. John Schuhmann, who founded this site before heading off to NBA.com, asked me if I could fill in for him for a couple of weeks while he and his wife adjusted to parenthood with the birth of their daughter. Two weeks? Sure. John’s daughter is now 12.
But there were existential moments too. 12-70 happened. The site had what was essentially a real estate section as Ratner tried to move the team to Brooklyn. We watched New York Court of Appeals hearings live! I had to support the move. CAA, renamed IZOD, was a horrible place. The floor on the concourse shook. Amenities were few and I literally had to walk up 75 steps from the concession stand to my first season ticket holders seats. Price $199.
Then, the Russian invasion. The move to Brooklyn finally happened. Red-white-and-blue became black-and white. Mikhail Prokhorov spend wildly on the arena, on the team, on everything basketball, ultimately including a $52 million training facility and a D-League team. He went after the Knicks like no Nets owner ever had. They were open, shockingly so. And hell, having the richest owner in all of sports after Ratner was just a stunning change.
So much hope and some fun, but Deron Williams would never be J-Kidd and as we know, a few bad decisions can lead to the situation we now face, “the hand we’ve been dealt,” as Sean Marks, ever the diplomat, likes to say. Still, there’s Brook Lopez, always Brook, forever Brook.
We are being tested now as fans. My son has long since moved on to other interests. Can’t blame him. The 2010 Draft Lottery did him in. As he says, “I have to google these guys names now.” More existential moments. “why do I do this?” 1-27 happened, which in many ways was worse than 12-70 or 0-18. It was so debilitating.
But even if your team is the worst in its league —and the Nets are, there is always hope. It can take many forms. Right now, it’s about a healthy Jeremy Lin, a healthy Caris LeVert, two picks in the first round, cap space, Sean and Kenny, the culture. Screw the Celtics picks!
So, here I am, a Nets fan now for nearly a quarter century. I no longer think being a Nets fan as “weird.” I AM that guy across the aisle. It may be irrational exuberance, but it’s also deeply personal. I love the team, going to Barclays, editing this site, the whole experience. I’m as thrilled as I was that first night.
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