They were two-thirds of the Nets Big Three, along with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. VC and RJ. In the last week, both have spoken about those days on the occasion of one’s last visit to New York, the other on the occasion of starting a new job in old territory.
Carter played five years with the Nets, missing out on their Finals Runs in 2002 and 2003, but keeping the Nets flame lit. Jefferson, on the other hand, was a critical part of those runs and played seven years. They were traded a year a part, on Draft Nights.
“I’ll tell you it was fun. It was a great five years,” VC told Michael Scotto of The Athletic.
Carter remembers the day he was traded... because he was napping when the news broke and he woke to an avalanche of messages on his phone. Then, he recalled what it was like joining Kidd, Jefferson and the others of that era.
“I remember just saying, ‘I’m just trying to fit in.’” Carter recalled. “Jason Kidd said, ‘No. I need you to be who you are, and we’ll adjust to you.’ It was just a pretty cool situation. You get there, and you know who Kidd is. He’s a Hall of Fame player, and you saw the success and the up-and-coming star Jefferson was becoming as a two-way player on both ends.”
Carter spoke at length about Kidd, the point guard and how it changed who he was as a player.
“Kidd made the game easy for everyone. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you didn’t do this. You’re doing this now and doing that.’ I’ll tell you what, when you play with Jason Kidd, all you need to do is get open or make sure you’re prepared to shoot or lay the ball up or dunk the ball because the ball will be there when it needs to be there. It was just different.
“I had more than a lot of respect for the point guards I’ve played with, but it’s just playing with a next level point guard. I recall the first couple of games just once there was a rebound, and as you’re turning for transition and running out on the wing, the ball was already gone and already out there in play for you to just go ahead and score.
“It was just kind of a different situation for me where you didn’t have to go and create. The creating part was already taken care of. It was just go and finish the job now.”
Jefferson spoke about being “crushed” after the Finals losses to the Lakers in 2002, then the Spurs in 2003 and how he expected to return again in 2004, but instead he didn’t return until 2016 when he was with the Cavs and finally won his ring.
Of his days in New Jersey, RJ didn’t limit his recollections to the court. There was that Tuesday in September of his rookie year.
“But I just happened to live through one of the most surreal, heartbreaking rookie seasons ever,” Jefferson began in his Players’ Tribune piece about his 17-year career.
“Everybody can remember where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was at an elementary school, of all places. It’s so weird in retrospect, because I actually happened to be doing the exact same thing that President Bush was doing that morning,” said RJ. “
“Me and a few other Nets players had just finished reading to a whole class of second graders. When we got out to the car to head back to the practice facility, we heard the news come over the radio.
“‘Plane hits World Trade Center.’”
“It was really vague at first.
“And it’s one of those things where you go, Oh my God, that’s terrible. Must’ve been one of those Cessnas or something.
“Couple minutes passed, and then we heard …
“‘Reports now of a second plane hitting the towers.’”
“Hearing the news was one thing … but really seeing it was another thing...”
As the world was falling apart across the Hudson, RJ and his teammates returned to the gym at the Meadowlands.
“When we got back to the practice facility, there was still so much confusion about what was going on that the coaches had us do our workout.
“They didn’t know what else to do.
We were inside the gym when the towers fell.
“Everything after that is kind of a blur.”
The day was seared into the team’s memory and Jefferson revealed its events was part of the team’s motivation on their crazy title run.
“It still crushes me that we didn’t deliver New Jersey that title in the wake of 9/11.”
In talking about those Nets, Jefferson contends they were the last of a kind.
“I swear the early 2000s Nets have been almost lost to history. People don’t remember how raw and aggressive we were. If you really go back and watch us, we were one of the last true run-and-dunk teams. Nobody could shoot. But we could play D, and we could get to the rim, and we could fight.
“Dudes now don’t really wanna fight. I mean, I love you, Draymond. You’re my brother. But I would say it to your face — you don’t really wanna fight.
“Kenyon Martin, though? He was ready.”
The memory of those days, Jefferson noted, can return in odd but positive ways.
“A few weeks ago, I’m out to dinner in Los Angeles, and I’m standing around afterward waiting for my car, and this other guy is standing there waiting for his car, and he looks really familiar. The guy turns around, and I realize it’s Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live.
“So just instinctively, I’m like, ‘Oh hey, man, I’m a big fan. I love what you do.’”
“I didn’t even know if he’d recognize me or anything. I was just genuinely a fan of him. But then he’s like, “Oh, damn, Richard Jefferson! I’m a big fan of yours, too, man. You and Kerry Kittles came to talk to me when I was a kid. You remember that?”
“I’m looking at him, like, No way.
“I knew that Pete’s father was firefighter who died on 9/11, and I vividly remember visiting kids who had lost family members in the attacks, but I had no idea that Pete was one of the kids.”
A long time ago, indeed. It was a magical, if surreal time, as both recall, and in many ways the last time the Nets were respected.