Before the Long Island Nets were set up in 2016, another Nets team had played at Nassau Coliseum: the New York Nets of the ABA. New York was one of the most dominant teams in the upstart league, winning two titles in 1974 and 1976.
Julius Erving was the poster boy for the New York Nets in their title runs. In addition to Erving, the Nets had a great supporting cast, including one of the ABA’s best shooters, Brian Taylor.
Taylor, who helped the Nets win those two ABA titles, began his professional basketball career with New York in 1973, one year before Erving arrived, coming out of Princeton . In his rookie year, Taylor won the 1973 ABA Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-ABA First Team.
He went on to spend four years with the New York Nets, then played six seasons in the NBA, with the Kansas City Kings, Denver Nuggets, and the San Diego Clippers. He’s the only player to ever lead both leagues in 3-point shooting, with New York in 1976, then with San Diego in 1981.
Those four years as a New York Nets will always hold a special place in Taylor’s heart. He not only loved the team but their arena, the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, aka Nassau Coliseum.
“It was a dream,” Taylor said. “Great four years in New York. We loved that place, especially when it was packed,” Taylor said. “Even when I watch some of the film from the championship game, the last ABA game, you can see the crowd came on to the court.
“Just talking about it gives me goosebumps and how loud that place got and how much fans loved us was just unbelievable. Even though it was so long ago, I still get excited about it.”
In fact, last year, the Nets ranked the Perth Amboy, NJ native No. 16 on their all-time roster.
The excitement in Uniondale now is the Nets’ G League affiliate which is trying to build a new legacy at the Coliseum. For Taylor, there’s another, even more special connection to the Nets of Long Island. Call it the Princeton connection. And that’s quite a link. After all, Princeton has produced twice as many Nobel prizes as NBA players ... 20 to 10, to be precise.
Devin Cannady, a Long Island Net, is also a former Princeton Tiger and like Taylor a 6’2” sharpshooter, finishing his Ivy League career with shooting percentages of 43/40/90.
The two have more than a passing relationship. Their links to the New Jersey school and the Nets are just part of it. Starting when Taylor returned to Princeton for a visit a couple of years ago, the relationship has now blossomed on Long Island.
Cannady, who’s 23, thinks of the 68-year-old Taylor as a mentor, an adviser. Cannady explained what Taylor told him by phone before his first home game as a Net: Appreciate the moment, the surroundings ... and have a good time.
“Now, you walk around the halls and see all the people that have been here and you look in the rafters and see Dr. J and even Brian Taylor, who is a Princeton player. He played on the Nets, he played here, and I talked to him before the game. He said ‘set this moment up and enjoy the game.’ It was a really cool environment.”
“This was a great atmosphere and a great venue,” Cannady added.
Taylor met Cannady back when the future Long Islander was at Princeton. Taylor was giving juniors and seniors from his former high school in Perth Amboy, N.J. a tour of the university. They were there for workshops, to interact with Princeton students ... and check out the basketball team. While Taylor was in the gym with his old Princeton coach Pete Carril, he met Cannady and the two built a relationship. He had been hearing chatter about Cannady and his talent on the hardwood.
“It goes back,” Taylor said. “I was taking juniors and seniors from my high school to Princeton and while I was there, Devin was one of the nicest guys I got to meet when I was hanging at the gym with coach Pete Carril and I kept hearing a lot about Devin Cannady while I was back there for the past two years.”
“He came back to campus,” said Cannady, who noted that he knew about Taylor before the two met. “His jersey is hanging up in our halftime room where we watched film and he is a Princeton legend. There is Bill Bradley then there is Brian Taylor and then some other guys.
“He was one of the people I looked up to with the rich history of Princeton and when he came back to campus, I did my best to pick his brain, learn as much as I can from him, and pick his brain on certain things.”
Following the visit, Taylor was a frequent visitor to Princeton where he grew his relationship with Cannady. He gave the rising Princeton Tiger a lot of encouragement when he popped in for practices and games.
“I went to a lot of practices and games and being around him a lot and coach wanted me to be around the players,” Taylor said. “For Devin, I lifted him up, gave him a lot of encouragement and that type of stuff.”
Then, on an early Friday morning last January, Cannady was arrested for taking a swipe at a campus cop at a local convenience store and faced a number of offenses —aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Ultimately, they were downgraded to a single disorderly persons offense but the incident led to a suspension, reinstatement, and after only 16 games into his senior season, a departure from Princeton’s basketball program.
After getting word of the incident, Taylor got in touch with Cannady to help him progress through the incident and its after effects. Taylor provided encouragement to the Princeton Tiger.
Cannady doesn’t talk about what Taylor told him other than, but in fact, Taylor could relate to Cannady’s incident from first-hand experience. He was arrested himself before the 1972 NIT Tournament during his sophomore season at Princeton.
Taylor, known then as the “Black Bill Bradley,” hopped on a train following a basketball practice to go watch fellow Princeton man Bill Bradley and the Knicks play the Hawks at Madison Square Garden. He put his feet on a train seat. After a conductor told him to put his feet on the floor and not on the seat, Taylor was arrested by Newark police and put him in a painful claw handcuff. It was a big deal in New York. So he understood what Cannady was going through.
“He went through a tough time, as you know, that whole incident that happened at Princeton, and I just lifted him up,” Taylor said. “I told him that same stuff happened to me. So I said, ‘hey man, keep your eye on the prize, you know you are a good person, great character, and you are overcoming.”
“Those type of things being a mentor and giving back. All is there for him and he told me he was going to the Nets, an opportunity to go to the camp with the Nets and I was very excited for him. I told him he’s got good people back there rooting for him so I am excited to hear about how he is doing.”
Cannady told Taylor how great it was to be playing in the same arena as he did, especially as a Net and offered him some advice ... and noted that the Princeton background would hold him in good stead.
“He told me to stay patient and trust the process. Princeton today translates a lot to today’s NBA. The Warriors run it, coach Popovich always talks about it, so he just said be me,” said Cannady, who added both know despite their similarities, they are different.
“I’m not Brian Taylor. I am Devin Cannady and to be the best version of myself and I want to keep that throughout my career.”
Cannady’s arrival in Long Island gave Taylor even more goosebumps and spurred more memories of his personal experiences playing at the Coliseum.
“I feel like Devin is feeling the same way and I am so glad I am able to talk to him,” Taylor said. “He told me how great it was to be playing at Nassau Coliseum and that gave me goosebumps as well, plus, for me, it was so close to home so I always had family there cheering.”
Cannady and Taylor do not only share the guard position and have those Nets and Princeton connections but both are known for their shooting. Both are blessed with a pristine form and a love of the big moment. When the New York Nets beat the Denver Nuggets in the 1976 ABA Finals, Taylor finished with 24 points.
Taylor believes Cannady’s game spreads much farther than just a great shooter. He believes Cannady has the skills of an all-around player on both ends of the floor. He may as well been talking about himself when he joined the Nets.
“Not only is he a great shooter but he uses that to set up other parts of his game,” Taylor said, doing a bit of reminiscing about his own game. “He is very athletic. I mean, he can get to the rack and do damage there as well plus his free throw shooting is superb. He has a beautiful stroke. He is slippery too and has great moves and that is why I really enjoyed watching his games. Great strong body, great moves, he has all-around game.”
Now seen as a model for the modern NBA guard because of his 3-point prowess, Taylor says he, like Cannady, takes pride in what he could do everywhere on the court.
“My game, I kind of laugh at people,” Taylor said. “They would refer to me as the Steph Curry of my day and I laugh. My game was not really shooting threes. My game was speed, getting to the bucket, or penetrate and dish. Using my speed to set my teammates up.
“I believe Devin has the same type of style and component. Just all around, both ends of the court player, makes his teammates better. Also, you gotta remember, I played both the 1 and 2 and played with great players like Dr. J, Super John [John Williamson], and quite honestly, out of that group, I was really the best shooter but I had to give up being a shooter to make everyone else happy.”
Taylor acknowledges that the goals of the New York Nets and Cannady’s Long Island Nets are vastly different. Instead of New York chasing championships, Long Island is all about developing their players.
Cannady’s mentor believes he has the ability to become a very attractive player down the line for many teams and leagues. Taylor noted how Cannady’s play style would be very attractive for European basketball. In fact, Taylor’s son, Bryce Taylor, is currently playing overseas as a professional basketball player.
“Devin is going to have plenty of options if he continues to play at the level he is playing.”
In the meantime, the two will continue to talk, to value friendship linked by so many similarities.
“Now being here, knowing the history, him playing here, being with the Nets, it is really special,” Cannady said. “I try to stay in communication with him.“