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How a Harvard class led to a Nets coup

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

It started, Marc Stein writes Monday, in all places, a Harvard University classroom in the summer of 2018. Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and his Celtics counterpart, Kyrie Irving, were among several NBA players to attend a program called “Crossover Into Business,” a semester-long seminar at Harvard Business School taught by professor Anita Elberse.

The program is designed to help pro athletes better prepare themselves for “business activities during and after their active sports careers.” In the class photo, that’s Dinwiddie in a hoodie, top row center; Irving, with arms crossed, is far left.

Dinwiddie, who at that point didn’t even have a guaranteed deal with the Nets, began what became a “hard sell of the franchise to Irving,” Stein writes.

It was there that the two players from disparate talent tiers began building the bond that led to a regular dialogue and, by Sunday, brought Dinwiddie to the Nets’ practice facility. Dinwiddie, who did not respond to a request for comment, was among the invitees summoned to join top team officials on the night Irving and Durant committed the next four seasons of their careers to the team that has spent virtually all of its 52-year existence in the Knicks’ shadow.

This being Sean Marks’ version of the Nets, the recruitment was not random, not ad hoc. Dinwiddie had his marching orders. “It was Dinwiddie’s job to lead the recruiting of Irving,” Stein writes, quoting “one person familiar with the Nets’ pursuit.”

Across the country, Dinwiddie was “at the forefront” of the months long push to persuade Irving to prioritize the Nets over the Knicks and to nudge Durant in the same direction, according to one person familiar with the Nets’ pursuit of Irving who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Stein doesn’t say what points Dinwiddie emphasized in his pitch to Irving, but pointed out Dinwiddie took advantage of “the league’s policy not to deem player-to-player discussions as potential tampering violations.”

But everyone knew Irving and Kevin Durant are close —”they are like brothers,” one league source noted to NetsDaily. And so, the idea, according to Stein, was “to nudge Durant in the same direction” as Dinwiddie and that direction was East to Brooklyn. Referring to today’s NBA, Stein notes, “It’s an environment in which communicators flourish,” and Dinwiddie is nothing if not a communicator.

While Knick fans believed throughout the season and into June that the two players were bound for Manhattan, the Nets were making steady in-roads. Looking at what Marks had wrought, Stein writes...

Durant and Irving could reach only one conclusion upon assessing the city’s two franchises: The Knicks lag behind the Nets on the structure, roster and ready-to-contend curves

Then came the final piece, adding DeAndre Jordan, the superstars’ teammate on the 2016 Olympic gold medal team, to the mix. Not surprisingly, Jordan —who did average 11 and 14 last season but was consigned to the Knick bench— voted for Brooklyn over Manhattan.

Jordan spent the last two months of the 2018-19 season as a Knick, but two people briefed on the negotiations said Jordan also was convinced in recent days that Barclays Center would be a more hospitable backdrop for Durant and Irving than Madison Square Garden and joined the chorus promoting the Nets.

On Tuesday night, Jared Dudley, who’s leaving for the Lakers, told Adrian Wojnarowski that he too was part of the Jordan recruiting process.

“Hey, DeAndre’s a good friend of mine. I told him about all the good, 95 percent good there. Its one of the best practice facilities in the league. You can live in the city. Most players want to live in the city. You don’t have to drive an hour to Westchester and the Knicks practice facility.”

Done deal. Done deal. Done deal. A historic coup with few precedents —Boston in 2008, Miami in 2010— it rattled the Knicks and their fans complacency about dominating the city. There are questions, skepticism even about Durant’s health, Irving’s chemistry issues, Jordan’s four-year $40 million deal. Not to mention losing D’Angelo Russell.

But the events of the last few days have changed the perception of the Nets among all but the most rabid (delusional?) Knicks fans. Stein closes with a quote from Rod Thorn who brought Jason Kidd to the Nets but had to contend with the Knicks primacy in the early years of the century.

“The irony of it to me was that both the Knicks and the Nets were after these players,” Thorn told Stein. “And the Nets got them.

“Wow.”

Wow, indeed. For Marks, for Dinwiddie, it was a triumph that still has to be fully celebrated. Plenty to time for that.