The New Jersey Nets played their final home game in the Garden State on Monday night and appropriately, it was a blowout.
Before the Philadelphia 76ers disassembled them at the Prudential Center, the Nets tried to pay tribute to their "history" by bringing back such gems as Daryl Dawkins, Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Todd MacCullough. It was a fitting end for an era of New Jersey pro sports whose main characteristics included losing in a prolific, spectacular fashion and mismanagement and inept decision-making on a herculean scale.
Yes, the New Jersey Nets were all of these things, yet there were still some of us who loved the team. There were still some of us who sat in that arena in the meadowlands, a place that had all the charm and excitement of a root canal performed by a poorly trained Somali dentist and cheered for a team that set the gold standard for losing in the 1980s.
Some of us still held out hope in the 1990s, as phenoms like Yinka Dare, Dwayne Schintzius and Rex Walters carried on the rich tradition of the team being the laughingstock of the NBA.
The Kenny Anderson/Derrick Coleman era offered some promise to those of us who still kept the faith, but as we all know, it was just more of the same.
Anderson and Coleman were disappointments, with Coleman's most memorable contribution quite possibly being his endorsement of the worst sneaker ever made, complete with the subsequent worst commercial ever produced.
The 1990s proved that the franchise was prone to terrible luck, a bad thing to combine with consistent mismanagement. At no time was this bad luck more evident than on June 7, 1993. Drazen Petrovic, the dynamic shooting guard and the heart of the Nets franchise, was killed in an accident on the German Autobahn. It was a blow that would send the team into a tailspin for the rest of the decade.
By the dawn of the new century, Anderson, Coleman and the other malcontents from the 1990s were gone. The era was famously summed up by former team president Jon Spoelstra, who said, "The team was full of convicts and criminals. One year, we had six guys in jail. Not together, that would have required teamwork."
The 2000s brought us hope in the form of a top-level executive (Rod Thorn), an updated, modern logo and the arrival of Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd to a team that already boasted young star Keith Van Horn.
It appeared the Nets were finally going to put something together and those of us who had stayed loyal were going to have that loyalty rewarded. The team made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, roaring through the eastern conference playoffs, only to be stopped cold by the Lakers in 2002 and the Spurs in 2003.
Despite the disappointing end to those playoff runs there was, for the first time, genuine reason to think the Nets would be a force in the east for years to come. Unfortunately, they would never again advance past the second round while in New Jersey.
The Nets regressed to their former (and some say, proper) state as the decade continued, once again becoming the doormat of the NBA.
By the time Bruce Ratner bought the team in 2005 with the intent on moving it to Brooklyn, they were well into a downward spiral on the court. The organization, always a day late and a dollar short when it came to marketing the team to a state that was dominated for years by the cross-river Knicks, did nothing to boost the team's image.
The result? Less and less people seemed to care. They stripped the "New Jersey" off the front of their uniforms in anticipation of their move to the Barclays Center and those of us who used to care just yawned. It was over. Leave, already.
Even our governor, who misses fewer opportunities to chime in on a subject than he does meals, offered his opinion, which for once was right on the money:
"I'm not going to the Nets game tonight," he said, "and my message to the Nets is, 'Goodbye.You don't want to stay, we don't want you.' I mean, seriously, I'm not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here.
"That's one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they got a chance to play in. It's in one of the country's most vibrant cities, and if they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn, good riddance. See you later. There will be no tears shed on my part tonight. If they go, they go."
While their new home was being built, the Nets were able to play at the gleaming Prudential Center in downtown Newark. The dilapidated, generic arena in the meadowlands still stood, but it was without a tenant, like the hearts of so many of us Nets fans.
We feel betrayed, not just by an organization that never seemed to care about getting it right, but by fate, which never seemed to deal us a solid hand.
So this is the end of an organization that was as inept as it was snake-bitten. The debate could go on for eternity about why the Nets failed in New Jersey (if anyone cared to spend time debating such a thing), but it's obvious: Poor management on and off the court, zero marketing and plain bad luck.
Soon, very few will remember the Nets in New Jersey and even fewer will care. That's as accurate an obituary as possible for the New Jersey Nets.
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