Newark, NJ – Every NBA team has a story.
On Monday night in front of a packed house at the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, 35 years worth of tales were neatly packaged and shipped off to Brooklyn.
The movers came at 9:54 p.m., when the New Jersey Nets said goodbye to the Garden State one last time.
For the 18,711 in attendance the game being played between the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers was a mere formality. The final score of 105-87, a win for the visiting Sixers was just icing on a night where New Jersey’s past spent one final day to commiserate, share and weep a little at the state of basketball in New Jersey.
What every fan came for was ultimately closure. They got it in the form of thank you’s from those who knew them best.
Michael Ray Richardson, Kenyon Martin, Buck Williams, Jason Kidd and other former Nets gave short video tributes on the JumboTron as their best highlights flickered by. Unable to attend the funeral, they thanked the fans for sharing the good times, and for not remembering them too harshly for the bad.
Some Nets’ alumni, those without ties to an NBA team or front office made the trip to Newark to see the rental home of the Nets, and to gather for one last time as a family.
With each member of the Nets organization slowly trotting onto the court amidst white smoke and a red lasered door frame, came cheers soaked with admiration for those the crowd felt so intimately intertwined with over the past three and half decades.
These players who strode onto the court included: Chocolate Thunder (Darryl Dawkins), Derrick Coleman, Kendall Gill, Kerry Kittles, Otis Birdsong, Kenny Anderson, Chris Morris, Mike O’Koren, Albert King and Todd MacCulloch, a final hour addition.
It was MacCulloch and Kittles who stood holding up the two pieces of hardware that symbolized more than anything else, the contributions that the Garden State made to the NBA.
They looked like unfinished trophies, because ultimately, that is what Eastern Conference Finals trophies look like. They are a stepping stone to the Larry O’Brien trophy, of which the Nets have none.
When held in the hands of MacCulloch and Kittles, with the lights dimmed and the crowds gaze fixtated, those two unfinished trophies looked less like the artifacts of better days gone past, but as the gold that the Nets will use to get to the top of the mountain.
Those back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships in 2002 and 2003 adorned the hallways of the Nets former home, the IZOD Center, the home where they were won.
On April 30, 2012, the team that began as the New Jersey Americans in 1967, became the New York Nets in 1968, and finally the New Jersey Nets in 1977 will officially become the Brooklyn Nets, their logo changed, their color scheme undone.
The Nets leave New Jersey with an all-time record of 1,186-1,635 (.420) having reached the postseason 16 times, winning four Atlantic Division titles, the two Eastern Conference Championships in ’02, and ’03, reaching the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons.
Walking out of the arena and onto Mulberry Street were tattered pieces of the giveaway poster that resmebled a who’s who of New Jersey Nets set to the theme of Where’s Waldo?
Thirty five years of basketball in New Jersey strewn on the floor.
May Brooklyn bring better tidings, and a championship or two.