by Mark Pearsall
Some people call the day after Christmas “Boxing Day,” some know it as the day Kenneth Darby and Tim Legler were born, and the day Gerald Ford died. I will now forever remember it as the day I went to the 2009 clash of the NBA titans: the Nets vs. Rockets.
The New Jersey Nets were recently voted the worst franchise in all of professional sports by Sports Illustrated. And, let’s face it, they are. They are the worst team in the NBA with the worst fans crammed in the worst arena (Izod Center). On December 3, 2009, the Nets lost 117-101 to the Mavericks, marking their eighteenth straight loss to open a season, an NBA record.
Well, how did this franchise tank from two consecutive NBA Finals appearances (2002-2003) to potentially the worst season in NBA history six years later?
It all started in 2007 when the team was hit with injuries, mainly effecting Vince Carter and Nenad Krstic. Those injuries weakened the Nets lineup and made Jason Kidd cry, which led to his trade to the Mavericks for Devin Harris, a couple of draft picks, and basically all of the Mavericks bench. With three ballhogs starting for the Nets, (Jefferson, Carter, and Harris), individual performances were the only thing getting the Nets wins.
The next year Jefferson was traded, leaving Harris and Carter to run the Izod Center Circus. But with young additions such as Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Nets looked like an up-and-coming team. After a “halfway decent” year (34 wins-48 losses), the Nets traded the face of their dwindling franchise, Vince Carter, to the Magic for young star Courtney Lee, old streetballer Rafaer “Skip” Alston, and that guy on the bench, Tony Battie.
Now this year is where the magic is happening. All the young talent in the world and no veterans, unless you count Bobby Simmons (washed up), Jarvis Hayes (just terrible), Eduardo Najera (that guy still plays?) and Alston (not the dude you want mentoring Devin Harris), now comprise this historically awful team.
OK, now how does all of this matter? Why not just give up our fandom of the awesomely bad? Or jump on the bandwagon of some other team? Because when we are sitting in that big comfy armchair in our later days with a cane and a band of grandchildren, we can say, “I grew up in New Jersey when the Nets had the worst year ever, and guess what… I went to one of their games at the Izod Center! We bought tickets that have a face value of $40 but we got for $12! (the ultimate sign of athletic decline).” They will gasp and crowd around you while you tell them the story:
“It was Boxing Day in Canada and the day after Christmas in New Jersey. It was raining; not snowing. I was wearing my Tracy McGrady jersey from when he played for Orlando while my friends wore random jerseys such as Jerry Stackhouse, an unnamed St. Johns jersey, and a Muggsy Bogues jersey. A couple of them even wore them over flannels,” (your band of kids is disgusted when they hear that flannels were popular back in the day).
“While it was hard to pack 8 of us in the car, we managed and began our 45-minute trek through the rain to the Izod Center. We drove a Suburban, which ran at about ½ miles per gallon. We listened to all kinds of music ranging from Blind 182 to Bruce Springsteen and a little bit of Lil Wayne (again the grandkids groan). We rolled up to the Center hollerin’ to our fellow Nets enthusiasts (I refuse to call them fans because no one on Earth is actually a Nets fan) shouting ‘GO NETS!!’ with extreme tones of sarcasm.
“To my disbelief, the parking garage was full to bursting and we settled for a spot on the top floor. Instead of following the crowd, we searched and found a vacant staircase and sprinted down that. Once we got down the stairs, we walked a little through the rain and then entered the Izod Center, home of the Nets and Bruce concerts. Upon entry to this complex, I made two observations; there are many Rockets jerseys here, and also a lot of Asians. Then it hit me. Tonight was the Clash of the Chinese Titans, it was Yi vs. Yao. Chinese basketball fans brought flags with Yi’s picture on it and shouted with joy every time he scored. Although Yao is injured for the year, his loyal supporters still flocked in wearing his number.
“After warm-ups, we had just found out seats, and the then the game started. Although I have seen better basketball played at YMCA pick-up games, the beginning of the game was still entertaining as Nets rookie Terrence Williams stole a pass and finished with a sick windmill on the other end. The T-Mac and Yao-less Rockets led after one quarter to no one’s surprise. An uneventful second quarter led to a Rocket six-point lead at halftime.
“We went to the nearest food vendor and spent our teenage life savings on overpriced hot dogs and soda. Then we made a game-changing decision: try to move closer to the court. From our nosebleeds, we scanned the lower levels for a spot that would seat all eight of us. We found one five rows behind the Rockets bench! Instead of all leaving at first, we went in groups of fours (we were clever back then), and in no time, we had snuck past the ticket-checker and were sitting near the court–just in time to watch the fourth quarter. I was a little uncomfortable because we were sitting behind these shady people who looked like they could be in the mafia. Since we were being a bit rowdy, I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it out alive. But here I am today.
“In the fourth quarter, the Nets were trying the make a comeback, and were actually successful. Keyon Dooling hit a big three to pull them up within one. During a Rocket timeout, the crowd noise was drowned out by the opening chords of “Eye of the Tiger,” and everyone watched as the big screen showed a Rocky montage of Sylvester Stallone beating Ivan Drago and running down the beach with Apollo Creed. The crowd was starting to get pumped; then the spotlights focused on center court and the Nets mascot, which is a cross between Teen Wolf and Bunnicula, jumped through the fans, ran up some stairs, and then got up to the upper section and raised his arms in triumph. Quite frankly, it was awe-inspiring. Only at an NBA game would something like that happen.
“You would think the Nets players would be similarly inspired by that performance, but they ended up outplayed by Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry at the end of the game. Big-time free throws down the stretch won it for the Rockets, and the final score was 98-93.
“My friends and I got out of the stadium in a flash, sprinted through the rain, ran right up our personal stairway, and got out of there, hoping to leave the sour taste of defeat behind. I say, kiddies, I hope I won’t give you nightmares tonight with this story. I didn’t even mention the pungent body odor throughout the arena or how slow the cashier was at food checkout, how Jay-Z wasn’t there, or the music they played during the game!”
Kid #1: “That doesn’t sound so bad, Grandpa.”
“Oh yeah, and how fat the cheerleaders were!”
Kid #1: “My God!”
Kid #2: Gasp!