The New Jersey Nets will play their final game in the Garden State on Monday evening when they conclude a typical Netsian season by playing the Philadelphia 76ers.
Next season they will do what they should have done 35 years ago --- play their home games somewhere else, in this case, Brooklyn.
I profess to no lack of bias here. I am, after all, the journalistic individual who long ago nicknamed them the “Exit 16 W Nets,” making an obvious reference to the simple fact that they have always lacked a natural constituency and since 1981 have been located in a bloodless building adjoining the New Jersey Turnpike, a few miles from downtown Newark.
The Nets were a sports team Gertrude Stein would have loved. Her famous description of Oakland --- “There’s no ‘there’ there” --- was perfectly applicable to the Nets (and Devils, as well), a team located in what used to be a swamp in a state that has no need whatsoever for its own major league anything.
How do I know? I’m from Joisey; that’s why.
I grew up in Trenton, approximately 55 miles south of the location in question. If you’re a sports fan in Jersey, you do one of two things. If you live north of Trenton, which, if you look at the map you will see is located at Jersey’s navel, you root for New York teams. If you live south, you root for Philly teams. Not for one second as I grew up did it ever occur to me, or anyone else, we should have our own teams.
After all, we lived in a populous state that didn’t even have its own VHF TV channel (unless you counted channel 13 in Newark, the public station with programming no one watched). We were perfectly content siphoning the fare from both New York and Philly. In fact, Trenton, N.J. during the '50s and '60s was America’s TV capitol. While most locales in the pre-UHF, pre-cable era got the three network affiliates and little else,. We got channels 2, 3, 4, 5,6,7,9,10 and 11. Some of us even pulled in channel 12 from Wilmington, Delaware.
We lived off New York and Philly. What we offered were the beaches, 173 miles of great coastline. That was the deal: you give us TV. radio (when Top 40 exploded, we had the best of both New York and Philly) and your sports teams; we give you the Jersey Shore. (And the Pine Barrens, where Paulie Walnuts and Christopher never did catch that elusive Russian)
There is no great parochial Jersey pride. Hey, we’ve got stuff to be proud of. We gave you both the Chairman of the Board (Hoboken) and The Boss (Freehold). Edison was the Wizard of Menlo Park. When it comes to political corruption, we’re at least Top 5. And we have those glorious beaches.
But sports teams? Go New York! Go Philly!
The Nets never had any reason to exist. They should have stayed in Long Island. That always made sense. But, no, they had to come to New Jersey, where nobody cared.
Exhibit A: April 22, 1984. The Nets have just knocked off the defending champion 76ers twice in Philly, They are coming home to close out the mighty Sixers in that best-of-5 series. And they’re pretty good. They’ve got Albert King, Mike Gminski, Darryl Dawkins and a revived (however temporarily) Micheal Ray Richardson.
And they draw 12,399.
Twenty-eight years later, that sums it up. Things have never really gotten any better. The New Jersey Nets were born in ennui and tonight they will die in ennui.
Brooklyn, they’re all yours.