As a long-time Nets fan, I've compiled a shitload of Nets memorabilia and freebies throughout the years. Now, feast your eyes on the more ridiculous and obscure paraphernalia in a blog feature I call....RANDOM NETS CRAP!
KEITH VAN HORNET
(Click on images to enlarge)
There's a lot to love and be frightened about this plush little guy. His crazy bug eyes. The kick-ass yet mildly phallic stinger. The adorably intimidating limerick.
Let's just begin with a bit of background to whatever spawned this mutant transformation of the New Jersey Ute. Meanies were just one of the countless rip-offs of Beanie Babies in the late 90s and early 00s. Basically, young heterosexual boys wanted to have something cuddly to collect, but also show off how bad-ass they were. Enter Meanies - the crotch-grabbing, tobacco-spitting gangstas of the plush beanie doll industry.
The thing that generated the most buzz for Meanies was their clever takes on celebrities. Bill Clinton became BULL Clinton! Mike Tyson is...wait for it...Mike BISON! Think Allen Iverson is safe? Oh no, because here comes ALIEN Iverson!
During the 1999-00 season, The Nets teamed up with the Meanies organization for a few give-aways as well. The first one was Stephon MarBEARy, then came Mr. Van Hornet. The last one was a version of Jayson Williams called Bison Williams - clearly, the fad had died and they were not trying anymore.
Now, astute readers may be wondering: "HEY RORY! Where's the rest of them?" Well, shut the fuck up. Yes, I did attend the games with my brother and mother where Stephon Marbeary and Keith Van Hornet were given out. I do not recall getting Bison Williams - we probably did not have tickets to that game. My brother and I grabbed as many as we could, and upon returning home, but them all on eBay.
You see, from about the ages of 10 to 16, I was constantly looking for the next big collectible. The biggest trends I threw myself into were comic books, actions figures, and basketball cards. My naive mind thought that these items would basically put me on easy street. I could out-fox the system, buying these items at retail price and reselling them on the secondary market. There was some success, but what I sold was usually "re-invested" back into more of the same item. Now, I still have a ton of these "collector's items" sitting in my mom's house that, perhaps one day, I'll be able to cash in. I now have more basketball cards of coaches and general managers than I do of active players. Action figures remain untouched - but they may have some value if I have children in the future. Comic books seemed to be the best of these investments, as some can still be read and enjoyed for their artistic merits (but I no longer worry about keeping them in MINT condition).
Anyway, the Nets Meanies would fetch a decent amount of scratch on eBay - usually around $40. God knows who was buying these things, and if they still have them. My brother and I pocketed this cash, but looking back, it probably should've gone to momma to help offset the cost of, you know, TAKING US TO THE GAME. What greedy little fucks we were.
So why did this Keith Van Hornet get spared from the Internets Garage Sale? In many ways, Keith Van Hornet is a lot like his real-life counterpart: Attempts to be cool and intimidating, but fails and just looks soft and lovable.
As you know, I usually use the Random Nets Crap feature to rant about a team or a player, and I already touched on Keith Van Horn a little in a past entry. Well, Keith Van Horn is a player I am unnecessarily sentimental about. Now, since I never claimed that this site will provide objective rational commentary, I present to you:
The Shameless Keith Van Horn Apologist's Top 5 Excuses for Keith Van Horn's Career!
1. Bad Timing
In the late 90s, the NBA was in the age of the "Me-First" young star. I believe the catalyst was the ridiculous Juwon Howard contract, but young players were getting too much fame and money without having accomplished anything in the NBA. Just as an example: If somebody gave me advice on how to write, I would listen, since I'm new at blogging. But if I somebody gave me a guaranteed $80M over 6 years to write based upon what I've written so far, I wouldn't give a shit about improving. With guys like Allen Iverson, Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, etc. rolling around with millions and a double-digit entourage, you could tell it would not bode well for a dorky, reserved guy from Utah. Furthermore, he entered into the draft in 1997, where there was one clear great player (Tim Duncan), and a large talent drop off after that. Only two all-stars were picked after Duncan. One is Chauncy Billups, who took several seasons before finding his role in the NBA. The other is Tracy McGrady, an injury maligned franchise player who has not made it past the first round. Keith Van Horn was picked behind Tim Duncan, setting up point number 2...
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Keith Van Horn will always be remembered as the player picked after Tim Duncan. With Chauncy Billups record 7th straight conference finals appearance, Keith Van Horn is starting to get lumped in with other #2 busts like Sam Bowie and Shawn Bradley. Had Van Horn declared for the draft after his Junior year, he would have been remembered as another solid player in the amazing 1996 draft. He would not have been #2 (although still most likely a lottery pick), and expectations would have immediately been lowered. Also, as mentioned before, Van Horn was another player who got too much money too fast. By his third year, he already received a 7 year, $90M contract extension. Nets management made some silly decisions back then - such as the Marbury trade and Jayson Williams' contract, and this was another one. But, when you get paid like a franchise player, you need to perform like one. Van Horn was incredibly overpaid, and expectations became unreachable.
3. Bad Teams/Teammates
This all ties into the bad timing segment, as well. In his rookie year, he excelled and showed a lot of promise. That was because he played with veteran leaders like Sam Cassell and (gulp) Jayson Williams. The next 3 years were spent with Stephon Marbury - who can destroy any team. He absolutely murdered USA basketball. And, call me crazy, but I blame him for Kevin Garnett's injury on the Celtics, too. When Jason Kidd came on board, Van Horn turned around, too. But that was just one season, and then it was back to the nuthouse with Allen Iverson in Philly. After that, he was able to be a witness to the dawning of the Isiah Thomas Knicks. From there, it was the Terry Porter led Bucks. Finally, he was able to land with Dallas, where he found a good niche as Nowitzki's back-up. Of all the coaches he has had in his career, only Byron Scott is still coaching, and Lord Byron just presided over one of the worst playoff performances ever. Overall, he certainly didn't have good luck with teammates - with his biggest role model in his formative years being Jayson Williams.
In a preseason game against the Knicks, Van Horn was lighting them up, and looking like The Great White Hope that he was billed to be. But it was in this game that he sprained his right ankle. Early injuries can haunt any rookie's career (hello, Josh Boone!). If you take a look at this page, you can see it is littered with right ankle sprains.
5. Screw everybody, he had a really good career!
He was a key part in two memorable Nets teams - the 97-98 team and the 01-02 team. In the latter, he was the leading rebounder and leading scorer (for most of the year until Kenyon Martin passed him slightly in the scoring load). Being the leading scorer and rebounder for a Finals team is something many players only dream about. For his efforts on the Nets, he was pictured on Slam Magazine twice, both times praising how good the entire team was. While the center, point guard, and small forward were different on the covers, Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles remained. After being bumped around the league like Jimmy Jackson, he ended up in Dallas, where he added another Finals appearance (although he was injured) to his resume. He was also instrumental in getting Devin Harris to the Nets for Jason Kidd after his retirement. Throw in career averages of 16/7 and decent shooting percentages of 44/36/84, and you have yourself a very good career my friends. Had not the 4 other factors killed his love of the game, he would be in the Michael Finley-esque portion of his career - playing about 25 mins and providing veteran leadership.
You go, Keith Van Hornet! Even though it may sting, you have to keep Van Horn's memory alive!