We're still in the dog-days of the NBA offseason. I was able to kill time with some nicknames, but we're still over a month away from tip-off. I don't feel like analyzing a trade that may not be completed about 2016, and I don't want to talk about the possibility of a scary Russian taking over the team. So, let's dig into the memory banks, and I'll kill more time talking about my favorite season: 2001-02.
As everyone is well aware, that was the franchise's best season, and also the first time I felt "rewarded" for following the team. Not "rewarded" in the physical, "here's a reversible jersey, you gullible fool!" sense, but rather on an emotional level. Following a sports team is a thankless, one-sided relationship built on subjective loyalty and vicarious emotions. I am just a customer, paying to be entertained. But, during this season, I was able to shelve this logic and enjoy the ride.
(Also, I was 17, so my hormones were making me a seething cauldron of testosterone. Since there were no girls in my life, sports became that much more important. Although, perhaps it was because sports were so important that there were no girls in my life. Whatever. Onward!)
As the Nets piled up wins that season, they gained the attention of North Jersey. Being one of the few Nets fans at my high school, people would come up and congratulate me on the team's success, as if I had anything to do with it. People I never had much conversations with would ask me how I felt about the team's recent success. It was like I just became a father. Or, more accurately, I was the father of a perpetual fuck up, and he finally got accepted into Montclair State.
There were many landmark games in that season, but I always felt the Nets turned the page in a game I was at in January, when the Nets played the Spurs and won on a last minute Kerry Kittles drive. That's when I knew this was a potential championship team. Thinking back, there are many classic moments to choose from, such as Nets-Pacers Game 5 (as chronicled already by myself here), or Game 6 of the Nets-Celtics series.
However, the one that is overlooked is Game 4 of the 2002 Eastern Semi-Finals versus the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets were a "dark horse" team that year, with a solid scoring attack of Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, and David Wesley, with solid bigs in PJ Brown, Elden Campbell, and a young Jamaal Magliore. In the previous game, the Nets lost as Jason Kidd went down in a bloody heap. He collided with David Wesley, and blood streamed out of a cut above his eye. As I watched it, I felt my heart sank. How serious was this injury? Is the season over?
But, in came our hero for Game 4, with a giant band-aid over his eyebrow. This game was on Mother's Day, and my family took my grandmother to the Meadowlands racetrack (important lesson learned: while a stroke may take away your ability to walk and talk, it can't take away your love of gambling). I've been there several times, and usually they'd have TV screens with filled with racing information, and a couple tuned to whatever local sport is on (such as baseball). This time, over a third, maybe half, the TVs were switched to the Nets game. We got a table in the Pegasus restaurant area, and switched the little TV on the table to the game. During the game, the Meadowlands staff would walk by and glance at the score on our TV. I specifically remember seeing a guy peaking over the wall separating our table from the betting section to see the game. It was the first time I felt that there was a Nets "community" - not just a few die-hards like us on the internet, but a whole area of northern NJ that legitimately wanted this team to win. Or were bandwagoners. Whatever, there's room for everybody!
Thinking back, you have to cherish moments like this. I remember watching the Denver in the playoffs this year, and they would continuously show graphics pointing out that this was the furthest Denver had gone in the playoffs in 25 years. It might be another 20 years before the Nets ever see this kind of success. But, it is memories like this (and the rest of the season) which makes the money and time wasted following sports all worthwhile. I hate to admit it, but choosing to continue to follow the Nets this season was a very difficult decision. Quite frankly, I don't trust the management to use the cap space efficiently next off-season. However, each season brings new hope...remember, there's still a chance!