So, unlike the vast majority of my Knicks-loving peers in Mahopac, N.Y., I grew up a New Jersey Nets fan.
I’m not sure why. Buck Williams was cool. Dug Pearl Washington and Mike O’Koren. I think, mostly, it was because the Nets weren’t the Knicks. They were the underdogs. The lessers. The Knicks were Ewing and Oakley. The Nets were Dawkins and Chris Morris. They played in an impossible-to-reach half-empty arena built atop swampland. Their uniforms were goofy. Their GM at the time—the legendary Willis Reed—was a Knick legend whose personnel judgement was, to be polite, lacking.
Or, put differently: The team used the 14th pick in the 1994 NBA Draft to select George Washington center Yinka Dare, a player they had neither worked or nor interviewed; a player whose college coach made clear leaving for the pros was a terrible mistake.
What comes with rooting for the losers is the unbridled joy when a spark happens. Meaning—you’re the Nets. You never make the playoffs. Then, one year, you sneak in as an eight seed and steal a first-round win. That’s a magical moment, one that goes terribly unappreciated in this win-at-all-costs-and-nothing-less culture.
I bring this all up because, moments ago, the Nets surrendered every asset they possessed (picks, young players, dozens of gift cards to Junior’s) to Houston in exchange for James Harden, a talented, accomplished, interestingly groomed scorer who passes as often as he cries during “A Walk to Remember.”*
And, with that final step, the Nets are no longer my Nets. They are the bully. The favorites. The expected-to-stomp kings of the Eastern Conference. And while I actually understand the deal from the organization’s (wrongheaded) perspective, it reminds me far too much of the Knicks’ 2011 acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, when the organization sent Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, New York’s 2014 first-round draft pick, the Warriors’ 2012 second-round pick, the Warriors’ 2013 second-round pick and $3 million in cash to Denver. The end result of that trade: The arrival of a selfish, dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot me-first superstar, the departure of a young, fun, spunky gaggle of players who ran the court, moved the ball and kept fans glued to the TV.
These Durant-Harden-(wherever-the-hell-he-is) Kyrie Nets are now the clear favorites to face the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
But, I fear, the fun just left the building.
. * I’m guessing he never cries during “A Walk to Remember.” But I sure do. Especially when Mandy walks down the aisle, leukemia-ravaged but strong as a motherfuckin’ oxen. Go Mandy!