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Stuck in the Swamp

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Swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts after the record-breaking loss on December 2.  

L ast week, the Nets—in the process of being sold to a Russian billionaire, still waiting for construction to begin on their much-hyped new home in Brooklyn—set a record for the worst start to a season in NBA history. From their earliest days, the Nets have been beset by bad luck—both on the court and with the court itself.

$714
Amount a Nets season ticketholder sued for after the team traded Dr. J in 1977.

1. Teaneck Armory
Teaneck, New Jersey
1967–1968
Trucking tycoon Arthur Brown plants an American Basketball Association team, the New Jersey Americans, in what the Times calls a “dreary drill shed.” Attendance at the Armory for their opening game, which they lose, is 3,089. When the Armory is booked for the circus, a tiebreaker game (winner makes the playoffs) against the Kentucky Colonels is scheduled for the Long Island Arena, but the court is not in playable condition and the Nets forfeit.

2. Long Island Arena
Commack, New York
1968–1969
After a plan to relocate to Newark disintegrates, Brown renames the team the New York Nets and moves to the now-adequate Long Island Arena (which, incidentally, is where Peter Frampton recorded some of Frampton Comes Alive!).

3. Island Garden
W. Hempstead, New York
1969–1971
In March of ’69, the Nets lose the race to sign Lew Alcindor to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Shortly thereafter, Brown sells the team for $1.1 million to Roy Boe, a womenswear magnate who also owns a minor-league football team. Led by guard Levern Tart, the team makes the playoffs for the first time in 1970, but loses a heartbreaking 4-3 series to the Colonels.

4. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Uniondale, New York
1972–1977
The team posts its first winning season, then acquires 23-year-old Julius Erving, who leads them to the ABA title, which they also win two years later—the Nets’ only championships. In 1976, the Nets pay $3.2 million to join the NBA.

5. Rutgers Athletic Center
Piscataway, New Jersey
1977–1981
Looking to get closer to the city, Boe relocates the team to the new Rutgers gym in Piscataway, and they become the New Jersey Nets. In 1977, after trading Dr. J, the team finishes 22-60, the worst record in the league. A year later, with team debts of $19 million, he sells the Nets for $12 million to a group including, in the Times’ words, “a horseman.”

6. Meadowlands
(The Brendan Byrne Arena, later Continental Airlines Arena; now the Izod Center)
E. Rutherford, New Jersey
1981–present
The team gets a mammoth new home, but in 1985 begins a seven-season stretch in which it does not finish above .500. In 1998, the franchise is sold for $150 million. Four years later, after acquiring guard Jason Kidd from Phoenix, the team compiles a best-ever 52 wins and makes its first-ever NBA Finals, starting a run of six playoff appearances in a row. In 2004, developer Bruce Ratner, along with Jay-Z and other investors, buys the Nets for $300 million, vows to move the team to his Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, and begins dismantling the team’s roster. The arena plan is beset by lawsuits and financing problems; meanwhile, Newark offers the Nets a spot at the new Prudential Center. In September 2009, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov agrees to pay $200 million for 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the arena. As losses mount, the team fires sixth-year coach Lawrence Frank. It doesn’t help.

“PLEASE”
what was written on small forward Chris Morris’s right shoe during a 1995 game against the bulls.

“TRADE ME”
what was written on the left one.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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