If you take a look at the four teams vying right now for the National Basketball Association Championship, it has to make you think a little. Included in the mix is a truly purchased team (the Lakers), a whiner team (the Kings), a Boston team (my gosh that franchise already has 16 championships) and probably one of the biggest success stories in sports in years (the Nets).
I'm pretty much like everyone else; I believe the Lakers will probably win it all. Not that I like it that way, but it's hard to imagine any of the above other teams matching up with the mercenaries from the city of angels enough to take the title away.
But of all of them, the Nets story is probably the most interesting, because it has been racked over the years by such adversity and poor luck.
This franchise has made almost a full circle. Originally the team was called the New Jersey Americans during their initial season in the old American Basketball Association in 1967-68 and they played in an armory in Teaneck, N.J. They got into a playoff game their first year, but the armory leaked during a rain storm and the league ruled that the floor was not suitable for play. So they had to forfeit their one and only game to the Kentucky Colonels.
If that all sounds bush to you, it was. The ABA was a bush league in those days. The team moved to New York (Long Island) the next year and began play in first, Commack Arena and then Nassau Coliseum a few years later.
After moving to New York the franchise got Rick Barry and the team started to improve, in fact barely losing the ABA championship series to the Indiana Pacers in 1972.
Then they lost Barry due to the fact that a court ruled that he was actually the property of the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
But the next season, 1973, they traded with the Virginia Squires (where incidentally, they had also traded for the services of Barry) for Julius Erving and for the next three years, all anyone outside ABA cities heard about the ABA was about Dr. J and the Nets. With Erving they won the ABA championship two of three years (one of those coming at the expense of the Western divisions champion Utah Stars).
In 1976 the ABA merged with the NBA and four teams, the Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets, were put into the senior league. The way the older league treated these teams as they came in almost killed the upstarts, particularly the Nets. All had to pay $3.2 million dollars to join the league, could not participate in the 1976 draft and did not get any television money for three years. But worse for the Nets, the Knicks, one of the oldest and most powerful franchises in the NBA, demanded that the Nets pay another $4.8 million to them because the Nets were "in their market." Roy Boe, the owner of the Nets had no choice but to sell Erving to Philadelphia for a few million to make up the deficit.
After the next season the Nets moved back to New Jersey where they have had many sad stories to tell until this year. It has taken 25 years for them to even come close to the pinnacle they reached in 1976. With addition of Jason Kidd this year, along with Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, and of course Keith Van Horn, they may very well be a team of destiny. People can make all the New Jersey jokes they want, but if they can hold it together for a few years, they will certainly be a big power and maybe even have a championship under their belt.
Not bad for a franchise that played their first game in an armory with a leaky roof 35 years ago.