My team, the mighty New Jersey uh… I mean Brooklyn Nets. How did I get here?

16 Oct

For most people who passionately follow a particular sport, they have a team that they live and die for.  Growing up in Melbourne, being the home of Aussie rules football, one of the first things you would ask somebody as a kid growing up would be, “which footy team do you barrack for?” This was a great ice breaker as a kid trying to make friends as AFL (or VFL as it was back in the 80’s) was THE game everybody talked about on Monday at school. Every kid had a team and bragging rights were always on the line each weekend. My team was and still is the Geelong Cats. Occasionally, people will ask me, “why do you barrack for Geelong?”. Well, I don’t really know why. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a Cats supporter. The usual list of reasons for picking a team when you’re a kid are:

1) Everybody else in my family does and I had it drummed into me by my psychotic parents (see Collingwood supporters)

2) They’re my local team

3) All my friends barrack for them so I guess I will!

4) This team just won the grand final! Bandwagon!

Let’s run down the list,

1) Nobody, in my entire family barracked for Geelong.

2) Other than Sydney, Geelong was the furthest team from my home.

3) Only one other friend in Primary School barracked for Geelong but I was a Cats man before we became friends.

4) Geelong didn’t even MAKE a grand final until 1989 when I was 9.

My basketball fandom though, has taken a much different course. As a kid following the local NBL, my first recollections are more about players than teams. The “Alabama Slamma” James Crawford was the first player that really caught my eye as a kid. I would watch him on TV playing for the Perth Wildcats on the weekend and marvel at this guy who seemed to have springs in his shoes, take off and dunk with ease or block a shot into the stands. Then it was watching Andrew Gaze playing for Seton Hall in the 1989 NCAA tournament, all the way to the national championship game against Michigan. This game was so big, it was even shown live in Australia. It was school holidays at the time so my eyeballs were glued to the TV watching this and cried my eyes out when they lost!

The first team that I supported as a kid were the North Melbourne Giants. We went to a few of their games as a family at the Glass House (now the Westpac Centre) and I was hooked on them. They wore maroon and gold uniforms at the time and my dad bought me a Giants cap for Christmas one year that I wore everyday until it literally, fell apart. Sadly, like many an NBL team before it and since, the Giants merged in 1998 and were no more. To this day, I still don’t have a connection to another NBL team.

From the early 90’s, my brother and I would always make sure we caught NBA Action Saturday morning. As this was the old days without this new fangled internet, we had no idea if what we were watching was even recent but we didn’t care. We just sat, saucer eyed in front of the idiot box soaking up anything we could get, the highlight of each show being the top 10 plays of the week. Some people go to Church and pray to Jesus, we watched NBA Action and prayed at the NBA altar. Oh the names, Jordan, Pippen, Stockton, Malone, Kemp, O’Neal, Mourning, Barkley, Robinson and many others. So I picked a team, the Charlotte Hornets, who had my favorite player, a fresh faced youngster just out of Georgetown University, Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets were a fairly new team in the NBA, only coming into the league in 1988. By the time Mr Mourning arrived in 1992 as the 2nd overall pick in the draft that year, the Hornets had already gone about building a solid but young and upcoming team. Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry & Kendall Gill were there already and Alonzo was the final piece. The ultimate Charlotte Hornets highlight that sticks in my mind is Mourning’s buzzer beater to beat the Boston Celtics in the 1993 playoffs. In the later part of my Hornets fandom, I had lost interest in basketball for a while around the ages of 18 – 20 (1998 – 2000) By this point in my life, I had other cool new things I could spend my time doing, nightclubing, driving, unsuccessfully chasing (some might call it stalking but those laws didn’t exist back then) girls, etc. My interest in basketball slowly returned in late 2000 but trades meant that the Hornet I once knew, were no more. In 2002, the team was relocated to New Orleans, burning as many bridges as possible on the way out and it just wasn’t the same. The move by the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn was different to the Hornets move for me as it has been sold on a bright future rather moving to run from past mistakes.

I was back to having no team again for a few years until early 2005 when I made my first trip to the USA. Planning for the trip started mid the year before with my mate George. My plan was simple, this might be the only time I ever go to the home of the NBA, so I was going to jam in as many NBA games as possible. George and I discussed  which cities we wanted to go to and quickly agreed on New York, Los Angeles & Las Vegas. My attention then diverted to the NBA schedule for the 2004/05 season, hoping to discover that either the Nets, Knicks, Lakers or Clippers would have a string of home game around February ’05. Success! The Nets had a five game home stand against the Pistons, 76ers, Lakers, Spurs & Nuggets. So it was decided, we’d spend ten nights in New York, five in LA and five in Vegas. Now, when I say New York, that’s where we intended to visit but not where we stayed. Like a pimple on your bum, there was the Days Inn Hotel in North Bergen, New Jersey. A stone’s throw from Manhattan but so much cheaper than trying to stay in the Big Apple. Surrounding the hotel there was, well, not much. The hotel was on a busy road and faced toward a piece of the city that could have really been anywhere. There were no distinguishable landmarks in this place, that was for sure.

Travel out to the Nets’ home stadium in East Rutherford was easy and I arrived at the first game against the Pistons almost two hours before tip-off expecting a sea people. Instead, it was just me in a sea of empty basketball stadium. I was so early in fact, that I had to wait for the ticket office to open so I could collect all my tickets I had purchased over the internet before leaving Australia. After collecting my tickets I had to wait for what felt like an eternity to get past the guys checking the tickets but I eventually got in, and as I made my way around the interior of the stadium looking for the right door where my seat was waiting, I could get a glimpse at each door of the seats that I was hoping would be mine. Eventually I found my door, went up the stairs and I was there. Looking down on a place I was never sure I’d ever see in person. A real, live, NBA basketball court. I stood at the top of the stairs for a few minutes just looking around, like a kid in a lolly shop, mouth open, the usher probably thought I had some sort of mental issue. At this point it could have been any NBA stadium in the entire league, I couldn’t have cared less, I finally made it. At that point of my life it was THE moment, number one, everything else I’d done or achieved was relegated to second place as I stood there. At this moment I should point out that this has since been passed by my wedding day and the birth of my daughter just in case the wife reads this (love you guys 😛 ). I made my way to my seat which was on the upper level, about mid court, sat down and looked over at the clock which was counting down to game time. There was just under an hour to go at this point but I was glued to my seat in anticipation of seeing my first real life NBA player in action. The worst thing about having a clock counting down and nothing else going on is that it feels like each second is taking an hour in itself. Then finally the players started leaking out onto court, first a few at a time for informal shoot arounds and eventually ,as the stadium slowly filled up the official warmups began. Looking down from my seat I could see Jason Kidd and Vince Carter warming up with the rest of the Nets team, making layups and jumpers, with Carter throwing down the occasional dunk like it was nothing. Down the other end were the reigning NBA champion Detroit Pistons, with finals MVP Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and the enigmatic Rasheed Wallace. The starting lineups were announced and just before the jumpball, Vince Carter walked down to the basket at one end, reach up and pull himself up to the ring by holding the net, this would be a tradition for Carter at every game I saw. The Nets went on to win the game 107-85 and went 3-2 in the games I attended. Highlighted by Vince Carter scoring 40+ points in three of those games and also getting ejected against the Spurs, thanks to the pesky Bruce Bowen getting under his skin. I missed out on seeing the 76ers’ Allen Iverson play in the second game due to him having the flu and Kobe Bryant sat out the game after that with an injury of some sort which was disappointing. However, I’m pretty sure I saw the back of Magic Johnson’s head courtside when the Nets played the Lakers.

These five games gave me my new team to support. I was a Nets fan from that point in time. A lover of Jason Kidd triple doubles, vicious Vince Carter dunks and Jason Collins post defence (well that last one might be stretching it a little bit). Nets fans will know how the rest of this story unfolds between then and now. The trading of superstars thanks to then owner Bruce Ratner wanting to save money, the horrendous 12-70 season of 2009/10, the announcement that the team would be moving to Brooklyn with a new Russian gazillionaire owner. More recently, the Dwight Howard saga and now, the Nets of Brooklyn are ready to go for another season with a shiny new stadium, new uniforms and a roster ready to dip a toe in the playoffs again. GO NETS!!!!!!


2 Responses to “My team, the mighty New Jersey uh… I mean Brooklyn Nets. How did I get here?”

  1. Tim Brownlaw October 17, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Good to see you blogging Paul and very well done. I even read it all and its very good 🙂 Make sure that you keep it up now you’ve started!

  2. ruphill October 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Haha your blog name has out motion in it, everybody needs a good out motion now and then but if you get to much out I’ll push it back in for you.
    Also, I am hurt and offended that seeing the Nets for the first time out does us walking down your street pissed as farts n stumbling into a dress-up party (after I cleaned up your spew with an axe) d;)

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