New Jersey Nets (NBA)
The definitive history.
The Nets played in New Jersey for 35 NBA seasons and one season (1967–68) as the ABA New Jersey Americans. The Nets were one of four teams from the American Basketball Association that merged with the NBA for the 1976–77 season. The Nets were coming off the 1976 ABA championship, and with their move to the NBA they swung a deal with the Kansas City Kings for high-scoring point guard Nate Archibald. Teaming Archibald with superstar Julius Erving made the Nets preseason favorites in the Atlantic Division. However, as part of the merger, the Nets were slammed with a $4.8 million penalty payment to the Knicks, whose territory they had invaded.
Dr. J was a major reason the ABA was taken seriously by the NBA, and the Nets promised him a big pay raise after the merger. However, the unexpected “tax” levied on the team left them unable to pay their star player. They were forced to trade Erving to the 76ers, turning Philadelphia into a league power. Things went from bad to worse when Archibald injured his foot early in the year, and was never the same player again.
With dwindling crowds at the Nassau Coliseum and no more Dr. J, owner Roy Boe decided the franchise from Long Island to the Garden State in 1977–78. The team played at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway while the Brendan Byrne Arena was being constructed in the Meadowlands. They moved to their new home in 1981. It was later renamed the Continental Arena and then the Izod Center.
The team’s fortunes began to change that same year, after they selected power forward Buck Williams with the third pick in the NBA Draft. They made the playoffs five tears in a row. Building around Williams, the Nets picked up veterans Micheal Ray Richardson, Darryl Dawkins, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski, and drafted Albert King. In 1983–84, the Nets went 45–37 and shocked the 76ers in the opening round of the playoffs before falling to the Bucks in the next round.
During the early 1990s, the Nets enjoy burst of success under coaches Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly. Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson were the stars of the team, along with supporting players Chris Morris, P.J. Brown, and Chris Dudley. The best player on the club might have been Drazen Petrovic, who came to New Jersey from the Portland Trailblazers. He averaged over 20 points a game in his first two full seasons, but was killed in a car accident following the 1992–93 season. Bad luck continued to dog the team in the 1990s, as star forward Jayson Williams broke his leg in a collision with teammate Stephon Marbury, ending his career.
As the new century began, the Nets began assembling an array of talented young players like Marbury, Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson. In the summer of 2001, the team swapped Marbury for veteran Jason Kidd. His leadership on and off the floor transformed the team from a 56-loss team to a 52-win team in one season. The Nets won their first NBA division title in 2001–02, and upended the Pacers, Hornets and Celtics to reach the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, they lacked the firepower to contend with Shaq and Kobe, and fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 0.
The Nets returned to the NBA Finals the following season. They traded Van Horn for defensive specialist Dikembe Mutombo, but the rest of the club was essentially unchaged. Coach Byron Scott led the team to another division title and the Nets lost just two games in their first three postseason series. Against the Spurs in the finals, New Jersey briefly grabbed homecourt advantage after winning Game 2 in San Antonio. Every game in the series was an intense defensive battle, with a Game 7 showdown seeming inevitable as the Nets took a big lead into the fourth quarter of Game 6. But backed by the home fans, the Spurs outscored New Jersey 31–14 in the final stanza to steal away the championship.
The Nets repeated as Atlantic Division champs in 2003–04 under Scott, and again two years later under new coach Lawrence Frank. However, despite the addition of superstar Vince Carter, they were unable to get out of the second round of the playoffs. Five losing seasons followed before the team moved to Brooklyn in 2012–13. They played their final two seasons in Newark’s Prudential Center. In all, the Nets enjoyed a dozen winning seasons during their time in New Jersey.
NEW JERSEY NETS ALL-STARS
Kenny Anderson • 1994
Otis Birdsong • 1984
Vince Carter • 2005, 2006 & 2007
Derrick Coleman • 1994
Devin Harris • 2009
Jason Kidd • 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 & 2008
Stephon Marbury • 2001
Kenyon Martin • 2004
Micheal Ray Richardson • 1985
Buck Williams • 1982, 1983 & 1986
Deron Williams • 2012
Jayson Williams • 1998