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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days that it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
As CNNSI.com's Fantasy Producer, James Quintong would be the appropriate authority to examine the fantasy world that is the New Jersey Nets' war room. Tack on his New Jersey upbringing, and you have a guy with a few axes to grind. Quintong does a yeoman job of keeping it to five, starting with the sale of Julius Erving; the trade of Buck Williams; the trade of Mookie Blaylock; the drafting of Yinka Dare and the bailing of coach Larry Brown during the team's most successful season ever.
October 20, 1976
Nets sell F Julius Erving to Philadelphia for $3 million
A few days after Dr. J was sold to Philadelphia, this Oct. 25, 1976 edition of SI arrived in the mail. Irving Penn
Entering the NBA as the final ABA champions, the New York Nets thought they could compete, if not challenge for the NBA title. By the time, they played their first NBA game, however, the Nets' fate as a second-rate franchise was sealed.
Erving sat out the 1976 preseason, reportedly protesting owner Roy Boe's failure to pay out promised bonuses. Boe said Erving wanted to renegotiate his deal to levels similar to what newly acquired Tiny Archibald was getting. Either way, his teammates were fully behind Erving, knowing of his box-office appeal for the fledgling franchise. But after months of negotiations, Boe sold Erving to Philadelphia for $3 million.
Sixers general manager Pat Williams was ecstatic about the deal, saying, "We got the Babe Ruth of basketball."
Boe needed the money to cover ridiculously escalating debts, which hit $22 million by 1978. In that time, the team moved to a woefully inadequate gym at Rutgers, Boe was issuing rubber checks to his own players and he was accused of diverting funds from the New York Islanders, which he also owned, to cover debts with the Nets.
In the grand scheme of things, Dr. J probably knew it was the right time to go. Given the state of the franchise and the state of Nassau Coliseum, Erving may not have become the superstar he was in Philly. However, the surroundings of his departure sent the Nets on a free fall well past mediocrity. Only until the Nets moved to the Meadowlands in the early 1980s did the team start restoring some credibility. Some.
Erving Reflects On Nets The Record -- April 3 1987 By Dave D'Alessandro
His most impressive quality is his willingness to discuss almost
any subject without the safe, sanitized remarks expected of public
figures. Julius Erving, who makes his last Byrne Arena appearance
tonight, prides himself on that.
But when the subject of the Nets comes up, the results are a
palpable change in attitude and a subtle, yet clearly uncomfortable,
shift in enthusiasm. It was with the New York Nets franchise that his
athletic genius blossomed in the red, white, and blue world of the
American Basketball Association, a time when he admits he was truly at
But it also was a time for bad feelings, a time of unflattering
priorities, and a time when his sterling reputation was questioned even
by those closest to him.
"My heart still holds a special place for the Nets," said Erving,
who is completing his career this season as a member of the Philadelphia
76ers. "It was my franchise at one time from 1973-76. It's always been
the toughest team for me to go back and play against, especially for
the first few years after the 1976 merger.
"It hasn't worn off. Inside, emotionally, it's still a special
place," he added. But too much happened then for that to be taken at
Ten years after the fact, the sale of Erving's contract to the
Philadelphia 76ers still is perhaps the most dubious chapter in the
history of the Nets. The parting also remains the most obscure episode
of Erving's brilliant career, and raises the obvious question of What
if?, a question that can never be answered.
"Yeah, I wondered about that, lots of times," Erving said last
week. "I still do occasionally, but it was always on my mind those first
few years. But if I stayed with the Nets, and moved to Piscataway...
"He pauses before he completes the thought.
"I just guess, no, I know, that it wasn't part of Julius Erving's
destiny. The things that happened, my contract being sold to
Philadelphia, was fate. That's how I look at it now."
Dan Calico, San Francisco: The only thing worse than that would have been if Dr. J were sent to the Knicks. Ever since the deal, the only Nets bright spot, ironically enough, has been the 1984 playoff upset over the 76ers. But that has been enveloped by the Bubbles Hawkins era, the Joe Barry Carroll era, Larry "off to my next job" Brown, the death of Drazen Petrovic, and finally the "whoop-dee-damn-doo" antics of Derrick Coleman. Bad trades, bad draft picks, bad teams. Maybe the Nets should have folded after all.
Dan O'Friel, Redondo Beach, Calif.: As a kid growing up a few minutes from the Nassau Colisseum, the worst deal had to be when the N.Y. Nets sold Dr. J to the Sixers. ARRRRGGHHH!! In the long run it will be equivalent to the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox will win a World Series before the Nets win an NBA Championship.
John Kingston, Carle Place, N.Y.: No doubt about it ... the day the New York Nets sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers. After winning the second ABA title in three years, the Nets were all set to go into the NBA as clearly one of the better teams in the merged ABA-NBA. That summer, they picked up Nate Archibald, and launched a season ticket campaign, "Dr. J and Tiny A...together!" Julius and Dave Cowens, representing the champions from the two leagues in 1976, posed together on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And then, Roy Boe sold Julius to the Sixers. A year later, the Nets moved to New Jersey, where I have gleefully watched them stink ever since. The curse on them won't be lifted until they repent for the terrible sin.
June 24, 1989
Nets trade F Buck Williams to Portland for C Sam Bowie and a 1st-round pick
The Nets were rejuvenated in the early 1980s when they moved into the Meadowlands and drafted Buck Williams with the third overall pick in 1981. Williams would win Rookie of the Year and lead the Nets to the playoffs in his first five seasons. He also appearred in three All-Star Games.
Durable Buck Williams never played fewer than 70 games in any of his 13 seasons. Jim Gund/Allsport
However, after those first five years, the next three seasons were downright disasters, despite the solid efforts from Williams. He was targeted by most teams in trades as the Nets looked to rebuild through trades. The rumors bothered him but he stayed loyal until the end when he finally was dealt just before the 1989 draft.
The deal was risky enough -- the infamous Bowie (drafted ahead of Jordan, remember?) hadn't played in two years because of leg problems. Bowie did play four seasons as a serviceable center, however, and the Nets used the draft pick on Mookie Blaylock (see below).
On the other hand, Williams thrived after getting away from New Jersey. His numbers went down playing behind Clyde Drexler, but Williams brought much-needed leadership to the talented but troubled Trail Blazers. Portland went to the NBA Finals twice during Williams' seven-season tenure.
Williams is one of the few players who could be say his best years were in New Jersey and he is still the franchise leader in 11 categories including points, rebounds, games played and free throws made. However, like so many other players before him, he achieved his NBA happiness somewhere else.
Rip City returns ... with a BANG!;
Selfless Buck Williams has rolled into Portland and changed the selfish Blazers into a contender Sports Illustrated -- January 15, 1990 By Richard Hoffer
The whole Nets experience came into focus when he did research into his family tree. He jokes that he started the genealogical studies after a writer speculated that Williams's ancestors must have done something awfully wrong to doom him to play for New Jersey. In fact, while tracing his mother's family to 1800, he discovered no one more wicked than a great-great-grandfather who, as recorded in one of his four divorce proceedings, told his wife of the time, "I'm going to turn the devil loose and somebody gonna be missing in this house." Divorce granted!
Williams also discovered that a female ancestor had been listed, along with livestock, among the assets of landowner William Woodland of Virginia. Her worth on the inventory had been set at $150. And on reading Woodland's will, he found that an entire generation of his ancestors were to have been set free. Instead, they were retained as slaves by the landowner's heirs.
"Here I was treated just like that," he says in reference to the system that assigns and binds pro players to their teams. Yes, Williams understood that he was ridiculously well paid for his work. Still he felt that he had been assigned a worth on an inventory sheet and was going through life at the whim of an owner.
November 3, 1992
Nets trade G Mookie Blaylock and F Roy Hinson to Atlanta for F Rumeal Robinson
The draft pick acquired for Williams paid off dividends pretty quickly. After starring at Oklahoma, Blaylock averaged 10.1 points per game his rookie season despite being a bench player most of that season. By his second year, he was the starting point guard and the team's third leading scorer.
Eddie Vedder could see Mookie Blaylock's potential, so how come Chuck Daly couldn't? Ken Levine/Allsport
However, by his third year, it looked like he was being phased out as the Nets drafted Georgia Tech point guard Kenny Anderson with the No. 2 overall pick in the '91 draft. Anderson had box-office appeal, given his short but electric college career as well as his New York City roots. Blaylock did start most of the games at point guard that season as the Nets reached the playoffs for the first time since 1986, but Anderson was definitely coming along.
The hiring of Chuck Daly as a head coach before the '92-93 season sealed Blaylock's fate. Blaylock did not endear himself to the new coach in the preseason and team management preferred the more high profile Anderson. Thus, Blaylock was gone with the Nets getting Robinson, who Daly wanted as a Vinnie Johnson-type player.
What makes the deal more interesting is that Robinson happened to be the player who broke the hearts of many basketball fans in New Jersey as he was the Michigan player who sank the two free throws to beat Seton Hall in the 1989 NCAA finals. Robinson helped the Nets to the playoffs the season of the trade but was dealt to Charlotte at the start of the next season and eventually lingered around the CBA for a few years.
Blaylock firmly established himself a floor leader for the Hawks and he also rediscovered his 3-point shooter's mentality, something that wasn't there in New Jersey.
Anderson was a great talent, and the Nets did reach the playoffs in the first two seasons after that trade with lots of help from Derrick Coleman. However, for all the talent he and Coleman had, they lacked the leadership and maturity to lead the Nets past the first round. By the 1995-96 season, both Anderson and Coleman had worn out their welcomes in New Jersey and were long gone, with the Nets having to rebuild yet again.
A side note about Blaylock: It wasn't just NBA scouts who saw his potential during his time with the Nets. A Seattle rock band named themselves and their first album after Blaylock before his agent got involved and demanded money for the use of his name. No matter, the band changed the name of the album to Ten, Mookie's uniform number, which would be the defining album under their new name - Pearl Jam.
Hawks Score Big Point in Nets Deal USA Today -- November 4, 1992 By Peter Vecsey
Picking up where they last let us down, the bountiful Nets solved Atlanta's pointless guard situation Tuesday by bestowing much-coveted Mookie Blaylock on the Hawks in return for the privilege of taking much-maligned Rumeal Robinson off their hands.
But who's quibbling?
Aside from having established himself as a capable playmaker and outside scoring threat, Blaylock is only one of the NBA's elite defensive specialists.
Of course, there are no guarantees; it might take Blaylock more than one practice and a pregame walk-through to beat Morlon Wiley for the starting job.
What a score for the Hawks and eyesore for the Nets!
All Robinson accomplished during his two-year Atlanta stay was to alienate teammates. Particularly Dominique Wilkins, who resented being ordered around and critiqued by someone still smelling of milk.
On the other hand, teammates rarely enjoyed playing with Robinson. It might have had something to do with his unwillingness to share the ball, passing only after exhausting all other options.
In fairness to the Nets, Robinson's presence won't compromise coach Chuck Daly's floor exercise. He doesn't have to rely on Rumeal's remedial playmaking skills. He has Kenny Anderson going for him. Robinson can concentrate on backing up Drazen Petrovic at off-guard, where it's felt he'll be more comfortable and dangerous.
It would've made more sense, though, to keep Blaylock around to complement Anderson, to be used as daily competition, reinforcement and a growth stimulant. At least until Kenny establishes himself as a durable leader who can't be shamelessly abused on defense.
Nets draft C Yinka Dare at No. 14
Yinka Dare ties his own shoe ... insert own joke here. Doug Pensinger/Allsport
The Nets' track record with first-round draft picks is pretty spotty. See such players as Eddie Phillips (1981), Jeff Turner (1984), Dwayne "Pearl" Washington (1986), Dennis Hopson (1987), Rex Walters (1993) and Ed O'Bannon (1995). Buck Williams was one of the few who was taken with a high pick and stayed for a long time. Others were taken and flourished elsewhere such as Blaylock and Bernard King.
The poster boy for the Nets' draft ineptitude over the years is Yinka Dare. Then-general manager Willis Reed loved drafting big men, not surprising given he starred at center for the Knicks during the '70s. Reed was enamored with Dare, who had played just three years of organized basketball -- two of them at George Washington University. However, instead of continuing to learn the game in college under Mike Jarvis, Dare defied everyone and turned pro.
Dare had knee surgery that offseason and played just one game his rookie season. He was buried on the Nets bench for most of his four seasons. He played just 110 games and 1,002 minutes with the Nets, averaging 2.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and dishing a grand total of four assists before being dealt to Orlando in 1998. He quickly faded away from NBA after that but still lives on as a punch line for jokes about the Nets.
April 7, 1983
Larry Brown resigns as head coach to take the head coaching job at Kansas
Brown has the made an art of changing jobs. However, the way he left New Jersey was painful for a fledgling franchise.
Hmmm, I wonder what it would be like to coach in Wyoming ... no, Pakistan ... oh, I'd like to coach underwater ... I wonder if Mars has any openings? Ezra O. Shaw/Allsport
The Nets were en route to 50 wins when Brown secretly interviewed for the vacant position at Kansas without the permission of owner Joe Taub. Brown was eventually offered the Jayhawks job, but Taub gave him an ultimatum: Stay with the Nets, where he had two years remaining on his contract; or leave the team immediately so as not to further disrupt the locker room chemistry, which had been adversely affected by rumors of his job search. Brown chose the latter.
The Nets went 2-4 down the stretch, finishing with 49 wins (still the best mark in team history) before dropping two straight to the Knicks in the playoffs.
Brown coached Kansas to a national championship in 1988 but departed soon after to coach the Spurs. He would also have stints with the Clippers and Pacers before jumping aboard with the Sixers before the 1997 season.
Brown Turns Tale As Kansas' Man Who Would Be Dean Washington Post -- May 1, 1983 By Tony Kornheiser
So maybe this is for all time, not merely a lark. Maybe this is Granada, not Asbury Park. Maybe Brown isn't just a drifter, but a dreamer, and maybe Kansas is the Oz where his dreams will come true. Maybe he'll stay so long they'll change the name of the town from Lawrence to Larry. But at each stop along the way Brown has said that this is what he wanted. And at each stop along the way something happened to make it less so. At Denver, Brown had "a falling out with management," a personality conflict with Carl Scheer, the team president. At UCLA, he came up against meddling boosters who created too much "outside interference." At New Jersey, Brown "felt like an outsider. I envisioned people rallying around our team, and we never really got that."
As the noted skeptic Roseann Roseannadanna used to say, "It's always something."