The toughest man in New Jersey history isn't Bill Parcells or Kenyon Martin or Paulie Walnuts. He's 77-year-old Sheldon Ezor, who has, in the last 22 years, attended every single home game of the New Jersey Nets. And yes, that does include the evening of April 19, 1995, his 50th wedding anniversary. "I took Estelle to Paris after that season," he says, somewhat defensively, of his wife. "Went over on the QE2 and flew back on the Concorde."
Ezor narrowly defeats Aldo Zuppichini, who has, for most of the last 16 years, attended 14 to 18 Nets road games per season, plus damn near every home game. Five years ago, while driving from a Nets game in Seattle to a Nets game in Vancouver, Zuppichini was asked, by a customs official at the Canadian border, to state the purpose of his visit. "Nets-Grizzlies game," he replied. Zuppichini was promptly detained—and interrogated—for the next 60 minutes.
"They weren't buying it," says the `37-year-old sales executive. "And I guess I don't blame them."
See, any nitwit can follow the Nets now, as they play in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in the team's 26 unstoried seasons in the NBA. But to literally follow the franchise—which has moved from Teaneck, N.J., to Long Island to Piscat-away to East Rutherford, and now has designs on Newark—well, that takes a real kook. "I was there when we really stunk," says Ezor. "When Chris Morris was wearing TRADE on his left sneaker and ME on his right."
Morris is a prototypical ex-Net, a man who once walked into a hotel bar and told the piano man, "Play some Picasso."
"Don't forget Stinka," says Nets fan Louis Del Forno of notorious ex-Net Yinka Dare, who once asked if the C on Timberwolves captain Christian Laettner's jersey stood for Caucasian. Or so claimed Jayson Williams, the ex-Net who now stands charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of his chauffeur.
With fans like Del Forno and Zuppichini and Frank (the Human Possession Arrow) Capece—and actors Danny Aiello and James Gandolfini—Nets crowds can be mistaken for a Scorsese casting call. Lavish pompadours are everywhere in evidence at Continental Hairlines Arena, and indeed New Jersey is synonymous, in the national imagination, with big hair.
"And The Sopranos", says Zuppichini.
"And toxic waste," says his pal Tom Shelton.
"And 'Which exit?' " says their pal Rick Esterow of the wearying question frequently put to natives of the turnpike-cleaved Garden State when they say they're from Jersey: "Yeah? Which exit?"