He had almost as much trouble selling men on taking jobs in the organization. It took a month and more of constant telephoning, three-a-week meetings and Boe's personal guarantee on salary provisions of the contract before he could get Lou Carnesecca, the highly successful St. John's coach and a very popular man with the New York press, to come in as general manager and coach. At that Boe gave the coach a year to fulfill his contract with St. John's. But even a big-time coach could not fill the arena. Mike Manzer, the team's 34-year-old sales and promotion chief, spent the first two seasons trying to build attendance. How about Turtle Night? Sure enough, the fans got the little critters in boxes and, sure enough, it wasn't long before turtles were crawling all over the stands—and the Nets heard about it from the ASPCA. Another time, Manzer uncovered a band of St. John's students who wanted to honor one of their old grads, Nets star Sonny Dove. There was a flourish from the band and the P.A. announcer heralded the launching of a real live dove in Sonny's honor. The students opened the box and the real live dove flew out. It took roughly two flaps, died and crashed right into the stands.
The worst fiasco occurred when the Nets finally made the playoffs at the end of Boe's first season. The home opener against Kentucky was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, a day and time when the Nets had drawn their best gates of the season. The owners were hoping for a sellout, but someone forgot to tell them about the weather. It was mid-spring, there were leaves on the trees, birds were chirping, and baseball was in full bloom. That Sunday afternoon was the day when Little League tryouts were being staged all over the Island. Fewer than 500 paying customers showed up, and just before game time Boe put his arm around Manzer's shoulders and said, "It's all right, Mike. Why don't you go over to Whitey's snack bar and get those people in here? We gotta try something to make this look good."
The Nets themselves were gradually starting to look good to perhaps the most important people in Nassau County's bedroom communities: the kids. The team ran a Christmas tournament for peewee players and a summer clinic for high school boys; a basket was rigged on the back of a truck and in two summers the team's players and coaches gave free instruction in shopping center parking lots and schoolyards to 100,000 youngsters. Any pretext to give a Nets ticket to a child was pretext enough.
Boe was also busy building a team. After an unsuccessful run at Bob Lanier, now All-Star center for the NBA Detroit Pistons, and Geoff Petrie, an NBA co-Rookie of the Year for Portland, he heard about Rick Barry. In the summer of 1970 Barry was involved in another of his interminable contract hassles, this time trying to wriggle free of an agreement with the ABA's Virginia Squires in order to return to the NBA's Warriors. In the course of an interview Barry made some uncomplimentary remarks about the Old Dominion, and suddenly one of the very best pro players was anathema in Virginia. It took Boe only a few minutes on the phone with Squire Owner Earl Foreman and Barry to decide that he would pay the huge sums both wanted to make Barry a New York Net.
The Barry deal marked a turning point. The Nets refused the opportunity to sign Julius Erving because he was still an undergraduate at Massachusetts, but when the team was awarded the draft rights to Marquette star Jim Chones, Boe quickly landed him with a $1.5 million contract.
In their first two years in Island Garden the Nets generated an aggregate income of $400,000. Last season (when they were supposed to play all their games in the new Coliseum but played only half of them because of construction delays), the Nets earned nearly five times the gross of those other years. And the team's power began to become evident: once the Nets were in the Coliseum, it was routinely accepted in ABA circles that New York would become the league's strongest franchise. In fact, there were immediate questions about how that strength would be used. (In the NBA, the Knicks had dominated the league's finances and politics for years even though they had rarely been on top in the standings. It is not mere coincidence that the NBA Commissioner's office is in the Madison Square Garden complex.)
The same was being said of the Nets last spring when ABA Commissioner Jack Dolph resigned before his contract came up for renewal. Boe was one of two men assigned to find a replacement—and his friend Bob Carlson was the man. Carlson was well known to ABA owners before his election. He had done legal work for the league office and had attended trustees' meetings for several years, yet, as one ABA insider says, "I think Carlson is a heck of a choice and a fair man, but I have to believe that if I were a Memphis or a Carolina man I'd watch myself carefully around him, particularly when I'm dealing with the Nets."
It will always be Boe's special pride that when the Nets—the team and the franchise—finally grew up they did it with a bang. They burst out all at once during a playoff game with Kentucky last April, in an evening of wild, vocal explosion. There were sudden new vibrations, fan with fan, player with player and crowd with team. The Nets' winning basket that night, tossed up by John Roche amid the pleading screams of 15,000 Long Islanders and the silent blinking of the time clocks, was an unreasoned and unreasonable shot. Because it was, it brought absolute, roof-blowing excitement. Boe could not have hoped for a more apt triumph.
The setting for Roche's shot had been slowly pieced together since the Nets had moved into the uncompleted Nassau Coliseum two months earlier. The players adapted quickly to their new floor and rallied from a poor first half of the schedule to finish third in the Eastern Division. Even though they had compiled their best record ever, they still finished 24 games behind division-winning Kentucky, and New York faced the Colonels in the initial playoff round.
Surprisingly, the Nets won the first two games in Louisville before returning to the Coliseum—which finally had almost all of its 16,000 seats in place. They lost that midweek game. When Boe arrived at the arena for the Friday game that followed, he already knew that the house was sold out and that his franchise would gross approximately $100,000 that night, a total roughly equal to the team's entire income the first season he owned it. What he did not know was that Barry, who had scored 50 and 35 points in the Nets' wins over the Colonels, was home in bed with the flu.