The New York Nets have a doomsday weapon called the Dr. Dunk. Their coach chews gum and cheers at the same time and looks kind of cute. The roster is loaded with players who grab headlines as readily as rebounds. Through judicious management, aggressive leadership and a lot of money, the Nets have assembled an exciting team in the last couple of years, with plenty of fizz, pizzazz and a serving of razzmatazz. Watching it is like watching your first magic show. You get the feeling something is about to happen, but you never know what.
The Nets lead the league in enchantment and in the exuberance that is common to the young and gifted. And, like many kids, when they are good they are very, very good and when they are bad they are horrid. Where they are bad is usually on the road.
Last week, for example, they dropped three away games, causing Coach Kevin Loughery to swallow his chaw of Doublemint. At home, the Nets have lost only four games so far this season, which is why they have been in or around first place in the ABA's Eastern Division.
This was supposed to be the week these defending champions all but cinched the division title, allowing them to relax for a month of reading stock reports and endorsing hair transplants while awaiting the playoffs. Instead, New York wound up folded by Utah, spindled by Denver and finally mutilated by Kentucky. They began the week 2� games ahead of the Kentucky Colonels and wound up dead even with them. "It's been a negative week," said Julius Erving in Louisville Saturday night.
Part of the problem was that Center Billy Paultz's back went snap, crackle and pop every time he moved. Also, Guard Brian Taylor had some sore knuckles and, though Loughery kept praying, the bench was about as effective as mail-order religion.
The Nets have had nightmares before. They lost nine straight near the beginning of last season before they woke up screaming and moved a young guard by the name of John Williamson into the lineup. That was Loughery's first year and after his teeth stopped chattering he guided the team to the division title and a sweep of the playoffs in which the Nets won 12 of 14 games.
At times last week even Erving seemed sluggish, as if he were wearing too many clothes. He scored only 14 points while Denver plastered New York with a 34-point defeat, then came back on tired knees and had but 15 against Kentucky. Dr. J was Dr. No.
The team centers around Erving. His nickname could be "Doughnut," since he was made to dunk. An Erving dunk is the most exciting play extant, the Doctor soaring high and free and slamming the ball down with a flourish.
Erving leads the club in nearly everything but broken promises and drives sportswriters to despair as they strive to compose a lead paragraph that does not mention his name. But the rest of the players hasten to point out that the team could not win 10 straight games, as it did in late November and December, or take 28 out of 33 during one stretch, if it were a one-man team. In fact, listening to everyone moan about his identity crisis, you almost expect the team trainer to be Sigmund Freud.
"Sometimes I watch Julius do something that I know I'll never see again on a basketball floor," says Brian Taylor. "He's a legend in his own time, but there are a lot of good players on this ball club. Julius happens to be the greatest. Look at the championship teams of the past. Each one has had an identity. That is what we are trying to establish."