How do we sports fans rationalize the miracles we witness on the court? You know what I am talking about: the half court buzzer beaters, Cinderella upsets during March Madness, etc. The only logical explanation is that there is a higher power known as the Basketball Gods who look over and bless our beloved teams.
Well then, who’s to blame when our team is not a beneficiary of good fortunes?
Perhaps there’s another supernatural entity that exists in the sports universe. If the Basketball Gods are responsible for all that’s good, then maybe there’s the Hoops Devil to balance the equation. Who else would cause all of the heartbreak, bad luck, horrible calls, freak injuries, unlucky bounces, curses, jinxes, hexes, and championship droughts?
Every organization at some point has been a victim of the Hoops Devil’s cruelty, but doesn’t it seem that he (or she) has more fun tormenting certain fan bases than others? If you are searching for a case study, look no further than the lovable Nets, both from their days in the Jersey swamp and now in Brooklyn.
The Hoops Devil has been very clever in torturing the souls of the die-hard fans, especially since 1990. It may seem as if the Nets have been perpetually bad; however there have been many instances in which greatness appeared to be on the horizon until something catastrophic occurred. This has happened too many times during my lifetime, and this is precisely why I am in need of an old priest and a young priest.
Now before you have me committed, consider the following:
Exhibit A (1991-93 seasons):
After several years of futility, an impressive core of young talent was assembled featuring the likes of Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, and Drazen Petrovic. Bill Fitch and then Chuck Daly led them to consecutive playoff berths as the sixth seed, but they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers both times in the first round.
The rematch against the Cavs ended with a decisive fifth game on the road, which should be considered a success considering we were without Anderson to a broken wrist (thanks John Starks!) and Petrovic was hampered and limited by a sprained knee ligament.
(Note: The Nets were 39-27 when Petrovic first got hurt and finished 4-12. This dropped them to the sixth seed.)
Although we didn’t advance past the first round, progress was felt and with the legendary Daly at the coaching helm, the Nets appeared to be headed in the right direction for years to come. Disaster then struck shortly after the 1993 playoffs when Petrovic tragically died in a car accident. The Nets would never be the same.
They also lost their heart and soul.
Petrovic’s void was filled by Kevin Edwards and the Nets returned to the playoffs the following season to face their cross-river rivals in the first round as a seven seed. The Knicks eliminated them in four games and Daly ultimately retired.
The Butch Beard era was officially underway, and the Nets would average 29 wins for the next 3 seasons. Hellooooo Armen Gilliam!
Exhibit B (1997-99 seasons):
The second season under John Calipari saw the Nets finish with 43 wins and a playoff match-up with the defending champion Chicago Bulls. The Nets were swept out of the first round, but there was tremendous optimism regarding the future with the talented youth of Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles complementing the solid veteran core of Kendall Gill, Sam Cassell, and Jayson Williams.
This wasn’t the only time a Nets starting lineup was over hyped on a magazine cover.
To say the following season was a train wreck is putting it mildly. The team fired Calipari after winning three of their first 20 games, Cassell was dealt for Stephon Marbury, and Williams’ career essentially came to an end as his leg was broken after a nasty collision with Marbury.
Exhibit C (2006-07 season):
Ask any Nets fan what the missing piece was during the Jason Kidd era, and expect to hear “a big guy who could score down low”. Enter Nenad Krstic who immediately meshed well with Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter. Their “Big Three” was quickly becoming a “Big Four” as Krstic had just completed his first full season in which he averaged 13.5 points as a 22 year old.
If this didn’t happen, Mikki Moore wouldn’t have become a multimillionaire.
Twenty six games into the 2006 season, in which he was averaging over 16 points per game, Krstic tore his ACL. His breakout season came to a screeching halt, and although he returned the following season, he was never the same player.
Exhibit D (2010 NBA Lottery/Offseason):
Fresh off of their 12 win season, the Nets had the best odds of winning the draft lottery which would have guaranteed them a franchising changing player in John Wall. Even the second overall pick would have given them what appeared to be a nice consolation prize in Evan Turner. Luck or lack thereof, the Nets ended up with the third overall pick.
To make matters worse, this was the same off season in which LeBron James toyed with and rejected management’s pursuit. Rod Thorn then had a senior moment when he signed Travis Outlaw (5 years, 35 million dollars) and Johan Petro (3 years, 10 million dollars) to laughably, lucrative deals.
Not exactly Thorn’s finest accomplishment.
Exhibit E (2013-14 season):
This exhibit is still under construction; however you should be able to recall all that has gone wrong since we aren’t too far down Memory Lane. Think about how much hype surrounded this team following the prized acquisitions during the offseason in which the Nets appeared to have rectified every flaw with a significant upgrade. A 60-win season and a deep playoff run was certainly in the realm of possibilities, especially since the team had won 49 games the year before.
Oh well, where shall I begin? The fact that “Deron’s Ankles” may replace Achilles’ Heel in the English Vernacular or that Andrei Kirilenko has changed how we look at “day-to-day” injuries? How about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry aging in dog years?
Aside from all of the other issues, Brook Lopez breaking his foot for the second time in three years was the most devastating blow to their title hopes and the future outlook of the team. Even on an extremely talented roster, Lopez was their best offensive player whose size gave them a competitive advantage over most opponents.
You knew the Hoops Devil wasn’t going to let this season go smoothly, right?
With a roster comprised of aging players in the twilight of their careers, Lopez always seemed to factor into the long term plans. At 25 years old and still developing, he has earned the recognition of arguably being the best offensive center in the league.
Even with his most recent surgery, Lopez’s future has a cloud of doubt hovering over it as his name is now associated with Bill Walton and Yao Ming. Nets fans will cling to the hope that his career will resume down the same path as Zydrunas Ilgauskas instead.
Seems like this is all too much of a coincidence, right? If you’ve been around the block as long as I have, you learn quickly to expect the worst at any given moment. What other way is there? At least now there is a logical explanation for all of these unfortunate events.
Maybe I am wrong here and we should be thankful for the special treatment the Nets have received from the Hoops Devil. After all, this has always kept things interesting and without it our franchise would just be ordinary- nothing noteworthy. On second thought, perhaps I have developed a severe case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Why the Hoops Devil has it out for us, we will never know. Hopefully the day will come soon when another franchise captures his/her attention. Until then, keep in mind that we are at the midway point of this season and the second half could get even more interesting…