Published November 20, 2014
Hours after Gov. Chris Christie bid the Brooklyn-bound team good riddance, the stars of the team's 35-year stay in the Garden State gathered at the team's final game to talk, laugh, share old memories and express some sadness the franchise is leaving for a new home.
The typically blunt Christie kicked things off roughly four hours before the tipoff when he said he would shed no tears over the departure of the Nets, who lost their final home game 105-87 the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.
"My message to them is, goodbye," Christie said at an afternoon news conference at Newark Beth Israel Hospital where he signed a bill to promote organ and tissue donation. "You don't want to stay, we don't want you."
The Nets have played the last two of their 35 years in New Jersey in Newark at the Prudential Center Arena, the high-tech home built by the city of Newark and the NHL's New Jersey Devils in 2007.
The Nets' owners in the 1990s had sought to move the team to Newark from the Meadowlands but couldn't work out financing a new arena. They eventually sold the franchise in 2004 to real estate developer Bruce Ratner, whose plan all along was to move the team to Brooklyn, and the Nets wound up in Newark as they waited for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to be completed.
Christie scoffed at the team's decision to choose New York over New Jersey.
"That's one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it's in one of the country's most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn?" he asked. "Good riddance, see you later. I think there'll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, 'This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different.'"
At halftime of the game, about a dozen former players were introduced to the sellout crowd along with former team owners, executives and the mother of Drazen Petrovic, the talented guard who was killed in an automobile crash in Germany in 1993 after the team lost in the playoffs.
They did a lot laughing and reminiscing in a news conference after the ceremony.
"It's sad being it's 35 years that the franchise was here in New Jersey and to really be a part of that and knowing that it is not going to be here anymore, it's a sad day just for the people here in New Jersey," said Derrick Coleman, the Syracuse forward who the Nets took with the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.
Coleman said he always thought about what might have been had Petrovic not been killed, but at the same time he relished what they accomplished.
Of course, the laughs started when he was reminded of his infamous "whoopty-dee-damn-do" comment, something he said when questioned about teammate Kenny Anderson missing a practice one year.
"I was just talking to Kenny about that earlier, and I told him: 'I was sticking up for you' so I blame him all the time. It was the first thing that popped into my mind," Coleman said.
Anderson shook his head when asked about the topic.
"What do you want me to say about that, I missed practice 20-something years ago," said Anderson, who is a high school coach in Florida. "I missed practice and then Derrick said 'Whoopty-dee-damn-do.' It was a joke but everybody brings it up."
Micheal Ray Richardson was a little upset long-time owner Joe Taub didn't attend.
"If anybody should have been here, it was him," Richardson said. "He worked so hard to get an NBA franchise here."
Richardson said Taub is upset with the team leaving the state.
"To see it go is kind of rough," said Richardson, who said he talks to Taub every week. "But like they say, good things must come to an end."
Todd MacCullough, a member of the Nets' Eastern Conference championship team in 2002, enjoyed the night.
"I think this is a night to celebrate what happened in the past and to be excited about future," he said. "I am sure there are some Nets fans that came to the games at the Meadowlands or here and wished this wasn't; happening or that the team was staying somewhere on this side of the state line. But I guess the decision has been made and I hope the fans remember the good times and be a part of whatever their future holds in Brooklyn. I think it's a reason to celebrate and the players are looking fondly on their time."
Nets coach Avery Johnson sympathized with fans who had been following the team for years.
"I do in a lot of ways because you have some fans who have really been here, supporting the Nets," he said before the game. "You had fans who were here through the 12-win season, losing twice in the finals and that's really rough. It's tough getting there, but it's tough when you lose in the finals. I have been a part of a team that lost in the finals, but they continued to come back."
Told of Christie's comments, Johnson said: "Well again, everyone has an opinion. We're moving on. Hopefully, we'll move on and be successful."
Associated Press writer Tom Canavan contributed to this story.