- Adrian Wojnarowski
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SAN ANTONIO -- Roy Boe is talking on the telephone, resisting the temptation to repeat that nasty word tossed to him again and again: He is a prince of a man, responsible for two American Basketball Association championships but this, this ... this -- curse -- has been chasing him a long, long time. He wants it out of his life.
"All that curse stuff is gone," Boe declared.
Almost, Roy. Almost. He is a prince of a man, a courageous cancer survivor the doctors gave little chance five years ago. He has lived to see his vindication with these Nets, the rise out of the rubble that is forever traced back to the original owner of the NBA's Nets. Roy Boe is basketball's Harry Frazee, selling Julius Erving to the 76ers the way the old Red Sox owner sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The Curse of the Bambino met the Curse of Dr. J, a sale of the greatest Net ill-inspired out of a contract dispute, a bum knee and several million dollars due the NBA and the New York Knicks for the ABA merger.
"He had those bad knees, but could've I made the wrong business decision with Julius?" Boe said. "Looks like I did. I knew he was a great player, but I didn't know how great he was. In balance, it was probably a bad decision."
Twenty seven years ago, the Nets beat the Spurs in a seven-game series for a trip to the American Basketball Association finals. These were the end of the glory days for the Nets, slipping past the Spurs, before beating the Denver Nuggets for the last ABA championship. Just one day after Dr. J beat the Iceman, George Gervin, something historic happened for the Spurs: Tim Duncan was born.
If Duncan is finishing the season as the largest, looming threat to dash the Nets' NBA championship dreams, he sure started it as the largest, looming threat to steal the franchise's best player since Erving -- Jason Kidd -- this summer. When Kidd was traded to the Nets two years ago, he couldn't wear his No. 32 because it was retired and hanging in the Meadowlands rafters with those ABA banners, because it belonged to Erving.
There is forever a strange symmetry with the Nets. Everything comes back around. Everything. Beyond Dr. J., there is a ghost hanging over the franchise. Nobody talks about it. Nobody remembers it. It's there. Take a walk in the Teaneck Armory, where the original New Jersey Americans played the franchise's first season in 1967-68, the introduction of ABA basketball when it was still pre-big afros and million-dollar college bonus babies. Over run with Eastern League vets and college point-shaving scandal survivors, "we had guys used to making $50 a game in Wilkes-Barre getting paid $200 and $300 a game now," Boe recalled.
Nevertheless, they finished the regular season tied for the fourth and final playoff spot with the Kentucky Colonels. They were supposed to host a one-game playoff at the Armory on March 23, 1968, but the circus chased the Americans to the Commack Arena on Long Island. Trouble was, nobody bothered to check out the court.
"There were holes in the floor that were big enough for me to put my foot in," then and now, the Nets scorekeeper, Herb Turetzky, says. "I put some calls into St. John's about getting over there to play, but nobody was in. After a while, Gene Rhodes, the Colonels' coach said, 'Even the yahoos back in Kentucky wouldn't play on this floor.' (ABA commissioner) George Mikan had no choice."
Mikan declared the court unplayable, New Jersey had to forfeit the game, Kentucky advanced to the playoffs and New Jersey never played another game in Teaneck Armory. Officially, the old brick building is owed one ABA playoff game, payable in Game 3 of the NBA Finals with the Nets and Spurs.
From his office in Bridgeport, Conn., where Boe had traded an NBA team for his AHL franchise, he is rooting hard for the Nets and remembering the telephone call he made in those early 1970s that has gone a long way to reversing the curse now. Rod Thorn, currently the Nets' general manager, had finished his playing career with Seattle, been accepted to the University of Washington law school and planned on leaving pro basketball in his past.
"Kevin (Loughery) and I talked him into coming back and working on Kevin's staff," Boe said. "I was a little instrumental helping him get the Chicago (GM) job and now he's made history here ... Rod has done an unbelievable job with the Nets franchise. He doesn't get enough credit for the moves he's made. Not even close."
See you at Game 4 in the Meadowlands, Boe says, insisting the Nets are no longer a long shot to beat the San Antonio Spurs. Even now, sure, it sounds ridiculous. The New Jersey Nets, NBA champions. "Hey, I came down with the Big C five years ago. I had never been sick -- cancer of the esophagus. I was 210 pounds, dropped down to 146 and almost died. I pulled through it at Yale-New Haven Hospital and after getting my brains beat in, they've pronounced me in remission after five years now.
"You can count on a certain amount of luck in your life, but you've got to make part of your luck, too."
So, Boe sold Dr. J., but started Thorn back a quarter of a century later on a journey to resurrect the Nets. He swears he never sold the soul of this franchise. He beat the Big C, so the little one -- the curse -- hasn't hung so heavy over him these past few years. Yes, Roy Boe is so sorry he let Dr. J. loose in '76.
Take the Nets' title?
Take Kidd, too?
The Curse is coming to its crossroads. Is it gone? Too much could still go wrong here. As much as anyone in sports, Nets fans understand this. Almost there, Roy Boe. Almost home.
Adrian Wojnarowski, who's a columnist for The Record (N.J.), is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.
14hMatt Walks, ESPN.com