Commentary

R.I.P Meadowlands, 1981-2010

Originally Published: April 13, 2010
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Izod CenterJeyhoun Allebaugh/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Nets played their final game at the Izod Center. The result? A 10-point loss to the Bobcats.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The young fellow who scored the final NBA points at the Meadowlands was surprised to hear that he shares the same last name with the guy who scored the first two points at what was then known as Brendan Byrne Arena.

Surprised, but not dumbfounded.

Because if there is one thing Terrence Williams learned in college from Louisville coach Rick Pitino, it was to respect the elders, including former Net Buck Williams, who made it possible for Terrence's generation to earn millions.

"He would talk about all the older guys he thought were great, Buck Williams, Bernard King, Junior Bridgeman, Dr. Dunkenstein (Darrell Griffith), stuff like that. So you've got to get a little history class before you actually get to play for him," Williams said.

Williams became the answer to a trivia question on an evening when Larry Brown also achieved a rare feat as the Charlotte Bobcats defeated the New Jersey Nets 105-95 Monday night in the final NBA game to be played at the Meadowlands.

Brown ended up being the winning coach of the final game, which is especially noteworthy since he was the coach of the losing team, the Nets, when the building first opened in 1981. (The Nets opened 0-4 that year before winning their first game, with current Hawks coach Mike Woodson icing the victory with a pair of free throws -- one of the highlights that was shown on the Meadowlands' outdated overhead scoreboard on a night of nostalgia at the arena unofficially and not-so-affectionately known as "The Swamp.")

"I was the first and last, right? What does that tell you -- how dumb are these people that keep hiring me?" Brown joked. "I'm sure if I look over my career I've been in a lot of buildings and outlasted them. Me and Nellie and Lenny and coach Sloan. I don't know if that's a good thing."

The Nets will move to the Prudential Center in Newark next season and plan to spend two years there before relocating across the Hudson River to Brooklyn.

That two-year window may end up being overly optimistic given the glacial state of progress in getting the Brooklyn construction (and the sale of the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov) underway, but in any case there will be no returning to the hard-to-reach arena off Exit 16-W on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Despite its proximity (8 miles) to Manhattan, the Nets never drew fans consistently because the arena was not directly accessible by public transportation. That will not be the case next year when fans from New York and New Jersey will be able to reach the Prudential Center in Newark by rail.

Expected to be sitting courtside again next fall will be Nets scorekeeper Herb Turetsky, 64, who attended his 1,102nd consecutive Nets game Monday night wearing an original 1981 Nets warm-up jacket that was once the property of Mike O'Koren. (Turetsky got the warm-up in 1984 when he coached a team of college graduates -- including current Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama -- at a tournament in Belgium and France. Since the team had no warm-ups, the Nets emptied their closet and gave Turetsky a stack of three-year-old sweat jackets and pants for the team to use. Turketsky ended up missing the Nets' first-round playoff victory that season against the Philadelphia 76ers, but he made it back for the second-round series against Milwaukee and hasn't missed a game since.)

Turetsky was in the house the night Shaquille O'Neal dunked the ball so hard he pulled down the entire basket stanchion, and he has mixed emotions of the memory because his son was working as a ballboy that night and was stationed beneath the basket that Shaq brought crumbling down. (The younger Turetsky was uninjured).

Newark will be the fifth official home for a franchise that began life in the old ABA as the New Jersey Americans and played at the Teaneck Armory. They were based in Uniondale, Long Island, were known as the New Jersey Nets and won the final ABA championship when this correspondent was 11 years old and worshiped Dr. J. But they sold the good doctor, Julius Erving, to the 76ers to raise the indemnity money to pay the New York Knicks for the right to play in the same territory when the ABA and NBA merged, abandoned their rabid fan base when they left the Nassau Coliseum, rechristened themselves with the New Jersey moniker and spent five seasons playing on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J. until the Meadowlands was constructed.

The arena, now known as the Izod Center, will remain standing but will only play host to concerts and other non-sporting events.

Not that anyone will miss it all that much, charmless as it is (was).

The first game I ever covered here was an NCAA regional pitting Cincinnati against North Carolina in the spring of 1993, the Tar Heels shutting down a young sharpshooter named Nick Van Exel in the second half to eliminate the Bearcats.

I have covered full houses (the best was Game 5 of the 2003 finals, when New Jersey forced a Game 6 against San Antonio) and empty houses (snowstorms have kept crowds in the hundreds a few times), very good teams and very bad ones, and countless forgettable games along the way. But there also were memories that stick out, stuff like the one and only night Rasheed Wallace suited up for the Atlanta Hawks after he was traded from Portland and before he was subsequently dealt to Detroit (he later sent word to Hawks trainer Wally BlasÚ to ship him his Hawks jersey as a keepsake), or the night I told Lakers center Travis Knight he could be the next Jim McIlvaine if he kept putting up big numbers (sure enough, it happened, although Jerry West upbraided Knight for using McIlvaine as a career role model).

I asked one Nets employee to recall a certain game that stuck out in his memory, and he came up with two anecdotes: One was the night Rod Strickland, who had been out late the night before with Sam Cassell, vomited on the court during the middle of a play (they didn't clean up the puke until the next whistle); and the night when Pat Riley was coaching the Knicks and Chuck Daly was coaching the Nets, and John Starks took out Kenny Anderson with such a hard foul that Anderson was never quite the same player afterward.

Outgoing Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe reminisced about how Knicks fans used to pack the building and drown out the Nets faithful when he played for New York, and longtime New York Post beat writer Fred Kerber (who called the arena "Hades" earlier this season) had a chuckle as he recalled how he once scored two tickets for his friends, who found themselves seated alone in section 234 in the upper deck and were told by an usher to keep their voices down despite the fact they were cheering for the Nets.

There was a night, and I was a witness to this one, when a new public address announcer pronounced Bucks guard Sam Cassell's name as "Sam Castle" and Cassell was so miffed (he had been traded by the Nets only months earlier) that he channeled his anger into a personal ass-kicking against his former team, and I was in the building the night Jason Kidd's ex-wife, Joumana, surreptitiously sent their son, T.J., into the Nets locker room to retrieve her husband's cell phone, then spent the first half rifling through his contacts and yelling at Kidd (as the game was being played!) about the number of female names that were contained therein.

The last night at the Meadowlands brought one last tale that deserves to be told, so here it is. Bobby Simmons, who has not appeared in a game since Jan. 5, was in uniform for New Jersey against the Bobcats but did not play.

And the only reason he was in uniform was this: He forgot to bring a sports jacket, and his teammates told him he'd be fined for violating the NBA's dress code if he sat on the bench without one.

"I gotta dress tonight," Simmons told trainer Tim Walsh.

And dress he did, logging a DNP-CD for the final time before exiting the arena onto the maze of highways, access roads and exit/entrance ramps that made getting to and from the Meadowlands nearly as difficult by car as it was by train.

Good night, Meadowlands, but we'll spare you the good riddance treatment.

There are just too many vivid memories, good and bad, to say something quite that negative about a place that, despite all its faults, was the site of so much happenstance over its 29 years as a basketball venue.


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