Only a team who plays in New Jersey could be jealous of Philadelphia.
The "New Joisy" Nets are still in the NBA, but they’re in it like John Edwards is in politics.
The NBA record for futility in a single season is nine wins and 73 losses, set by the Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73. It’s a record that’s been moderately threatened, at times, in the 36 years since.
Now it’s being circled, surrounded, and threatened more than Jodie Foster in Panic Room.
The Nets, after losing to the Washington Wizards Friday night, stand at 4-41. They won on December 4, December 8, December 30, and January 27. They’re the only team that can recall every one of their victories this season like you could recall what you had for dinner last night.
And it’s not like anyone could really see this coming. The Nets won 34 games last season, 34 the season before that, 41 before that, and 49 the year before that.
The Nets sprang out of the gate like Uncle Wiggily this season, dropping their first 18 games. The season began before Halloween, and the Nets didn’t win their first game until more than a week after Thanksgiving.
You want long losing streaks? The Nets will stop you on the street, open their coat, and show you losing streaks dangling from inside.
The Nets have compiled losing streaks of 18, 11, and 10. They were “hot” for three games in December, when they went 2-1 after their 0-18 start.
Okay, so no one saw 4-41 coming, but these are the New Joisy Nets, and that hasn’t meant all that much.
The Nets were the team that off-loaded Julius Erving in 1976—that would be Dr. J himself—because they didn’t want to pay him. The beneficiaries of this heinous act? The Philadelphia 76ers. Go figure.
The Nets used to play in New York until they got booted out. Then they played a couple of seasons at Rutgers University while an arena was built for them.
The Nets are a product of the old American Basketball Association, and were one of the four refugees from that league when it folded and its remnants were absorbed by the NBA in 1976. They were, by far, the worst of the quartet.
The Denver Nuggets won 50 games in that first NBA/ABA merged season of ’76-’77. The San Antonio Spurs won 44. The Indiana Pacers won 36.
The New Jersey Nets won 22.
The Nets didn’t have their first winning season in the NBA until their sixth try. They started making the playoffs annually, but they were cameos, walk-ons. Actually, they were more like walk-OFFS—as in the Nets were consistently shown the playoff door after the first round.
As if you needed any proof that basketball coach Larry Brown is a vagabond, Brown even coached the Nets, from 1981-83. That’s a guy who likes coaching too much and who clearly doesn’t care where he does it.
Yet these lovable Nets entered into a Satanic pact and made it to two straight NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. No, they didn’t come close to winning them, and were cannon fodder for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs, respectively.
Then Jason Kidd left town and the team has yet to recover.
But aside from those two speaking appearances, the Nets have mainly been extras in the NBA—bit players. This season they’re taking on a new role.
This season the Nets are playing the part of the Washington Generals, that laughable opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters for most of the latter’s exhibitions. All that’s been missing from a Nets game this season has been the bucket of confetti and Meadowlark Lemon’s half-court hook shot.
On Friday night, the Generals/Nets actually had a shot at winning—or at least tying. They lost to the Wizards, 81-79. The Wizards are a bad team too—no Globetrotters—but there’s bad and there’s the Nets. There’s ugly and there’s Keith Richards—know what I mean?
Washington’s Earl Boykins, a veritable Lilliputian—he stands all of 5’5”—dropped home a 16-foot game-winning jump shot as time drained from the clock. There was 0.4 seconds remaining when Boykins struck. The Nets had been beaten with a fraction of a second left, by a fraction of a player.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Nets guard Courtney Lee afterward. "We're starting to compete. We're starting to fight. But there are things down the stretch we need to work on."
Yeah, like keeping from being beaten by guys who are smaller than Shaquille O’Neal’s breakfast. But once again, the Nets can only blame themselves. Boykins was an unemployed rookie free agent when the Nets signed him in January 1999, starting tiny Earl on his now 12-year NBA career.
The Nets are coached by Kiki Vandeweghe, who once played for the team when it was actually semi-respectable. Vandeweghe played college ball at UCLA, where they would sometimes win four games in a week, instead of the 93 days it’s taken the Nets to rack up their four victories.
So the ’73 Philadelphia 76ers are now on the Nets’ radar. The Nets have to go 6-31 the rest of the way to avoid the ignominy of breaking the granddaddy of NBA records for failure. And that’s no slam dunk; 6-31 is a winning percentage of .162. The Nets are now piddling along at .089. That’s not a winning percentage—that’s a Mel Gibson blood-alcohol level.
So the next time you fret over the Pistons and their 15-30 record, remember that it’s still 11 full games better than the Nets. And if you’ve never attended a Pistons game when they’ve won, circle February 6 on your calendar—next Saturday.
That’s when the Nets come to town—also known as "Guaranteed Win" Night.