Foul Play: BK Moves the Nets

Yesterday, while sitting in The Underground, I had the dubious pleasure of watching the 76ers play the Nets. It was a close game, with the Nets holding a slim lead, one that had initially been much larger. The 76ers were shaving it away though, point by point. There was still hope for both teams. Five minutes. Then one. Then seconds. The 76ers took the lead, and the Nets needed a three-pointer to tie.

Oh, the tragedy of supporting New York sports teams. Across almost every sport, there is a curse on teams from the Empire State. This week, the Brooklyn Nets joined their sister teams in racing to the bottom. After building a phenomenal team based around superstar Kevin Durant, top-tier point guard Kyrie Irving, and 2016 first-round pick Ben Simmons, it was supposed to be a team capable of keeping the Nets in the postseason contention year on year, and maybe bring in a ring or two. After relocating from Jersey, and consistent one-and-done playoff heartbreaks, this was supposed to be the Nets’ big year, or at least, the start of a new dynasty. The Nets had commenced a great experiment, throwing their faith into their three big players.

Of course, this is Foul Play, and no joy escapes this column. After signing Durant and Irving in 2019, neither player had much playing time in the 19-20 season, with both sitting out due to injury. Year one of this new duo, a seventh seed and a one-and-done sweep in the postseason.

Year two was impressive. Irving put up a 50-40-90 season, becoming the fourth to do so while also averaging over 25 points per game (PPG). And yes, Durant was one of those other 50-40-90/25 PPG players. It should have been a match made in heaven. The production kept up as the Nets clinched the second seed, blew the Celtics out in five games, and were on the precipice of greatness.

And then in the second round, Irving got injured and the Nets lost in seven. The most promising season, destroyed by injury, a story that haunts even the best of teams. What if Irving hadn’t gotten injured? What if the Nets had won even one game more against the Bucks?

Durant started fishing for trades in the 22-23 season. Irving started becoming a controversial media piece, and the team that had seemed poised for greatness appeared to be falling apart. But even with the rumors swirling, the Nets managed to hold on to the 5th seed. And then, Durant called off the trade request, opting to stick with the Nets. Sure, Irving was back in the news, but they’re playing basketball. They’re winning games. This is their year. The great Nets experiment played on.

With less than a second left, the ball was tossed back in play. They needed a three to tie, and the ball was tossed far from the three-point line. At half court, a Nets player grabbed it, took a breath, and threw the ball.

And it went in. The crowd started screaming, and for a moment, I wanted to start screaming too. In The Underground. At like, 8 p.m. This was the sort of storybook ending to games you wanted to see. The Nets had forced a game to overtime on a last-second buzzer beater.

The Nets called it quits on the experiment this week. Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a handful of players, and some seventh-graders. I mean, draft picks. For 2029. Don’t you just love the NBA?

It was okay, though. They still had Durant, Ben Simmons, and now, Spencer Dinwiddle. It wasn’t a superstar lineup, but it was still pretty good.

No. No stop what you’re doing. That’s called “optimism” and this is basketball, and when teams start going down, they go down hard. So, as everyone (who had a few too many drinks) expected, the Nets traded their big man to the Phoenix Suns, for a couple of players to keep them afloat, and a huge number of picks. And yep, some seventh graders got traded too, because why don’t we start thinking about basketball players who are still learning algebra. The Nets were giving up, and they were back on the rebuild. They had two handfuls of picks, a serviceable team, and the 5th seed. They have a shot at making things work.

My heart was pounding, seeing the Nets cheering. Dinwiddle looked perfect, and ESPN kept playing the instant replay.

Then, my heart dropped. I looked at the refs, huddling around the replay booth. I watched the replay again, and again, and again, and then I realized something.

Dinwiddle was still touching the ball when the clock hit 0.0. That incredible shot, that perfect basket to tie it all up, wasn’t valid.

A few moments later, the refs said the same. The call was overturned. The game was over. No overtime. No chance to turn it around. The Nets had taken a 12-point lead at one time and had lost it. They’d stayed above water, only to get dragged down by the 76ers. And in the last seconds of a close game, they had their tying shot ripped away from them. Their hope was gone. It was a poetic representation of their last few years. Perhaps the most accurate depiction of being a New York sports fan.