Hope. It is the one word that drives every sports fan’s thought process. People root for their favorite team year after year because they have hope. Hope that one day their team will hoist a championship trophy. Hope that they will be among throngs of fans in a victory parade. And most of all hope that their years of physical, emotional and monetary investment will someday pay off with that feeling of unadulterated joy that results when your team is on top of the sports world.
As a die-hard New Jersey Nets fan, I have been hopeless for quite a few years. My faith in the team has slowly been shattered ever since our last NBA Finals appearance in 2003. I watched us sign Alonzo Mourning, Chris Childs and Marc Jackson in desperate attempts to add pieces to the team to capitalize on Jason Kidd’s prime. I also watched the 12-70 train-wreck unfold before my eyes, and botched experiment with Sean Williams. I have been through a lot as a Nets fan over the past seven years, and each year my faith – that one day I would be standing amongst thousands of Nets fan celebrating a championship – diminished. However, after attending Avery Johnson’s introductory press conference today, hope has been restored fully.
Johnson spoke of his vision for the team. He preached defense, rebounding and accountability, things that haven’t existed in New Jersey for quite a few years. He talked of his winning pedigree as a player, and as a coach. He also touched on adjustments he is making from his first coaching job in Dallas to become even better than his .735 winning percentage indicates. As he spoke, I listened intently. After each question he answered I began to feel more and more confident that Johnson was the right man for the job. He was a winner who has never known anything else so he won’t tolerate losing. He also wants to be here. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice that this opportunity to be a part of the Nets is something special. Additionally, not only did I come away impressed with Johnson but his players did as well.
In a telling sign of their support, the two young cornerstones of the franchise – Devin Harris and Brook Lopez – were in attendance. They talked to the media including myself, and had smiles on their faces. They seemed excited that a new day has dawned in New Jersey, and relieved that the horror of last season is finally over. Everyone else in the room was buzzing also, and YES Network even broadcast a live “special event” from the press conference.
Watching all of this unfold in just one day was an awesome feeling, and the fact that Johnson’s hiring has generated this much excitement is a sign of things to come. The Draft is next week, and the Nets hold three picks in the top 31, and free agency begins the following week. More pieces will inevitably come aboard, to accompany Johnson and Mikhail Prokhorov into the new era of Nets Basketball.
As for me, I’m just happy to have hope once again that one day the Nets will march down the streets of New Jersey (or maybe Brooklyn) with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in their hands, and me in the crowd. That is all one can ask for as a sports fan, and finally my hope for this team is back from its seven year vacation.