Can the New Jersey Nets avoid earning the tag of the worst NBA team ever?
Entering last night's game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, all the 6-55 New Jersey Nets needed was to win four of their final 21 games.
Herb Turetzky, the team's official scorer since the franchise's first season in 1967, laughed somewhat nervously as he went game by game through the schedule. Maybe they'll do it, maybe they won't. But this team, he is convinced, deserved a better fate.
"They're not the worst team in history," Turetzky said. "They're not even close. They're not even the worst team in the league [now]. But the record is what it is."
No one, mind you, cares more about this franchise than Turetzky. His streak of consecutive home games is at 1,092, dating to a playoff series he missed in 1984 because he was in Europe. The last regular-season game he missed was March 1, 1978 when he was sick with a cold. (He remembers it vividly because his replacement told the Hawks they had one more timeout than they really did, which resulted in a costly technical foul late in the Nets' 97-95 win.)
You can hear in his voice just how tough this season has been. "I used to say, 'You know what? I lived through two 17-win seasons and I never thought it would get worse than that,' " Turetzky said, referring to 1989-90 and 1968-69. "But this year, well, there was that movie out a couple years ago with George Clooney called 'The Perfect Storm.' That's what this year is."
Recently, another blow: A few weeks ago, the Nets reached an agreement to break their lease with the Meadowlands. They plan to move to the 3-year-old Prudential Center in Newark after this season as they continue their long wait for their new home in Brooklyn.
Turetzky was crushed. The Meadowlands has been home since 1981, and he's already thinking about those who won't make the trip. A car accident in 1968 left him with injuries that make walking difficult, a problem that has gotten increasingly worse in recent years, and Turetzky can't say enough about the Meadowlands workers who make getting around easier.
It's not unusual, he said, for a security guard to stop players from leaving the parking lot after a game for him. "They have Lamborghinis," he said, "waiting for my Honda Odyssey."
In the past few years, we've seen Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium close with celebrated ceremonies, but it's hard to picture the Nets departing the Meadowlands with a big send-off. They might prefer to end this season in silence, considering the record they are threatening to break.
Turetzky is holding out hope this team will finish with more wins than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers (9-73). Turetzky knows the coach of that team, Kevin Loughery, from Loughery's days coaching the Nets in the 1970s, and according to Turetzky, Loughery has said this Nets team definitely is better.
Turetzky certainly believes that. He was encouraged when the Nets stunned the Celtics in Boston for win No. 6 on Feb. 27, but they followed that up the next night by losing to Washington by four points at home. So much for building on a victory.
"I've been concerned since then," Turetzky said.
This run as Nets official scorer for life began almost by accident, essentially because he attended a New Jersey Americans game in '67 and the coach asked him to keep stats. Next thing he knew, he was the official scorer, a part-time gig that he likes to say has afforded him the best seat in the arena.
This season, he might just see history made from that great front-row seat. And he doesn't like it one bit.