New Jersey Nets – Oh What a Team!


Synopsis: You shouldn’t need me to tell you how bad the New Jersey Nets were as an organization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but let me indulge you anyway. As a case in point, the cover photo from 1989-90 Nets Media Guide/Yearbook was actually taken two seasons earlier. In particular, Roy Hinson (#21) hadn’t worn that uniform and Buck Williams (in the bottom right) hadn’t played for the Nets since the 1987-88 season. I remember similar mistakes in my high school yearbook as pictures of previous graduates somehow slipped by the watchful eyes of the editors; however, that was an extracurricular activity done by unpaid students and not a work assignment done by paid employees. Regardless, all was not lost for Nets’ fans during the 1989-90 season because they got to see two of the worst all-time draft picks (i.e. Sam Bowie and Dennis Hopson) play for a team that finished the season with a 17-65 record. I was fortunate enough see them play in a game that year; however, the evening was memorable for an entirely different reason.  


As frugal teenagers growing up in the 1980s, my friends and I fully embraced the tenets of capitalism. For instance, we prided ourselves on being able to avoid paying more than $10 for a ticket to a professional sporting event by focusing on bad teams (low demand) with a lot of unsold tickets (excess supply). We furthered the cause by avoiding weekends games and/or marquis match-ups (even lower demand) and showing up late (fire sale prices resulting from soon-to-be obsolete inventory). Living in the New York City area, we often were able to see the Yankees, Mets and Islanders but didn’t even try to see the Giants, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, or Devils given our $10/ticket threshold. With respect to the Nets, we challenged ourselves never to spend more than $5 to get into a game – and we never did.

The following is the ticket stub for a game between the New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks from January 3, 1990.

nets ticket
Even with complimentary tickets, the arena wouldn’t fill

Despite the $5 price, the “unauthorized ticket reseller” still made a nice profit given that his inventory was free (notice the “COMP” in the top right of the ticket). Considering the parking and concessions (although we brought some of our own), the Nets made money on us too. I guess it was a win, win, win scenario.

As you can see from the following seating chart, the tickets were actually pretty good (Section 102, Row 26, Seats 5-7).

This was the seating chart for a traveling circus at the Nets’ old arena, which aptly described the team for the 1989-90 season.

Unfortunately, the seats were too good because there were too many other people around to dampen our spirits. Instead, we liked going to Nets games at Brendan Byrne Arena precisely because we didn’t want to sit near anyone. Whereas most fans might try to sneak down to get a better view of the game, we preferred to sneak up to have a full section to ourselves. As you might imagine, no one checked ticket stubs in the upper section so we were able to enjoy the game as if we were the only ones there.

Inside Brendan Bryne Arena, the one-time home of the New Jersey Nets
Actually, the picture is blacked out because of the limited flash capabilities of a Kodak Disc Camera

The match-up between the Nets and Bucks that night met all of the criteria for our $5 ticket challenge.

  • Low demand – With an 8-21 record going into the game and a final record of 17-65, the 1989-90 New Jersey Nets were wonderfully pathetic.
  • Excess supply – New Jersey finished the season 25th out of 27 teams in league attendance with approximately 11,500 tickets “sold” per game in an arena with capacity for 20,000+. I used quotation marks because who knows hows many complimentary tickets were “sold” trying to fill the stands. Also, the average didn’t account for no-shows. I would be surprised if we ever went to a game with more than 5,000 people actually in the arena.
  • Even lower demand – The game was on a Wednesday night and the opponent was the Milwaukee Bucks. At the time, the Bucks’ best player (Rickey Pierce) came off the bench. Interestingly, Pierce won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award that season (for the second time in his career) and set a record for the highest season scoring average (23.0 ppg) without starting one game. That record is almost five points more than the second highest scoring average from a pure bench player (J.R. Smith averaged 18.1 ppg during the 2012-13 season for the New York Knicks.
  • Fire sale price from soon-to-be obsolete inventory – As described in more detail below, we didn’t show up to the arena until 30 minutes after game time so it wasn’t too difficult to convince the ticket reseller (who embraced capitalism even more than we did) that the value of his wad of tickets was in steep decline. Also, he believed us when we said that we would leave if we couldn’t get in for $5 each. I know it sounds crazy, but we would have left because the challenge was often more entertaining than the game. Come to think of it, we were probably obsessively cheap more so than frugal.

Given the cost of entry, we couldn’t complain that we didn’t get our money’s worth regardless of however bad the Nets played. Sometimes we saw players have good individual performances but rarely did we see the team play well together. As the following box score from that night shows, that game was no different.



Min FGs FTs Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers


Sam Bowie

43 5-9 11-12 18 2 2 0 4 21
Mookie Blaylock 41 6-13 0-3 2 6 2 1 6


Roy Hinson

39 7-15 3-4 6 3 0 2 3 17
Dennis Hopson 37 5-14 6-8 3 1 0 2 4


Chris Morris

32 8-11 1-1 4 0 3 1 3 17
Lester Conner 18 3-3 0-0 1 2 0 0 2


Purvis Short

16 1-3 0-0 0 0 1 0 2 2
Charles Shackleford 11 2-3 0-0 2 1 0 0 1


Joe Barry Carroll

3 0-3 0-0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Nets 240 37-74 22-27 37 15 8 4 25



240 43-84 22-31 31 28 15 4 15


Sam Bowie led the way with 21 points and 18 rebounds while three other Nets players (Roy Hinson, Chris Morris, and Dennis Hopson) each scored at least 15 points. Rookie starter Mookie Blaylock contributed 13 points and 6 assists, but also had 6 turnovers. In fact, the Nets had 25 turnovers versus only 15 for the Bucks. Milwaukee won the game by 14 points after converting six extra baskets (including two 3-pointers) on ten more attempts. Go figure, the Bucks had ten more shots on ten fewer turnovers. Equally glaring, the Nets assisted on only 41% of their baskets while the Bucks assisted on 65% of theirs. As usual, we saw a good individual performance (Bowie) and a bad team performance.

While we got into the game for only $5 per person, the whole night was much more costly for me as the result of a speeding ticket that I received on the way there. As the following ticket shows, I was stopped in the Bronx at 7:30 p.m., which created the delay such that we didn’t arrive at Brendan Byrne Arena until 30 minutes after the game started.



If you looked closely, you could see that I was ticketed for going 70 mph in a 50 mph zone while driving a 1980 white Buick sedan. Even though I knew I was speeding (probably going 65 in a 55), I ended up challenging the ticket in court because I questioned the cop’s claim that I was going 20 mph over the posted limit. First, the traffic cop didn’t have a radar reading showing that I was going 70, but rather estimated my speed by getting on my back bumper and looking at his speedometer. Second, he claimed that he “clocked” me in a 50 MPH zone even though I had already started to slow down before reaching the first posted sign showing the lower speed limit. The point of going through the details is not to convince you of my innocence (because I already told you I wasn’t), but rather to describe the extraordinary effort I put forth trying convince a judge that the officer wasn’t being truthful.

When I appeared in court, I brought several pictures (including the two shown below) to support my case.

As you can see, the Kodak Disc Camera wasn’t too good in the daytime either . . .
especially when pointed in the direction of the sun.










As part of my defense, I referenced the picture on the left to show a bend in the road that was too sharp for my 1980 Buick to take at 70 mph, as well as the picture on the right to show the change in the posted speed limit. In addition, I commented that I only sped up to let the cop pass me because he was following so close behind me. I even argued that the officer appeared to be right on my tail, and as we all know,

Don’t worry, I didn’t bring this picture to court. After all, Jurassic Park didn’t come out for another three years

Given that my hearing took place in the Bronx, I really could have used the help of Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin Vinny. Instead, my expert witness was my buddy who simply testified to the same facts. While his confirmation was helpful at first, it seemed overly rehearsed when he also referenced the warning on the side view mirror. Any last hope I had of winning ended after the following exchange with the judge.

Judge: Where were you going when you got pulled over?

Me: To a New Jersey Nets game.

Judge: Were you speeding because you were late to the game?

Me: No. I sped up because the officer was right on my tail. When I changed lanes so that he could pass, he turned on his siren. At no time was I going 70 though.

Judge: Hadn’t the game started already when you got pulled over?

Me: Yeah, but we weren’t late. We don’t try to get to a Nets game before the 2nd quarter anyway.

Even though my statement was true, I cringed after saying it out loud. The judge was kind enough to take a few minutes to “consider all of the evidence,” but I imagine she simply went to the bathroom and deliberated by getting a cup of coffee (just like a car salesman who claims to need to get his manager’s approval, but really grabs a coffee and doughnut in the break room). Needless to say, she returned fairly quickly and found me guilty after stating that she believed that I was speeding simply because we were late to the game.

In last night’s season finale of How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating (the main character) states, “There’s no truth in the courtroom. There’s just your version of what happened versus theirs. That’s how the justice system works. It’s not what’s right and what’s fair. It’s who tells the most convincing story.” As cynical as that quote might be, I have come to realize (not just from my speeding ticket experience) how true it is. By no means am I trying to argue that I didn’t get justice because there are too many examples of true courtroom injustice or abuse of power by authority figures for me to be able to make that claim. Instead, I hope you found my episode amusing, if not pathetic – just like my favorite basketball team that used to play in New Jersey.