Like Julius Erving era, these Nets can capture generation of fans

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Here’s the thing: They had me.

And they could’ve kept me.

I was the perfect age: 7 years old. I was collecting superstar sports heroes as my hobby: Joe Namath, Tom Seaver. It was July 31, 1973, when Julius Erving arrived here, traded by the Virginia Squires to the Nets for George Carter. It made little impact. It was the Nets. It was the ABA. The Knicks’ title two months earlier had barely registered in my universe, but that was Pop’s team, so it was going to be mine, too.

Until …

Well, until we got our eyes on the Doctor. Until every couple of nights that coming winter, the good folks at Channel 2 or Channel 4 or Channel 7 would show a snippet of video of what was happening at Nassau Coliseum. Some games were available on Channel 9; we started to tune in there, too.

It was halftime of one of those Sunday afternoon games when it happened for the first time. Steve Albert was interviewing Erving. They talked about dunking. And so Erving started to dunk: one leg, two leg. One handed, two-handed. Forward, sideways, and then …

Behind his head?

Did he just dunk behind his head?

And we were gone.

The Knicks? The Knicks were the old guys who played in the city. The Nets played at the Coliseum, just a few blocks away. The Nets had those red, white and blue uniforms. The Nets played with that red, white and blue basketball. The Nets had Dr. J. and Larry “Mr. K” Kenon and Super John Williamson and Billy “The Whopper” Paultz.

The Nets won the ABA title in 1974. My room was a shrine to the Nets. I had a red, white and blue light splashing through a real-net twine and rim illuminating my room. I was Nets for life. Two years later, they won again. I was 9. I was Nets for beyond this life.

And then, of course, I wasn’t.

The problem wasn’t just that they got rid of Dr. J a few weeks before they joined the NBA; I stuck around the Jets after Namath and the Mets after Seaver, which all happened around the same time. I could have stayed. I could have watched Tiny Archibald. I could watch Super John. Even using the dull brown basketball, the Nets were my team. Forever. Except then they went away — to some faraway place called Piscataway for a few years, then East Rutherford, and to a 9-year-old Long Island kid, New Jersey might as well have been Wyoming.

(The Jets moved, too, but by then I was 16, and by then I really did understand that Jersey wasn’t in a different time zone. Also, at 16, there are other things occupying your obsessions beyond local sports geography.)

So that was that. I let the Nets move to Cheyenne. I transferred to the Knicks and signed up for all the baggage that would require. The Nets were dead to me. Too bad, too. Some of the most fun times I ever had in my life were watching Nets games.

I bring this up, of course, because there is a fresh batch of 7-year-olds in our midst now, and 10-year-olds, a fresh supply of kids who aren’t necessarily committed through birthright to carrying on the tradition of rooting by rote for the Knicks. We have come to accept that the Nets will forever be the No. 2 team in town — so many of their fans seem to actually prefer it that way — and so it has become fact.

But Kevin Durant is a pretty good 2021 approximation of what 1974 Dr. J was. Kyrie Irving is a mixture of Mr. K, Super John and Bill Melchionni all rolled into one when he’s on top of his game. DeAndre Jordan is, like, Whopper 5.0, doing all the little things Paultz did back in the day, but doing them all about 3 feet above the rim.

They’re a good team, but more to the point they’re a fun team. Maybe there are too many older basketball fans set in their ways, their loyalties cast in iron (an admirable trait, by the way, not one to be mocked). But there are kids out there, with choices to make. I know those kids. I knew those kids.

I was that kid.

Vac’s Whacks

It isn’t just that The Bee Gees’ documentary on HBO is remarkable; it is. It’s a reminder that a lot of guys of my generation spent so much time in our misspent youth in the service of arguing the “disco sucks”/”rock is dead” debate we forgot that great music was available on both sides of that slash.

Darryl Strawberry remains one of the easiest to root for of our ol’ athletic heroes. His new book, coming out Jan. 12, is called “Turn Your Season Around” and it deals with everything: the drinking, the addiction, the jail time, the two bouts of colon cancer. And here Darryl still is, a traveling minister teaching kids the evils of opioids. May he do that for years to come.

Los Angeles really is expert at taking nice things from us, isn’t it?

It really does seem that Kevin Durant does what he does without even breaking a sweat, doesn’t it?

Whack Back at Vac

Michael Diamond: That Tom Thibodeau knows how to squeeze the last drops of juice from an orange is irrelevant when the Knicks are made of so many lemons!

Vac: The Knicks are a rather citrusy, acidic bunch.

Brandon Appier: Joe Judge might be the right coach for the Giants, he may not — but what to make of Daniel Jones? Until that’s established no telling the direction of this organization or the future of Judge. Not optimistic at this time. Been down this road before — a lot resting on this QB.

Vac: Of all the things the Giants needed this year, the one thing that’s frustrating is what they aren’t likely to get — 100 percent clarity one way or the other on the quarterback.

@local1025: The Knicks made a really good choice with Tom Thibodeau. The team has to trust him, if they do, sky is the limit. That’s a big if, by the way.

@MikeVacc: Big, long, vast, deep …

Matthew Frank: Longtime Nets fan going back to 1976 when my dad took me to the Coliseum. Been through it all from Piscataway to Newark. Nets will always be second fiddle to Knicks. Even makes this more sweeter!

Vac: There is an entire generation of basketball fans just not fighting where their loyalties ought to go around here. That will be fascinating to monitor the next couple of years.

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