Comfort. That's what we want from the dudes on the team we root for. When the ball is in their hands, we want to feel at ease. Rooting for a team is such a gut-wrenching, exhausting trip that you need a calming guide to take you safely through the hallucinations and fever dreams of fandom.
Jason Kidd was the epitome of this. When he was on the court, all was well. He’d figure it out, regardless of the situation. We were in good hands. We also want moments we can reminisce about. If the guy seems happy to be there, that's gravy. But since that one guy got a headache and left, there haven’t been many players to don the Nets sweater who have afforded us fans these requirements. In fact, I’d say there’s only been one: Anthony Morrow.
The first game I watched Anthony Morrow in person was the first Nets game in Newark. The Prudential Center was an awkward halfway house, a stopgap measure to prevent I don't know what. Nothing about it felt like a home, and the team performed accordingly. But this first game was actually pretty fun. The Devin Harris-led squad played hard in front of a decent, spirited crowd. A third quarter comeback laid the foundation for a Morrow game-winner. Huh. Not bad. On the way out of the building, arena staff directed exiting fans in "Let's go Nets!" chants. We might have something here.
He just kept shooting. He couldn't keep up with the furious pace he set in Golden State (when he arrived in Jersey he actually had the highest three-point percentage of all time, fractions ahead of Steve Kerr), but he hit enough. He was and is the type of shooter that forces you to lean forward in your seat every time a three goes up. The Nets were bad, really bad, but he just kept shooting and the ball kept going in. It was one beautiful creature comfort amidst a gaggle of turmoil and tears.
After years of shooting, Morrow got his chance in the three-point shootout in 2011, a rare Nets presence at all star weekend. This was a hard-earned treat for Nets fans, but then Morrow forever locked himself in the hearts of basketball fans across the Garden State: He was going to wear Drazen's jersey. Oh boy. Morrow claimed that he'd had the idea for this unnecessarily kind gesture almost from the very first day of his Nets tenure. The moment Morrow removed his warmup jacket to reveal the number three remains a proud moment for fans of a team whose history is regularly brushed aside and was about to be all but thrown out on the way to Brooklyn.
He kept shooting. And acting the right way. My friend Pete once told me he saw an interview with Morrow in which he said New Jersey Nets fans were the greatest fans in the world. (I've never been able to locate this relic, but it's a myth I'll gladly believe in.)
As a devoted Nets fan, I can tell you this simply isn't true. New Jersey Nets fans were not the greatest fans in the world. I don't need to tell you this, though, because you're a devoted Nets fan also and you know this isn't true. If it was, Ratner and company would have had a much tougher go relocating the team. But Anthony Morrow (allegedly) said this and acted like he meant it, like he was proud to play for this franchise. When Melo knocked out four of his teeth in that first post-Linsanity game at the Garden last year, Morrow spoke about his suddenly gap-toothed smile like a medal of honor -- a manifestation of his passion for his team.
And dude kept shooting. As Brook got injured, Morrow just kept shooting. As Deron sulked, Morrow just kept shooting. As the Nets lost, night after night, Morrow just kept shooting.
One faceless night in Newark I watched him drop 42 against the Timberwolves. A truly magnificent scoring demonstration, something Nets fans pretty much never got to see in the waning Jersey years. The fact that I know these facts by heart -- 42 points, four teeth, game-winner against Detroit -- show the impact he made on me. I couldn't tell you a single stat line of Kidd or Kenyon, but I know these. They lost to the Timberwolves and it wouldn't have even mattered if they won; the playoffs weren’t in sight. But this performance was a lighthouse in an awful fog.
As Morrow makes his return to NY/NJ, it's easy to see where he would have fit on this current Brooklyn squad. He would have been snugly tucked behind that three-point line, right where he always fits. As Stack cools down and Money Mirza (hopefully) heats up, Morrow could have been the constant, the comfort. Instead of tensing up when a three went up, fans could have relaxed.
In a game against Phoenix in 2011, Morrow got fouled on a three at the end of regulation. The Nets were down three, so these were all necessary. (Oh, also, this was Deron’s first home game, but the thing I remember is how Morrow scored nine points in the last 22 seconds of regulation.) As I sat there, up in the nosebleeds, I felt an unwarranted calm. A comfort. Anthony Morrow was at the free throw line with a ticket to overtime in hand. What else could I ask for? I knew he would just keep shooting.