By Sandy Dover
I don’t remember Derrick Coleman as a New Jersey Nets player. I don’t remember Kenny Anderson as a New Jersey Nets player. To me, they were Sixers and Celtics. Outside of their primes, slower, methodical, aged. Their legacies were independent of each other, but I can’t help but think of them together.
Life is about making the most of what you have when you have it, and how you use what’s available to you. It’s the same in basketball, but the height of the game, when you’re in the world’s best enterprise to play in, the stakes seem higher. Maybe they are. The Nets, as talented as they’ve been over the years, have had a terrible case of players and teams who don’t play to their greatest potential.
Our potential as human beings means everything and nothing at all. That’s why utilizing what we have in the most prolific ways that we can is so important – not just how the results are effective upon the physical, but what they do to the intangible.
When I think of Derrick Coleman, I remember the old footage of him at Syracuse University and in his early days in New Jersey. 6’10” and about 230 pounds. Tall, left-handed, and close to having no true weaknesses. He was Rasheed Wallace’s precursor, but he was also what Rasheed could’ve been. Neither he nor Derrick became what they SHOULD have been.
20 points and 10 rebounds was easy for Coleman, but the book on him was that he didn’t care. I first saw Derrick as an active observer when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. That DC wasn’t what I had known him to be, based on his rep. He was slower; smarter, sure, but less dynamic. He was fading away. “Whoop-de-damn-do” didn’t appear to be on his lips like it had been in the years prior.
It’s sad. “Basketball Wives” is the new legacy for one of New York’s finest. To some new fans of the NBA’s history, Tami Roman is all that they know of Kenny Anderson. Former ballplayer, and cheating spouse. An inspiration for another round of reality TV, for an audience that vacillates between being thoroughly disgusted and gleefully entertained. “Mr. Chibbs” was more than a footnote, but he was also strangely and fittingly just that.
I don’t remember the Nets player Kenny Anderson, the 2nd overall pick fresh out of his sophomore year at Georgia Tech; I saw the clips and highlights, but not in real-time. I have his 1994-1995 SkyBox basketball card that commemorates his lone year as an NBA All-Star in the previous season. I saw the Final Four reels that made him famous. The flashy, quick jabs and crosses around other players on his way to the basket.
I don’t remember that Kenny. I know the Kenny that didn’t report to the Toronto Raptors when he was traded for Damon Stoudamire. I know the Kenny that complained about his child support payments and near-bankruptcy when the 1998-1999 lockout came. I saw how he was able to maintain a regular job in the league as the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. This was when the green and white weren’t title contenders; no flash, no crazy talk, just veteran business. And gracefully, I saw Kenny slip away with dignity and in silence as he exited the league.
I know Derrick better as a community activist and business owner, as a guy continually looking to improve Detroit’s economy in the midst of financial crisis. Kenny, on the other hand, has been in school, he’s been coaching, and he’s been trying to build better relationships with his family – particularly his many children. He’s not complaining about how his jersey isn’t retired at Georgia Tech anymore, as he’s more invested in getting his reputation repaired and re-establishing his name in basketball.
I’ll boldly state that I’ve been a casual fan of the Nets for 17 years, and I’ll sadly admit that they’ve disappointed me with regularity the vast majority of that time. I was upset when Derrick got traded to Philly. I didn’t like that JJ or Todd MacCulloch couldn’t stay in New Jersey longer. I love Jason Kidd and he was a blessing in The Meadowlands.
(I’m still ambivalent about Vince Carter.)
With that said, I’d be remiss to offer my opinion that Derrick and Kenny both failed to bring all that they could have, particularly because the first impressions they made as Nets themselves were so noteworthy. The silver lining is that if it weren’t for those impressions, I wouldn’t have a clue as to why they were so important in the first place.
Sandy Dover is a published author, fitness advisor, and writer whose work has been featured and published by Robert Atwan’s “America Now”, U.S. News, Yahoo! and most prominently for SLAM magazine. You can find Sandy frequently via his SLAM San Dova Speak-Easy column and via his website.