Nets History with Herb: The First Season
By Tom Dowd
On Oct. 23, 1967, the Brooklyn Nets franchise played its first game as the New Jersey Americans. A Brooklyn basketball junkie who was friendly with coach Max Zaslofsky and several players, Herb Turetzky was asked shortly before tip-off to serve as official scorer. As the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, Turetzky remains the official scorer, working the table at Barclays Center every game. Over the course of the season, we’ll check in with Herb for a Q&A of his memories of significant moments in franchise history.
In this edition, we look back at the franchise’s first season. Trucking magnate Arthur Brown was running an AAU team called the ABC Freighters when the ABA launched. Brown took the New York franchise in the new league, and hired his ABC Freighters coach, former St. John’s and NBA star Max Zaslofsky, as coach. Unable to secure a home court in the city, though, the team played its first season in New Jersey’s Teaneck Armory. Former Thomas Jefferson HS and St. John’s star Tony Jackson led the Americans in scoring. Yogi Berra tossed up the first ball at the opening game. Joe Namath came to see buddy Art Heyman, the former Duke All American guard who was partners in Namath’s bar, Bachelors III. And at the end of every game, the players rushed for the showers — sometimes fighting over them — before the hot water ran out. The inaugural season ended with a forfeited tie-breaker game that cost the Americans a playoff spot.
What did you think when you heard this new league was starting up?
I thought it was great. Because we grew up watching these guys play in tournaments at the Brownsville Boys Club. The Easter tournaments at the Brownsville Boys Club were incredible. You had all the fellas who had played college ball, played Eastern League ball, some NBA veterans, and they were all playing. As kids we would sit there in the stands and watch them play and it was fantastic. We knew all of them. And the ABA really started with mostly Eastern League players, guys who played in these tournaments. They were second chance guys who were thrilled to get a chance to play. They were playing in the Eastern League, $50, $100 a game. Now if they were lucky they might get twice that … if the checks would clear. But they had a chance to play. Instead of driving to every game they would bus it, sometimes they would even fly. It was exciting. And having known most of the guys, we couldn’t wait to see it because we were basketball junkies.
What do you remember about Arthur Brown? What was your impression of him?
Had a beautiful Rolls Royce. Parked it outside of the Teaneck Armory at every game. He was a man who had money. And he treated the game as if it were a pro operation. There was no press room there so they used the officer’s club upstairs at the armory. And they outfitted it every night after the game — it wasn’t before the games like we have here — but after the game every event, it was almost like going to an affair, bar mitvah, Sweet 16. Hot and cold stations. Waiters. Open bar. And so we were up there after the games with writers, with players, with friends. It was a great place to go to.
What was coach Max Zaslofky like?
Max was a little bit of a character. He had led the BAA in scoring in ’45-46 right before the NBA officially became. And he was good. I saw Max he was shooting baskets at the boys club. He was a great shooter. He was a good guy. He wasn’t full of himself, because basketball wasn’t what it is now. They weren’t making a lot of money playing. There was no place to get it. So he would work wherever he could. He worked for Arthur Brown’s company. Arthur Brown liked to hire former players. In later years Max worked for the Syms clothing company, because again Syms liked to hire former athletes. But Max was a good guy. His wife Elaine was very nice. He had a daughter, Joanne, who was our age. We became friendly with her, and his son was Jeffrey. We spent time with them.
How was the atmosphere that first season?
The stands were basically empty. If we got 500 to 1,000 people each night, it was a good crowd. They were sitting on movable chairs and the bleachers they just put up for each game. The armory was a vast building. It housed tanks and trucks. It was huge. And they put the court down. I think it was the old Boston Garden court that they had gotten. Lot of empty space around it. You look past the basket you see 200 feet beyond it because they only put stands on one side. They didn’t really build up a fan base, because they weren’t winning either.
What kind of player was Tony Jackson?
Tony Jackson, up until the evolution of Ray Allen and, my goodness Stephen Curry, Tony Jackson was the purest jump shooter I’ve ever seen in my life. In high school at Madison Square Garden in the playoffs, he scored 54 against New Utrecht one game. John Condon was announcing the game. He would go, ‘Tony Jackson … ah, that’s him again. That’s him again. Another one by TJ.’ He was that good. At St. John’s as a sophomore he joined a team that had four senior starters — Alan Seidman, Gus Alfieri, who was Kenny Atkinson’s high school coach, Lou Roethel and Dick Engert. They were a good team. Tony came in and they became an All American team. Tony was the MVP of the Holiday Festival at the Garden. He was the MVP of the NIT at the Garden, which at that point was the biggest tournament in the country. St. John’s won both of those. Tony became a first team All American for two years. He could shoot from the deep corner — there were no three-pointers in those years — but he could shoot it from as deep as you could do it. His release on his jump shot, he was off the ground about three feet before he let it go. And squared to the basket every time. He wasn’t much of a driver to the basket; he didn’t like getting hit. But Tony could shoot the ball. I’ve seen very few; Ray Allen, and now Steph Curry. Beyond that I’ve never seen anyone who was as good a jump shooter.
What happened with the forfeited tie-breaker at the end of the season?
We went to Commack Arena for the playoff game. We tied the Colonels for the last playoff spot. We got to the arena in Commack. The floor was horrible. I recall seeing holes in the floor that were big enough for guys’ feet to fit into. They studied it for about an hour-and-a-half. (Commissioner) George Mikan was there. I was on the phone … we tried to get coach (Lou) Carnesecca at St. John’s to see if somehow we could switch the game to St. John’s to get over there. Coach wasn’t in and we couldn’t find anybody to give us clearance for the arena. We wound up where Mikan finally said we had to forfeit.