The Man For Every Season
From the opening game in 1967, Herb Turetzky has been the Nets’ official scorer for 50 seasons
Herb Turetzky’s basketball life has not been confined to this one spot, even if it is the best seat in the house, center court for every Nets home game. It’s tempting to think so, to box him in there and picture him at the scorer’s table. Since the day the New Jersey Americans tipped off for the first time in 1967, before Dr. J and Jason Kidd, before Nassau County and the Meadowlands and Barclays Center – before they were the Nets – Turetzky has been this franchise’s official scorer.
The affiliation opened doors, facilitated connections, made the opportunities possible. All it took was a love of the game to make the most of it, and that was the easy part.
It’s what brought him here in the first place. Just a guy from Brooklyn coming out to see a game. Tony Jackson was playing for this new team in this new league, and Herb had followed his neighborhood friend from the Brownsville Boys Club all through Thomas Jefferson HS and St. John’s. And Connie Hawkins, the Boys High legend, was playing for the Pittsburgh Pipers. Just two of the best ballplayers Turetzky had ever seen in Brooklyn facing off. Even the coach, Max Zaslofsky, was a neighborhood guy from Brownsville, a star at Jefferson and St. John’s 15 years before Jackson.
So Turetzky took the trip out to Teaneck with his buddy Danny Mascia, another star in the old Jefferson to St. John’s pipeline, and Jane, who he married in 1970 and still accompanies him to every game. And then he got drafted.
“No one was there at the table,” said Jane. “They had everyone ready to go, they had referees, they had everything in place, except the scorer.”
So Zaslofsky called over to the kid – Turetzky was still a student at LIU – he knew from hanging around the basketball gyms and the courts over the years and asked him to help out at the table.
What followed was more than he could have asked for.
He was there every night for the closest thing pro sports has to an underground legend, Julius Erving’s skywalking ABA heyday away from the bright lights of the NBA. They forged a friendship that had Erving accompany Turetzky in 2004 for his induction into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
He ran the NBA’s Pro Am League in New York in the early 1980s, a place for hungry players to find off-season competition at a time when the city was overflowing with talent. From there, he took All-Star teams of the league’s best on tours of Europe.
“Summer leagues in New York City in the ‘80s were the greatest,” said Turetzky. “You had three or four big leagues going on. You had the Rucker League uptown on the weekends. You had the downtown league at Xavier High School three or four nights a week and we were uptown at City College at the Pro Am league at night.”
Through those connections he was able to help players find a spot to play, whether it was a pro looking for a team in Europe or a younger kid looking for a college scholarship. When he helped former Net John Williamson’s son, Maurice, find his way to LSU, Turetzky struck up a friendship with Maurice’s gregarious roommate – Shaquille O’Neal.
The legendary Maurice Stokes Game at Kutsher’s Country Club drew the NBA’s best in its early years – Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and more – and after Stokes passed away and his teammate Jack Twyman stopped running it, Turetzky eventually stepped in and took over, bringing NBA players up to the Catskills each summer for a charity game to help raise money for former players in need of medical care.
Through it all there’s been the Nets.
They tossed him in the shower after winning the ABA title, where he found himself the sounding board for a weary Erving, sipping champagne after another season as the league’s savior. Then he went with them to the NBA, to Rutgers and Brendan Byrne Arena, the franchise’s fifth home in its first 15 seasons.
The league grew and changed, and Turetzky went from being younger than most of the players to being a contemporary to their senior. But he still keeps in touch with some of the Nets from the early teams and the ABA days, four decades later.
Along the way, others became like family – John Williamson, Drazen Petrovic.
Turetzky’s son David was a Nets ballboy during Petrovic’s seasons with the Nets, and the Croatian sharpshooter would work out one-on-one with David, coach him along and even hand down his sneakers. Petrovic’s death in a car accident in 1993 was crushing.
“The world just ended with that accident,” said Turetzky. “The phone call. The realization. The funeral. Everything. It was just the most devastating thing I could think of.”
It took a while, but better days came again. The back-to-back Eastern Conference championship teams brought back the energy of the old ABA champions. Turetzky chronicled it all, saving mementos along the way that grew into an epic memorabilia collection – blazers and basketballs, sneakers and jerseys, trophies, posters and ticket stubs. Everything you could imagine, and some things you couldn’t. When he and Jane downsized from the house in Bayside to an apartment, they squeezed as much as they could into a bedroom and their daughter Jennifer made her own basement an unofficial Nets museum the way Herb always had.
He’s been honored with induction into a half-dozen or so Hall of Fames and scored more than 2,000 games. He’s got a consecutive game streak approaching 1,400 – every home game the Nets have played since May 4, 1984.
He thought about leaving when the Nets left IZOD Center for Newark, but the opportunity to come home to Brooklyn kept him hooked. Five years later, at the end of his and the team’s 50th season, he’s not quite ready to give it up. It’s basketball in Brooklyn, and what’s better than that?
“We drive in every day and every night coming here I smile,” said Turetzky. “It’s romantic, thinking of where we’re going. Seeing the changes in the borough, as we’re driving through Williamsburg and Greenpoint and down Flatbush Avenue. New high rises. New restaurants. This is about eight or nine subway stops from where I grew up as a kid. If this was ever here when we were young, it would have been the greatest thing in the world. That’s what it feels like today.”