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Nets History with Herb: Back to the Finals in 2003

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 2002-03 season. After their breakthrough run to the NBA Finals, the Nets traded starters Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch to Philadelphia for Dikembe Mutombo. That cleared room in the starting lineup for second-year forward Richard Jefferson. The Nets returned to the NBA Finals, winning 10 straight playoff games before dropping Game 1 against the Spurs. San Antonio went on to win the series, 4-2, erasing a fourth-quarter Nets lead in Game 6 at the Meadowlands.

What was it like on opening night in 2002 when they raised the conference championship banner?

We had people. We had gotten used to having people in the stands. It was nice. It was also warmer. When you have people in the stands the whole building gets warmer and it was easier. The fans have always been good people. They gravitate to the players, they gravitate to everybody working with the team. We get to know who they are. It was always nice. Here we have Mr. Whammy. We had other people back then who were at every game. 

What impact did Richard Jefferson have moving into the starting lineup?

I loved his athleticism. When he came in as a rookie you could see he was special. His body was right. He was a prototypical small forward. But he was only 6-5, 6-6. Now your prototypical small forward is 6-9. His shot wasn’t as good the first year as it got to be the second year. It became more dependable. He always made the right cuts. He had a good background from high school to college at Arizona as to what to do. And he stayed with the program. He wasn’t someone who looked to be a star. He wanted to be part of it. With Jason (Kidd) running it, life is easy. 

Was it a different vibe around the team that year?

A little more confident. There was more that was expected. They’d been to the Finals. They were no longer deer looking at a car’s headlights. They were expected to win games. I don’t think they expected necessarily to get to the Finals again. They expected to be competitive. And they were.

What happened in the Finals against San Antonio?

San Antonio was a good team. They were beatable. They really were. That was also the year I felt that Jason should have been the MVP. He came in second to (Tim) Duncan. I didn’t think it was right. I felt we had a chance. When we were 3-2 going into Game 6 and we had them on the ropes in the fourth quarter. I think it was maybe a 16-0 run, it broke my heart. I was looking forward to Game 7, going home and watching that and seeing what we could do with that. It didn’t happen.

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