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Because of injuries, vaccinations and dissatisfaction the Brooklyn Nets’ Big 3 only played 16 games together. How might we remember them if they made it to 17?
To understand the suspension that is time, one must examine the spider web cables that hold and ensnare it. It is 2029 and the Memphis Grizzlies are about to embark on their fourth Finals trip in five seasons. They already own the rights to two championships, having repeated as champions in 2025 and 2026. But they have not won a title since then. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the conference semifinals in 2027 and last year they fell victim to Giannis’ last miracle. To understand the delicacy of the situation, one only need compare Ja Morant of yesterday to the one of today. He doesn’t fly so high or so often, and when he does, gravity lingers a little longer on the limbs. The gather is a tad bit slower, as if he must talk himself back into the ways of youth, and yet here are the Grizzlies rumbling through the postseason one more time with a roster that looks nothing like it did the last time they won the title.
My son is at that age where he can finally recall memories as history. His basketball awareness is growing. He can remember how the Phoenix Suns avenged themselves against Milwaukee in 2023. He knows the Warriors’ last run to a title by heart. But his fondest memories are seeing Memphis win back-to-back championships. I tried to have him root for the San Antonio Spurs as I have, but he told me coldly, “Dejounte Murray isn’t going down in history, dad.” I responded, “He holds the franchise record for triple-doubles,” which he quickly denounced: “But who was the competition, dad?” Uh, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, David Robinson, a dude named Tim Duncan, I thought, but I was smart enough not to say out loud names that would only make me sound like one of the ancients. “I respect your loyalties, son, Ja Morant is going to be very good.” “Uh, yeah.”
I’d like to say “Cat’s In the Cradle” was playing when we had that conversation, but it wasn’t. But it’s possible Neil Young’s “Old Man” was. After all, we’re an Amazon Prime house. Anyway, transitions are difficult, and basketball is a game of transitions. They happen in-game. They happen in the offseason. The trajectory of the game looks as if it might head in one direction, but then it all turns. An era ends. Another era branches out and seize the unclaimed space in the forest canopy. When the Dallas Mavericks upset the Memphis Grizzlies in 2027, my son couldn’t believe it. I could. I’d seen it before.
Basketball history might have looked different if the Brooklyn Nets could have made it work
“I just don’t know why Jaren Jackson would foul Luka on the final play if they were up two, and if you do foul, you have to make sure he doesn’t get the shot off. What was that?”
2006, I thought, 2006.
At particular moments in basketball history, players and fans are forced to contemplate the what if. For my son, 2027 will forever be one of those moments where the trajectories of greatness could look different. Luka would have remained a very good player in the eyes of many if Jaren Jackson had not fouled him, and the Memphis Grizzlies would likely have been the first team to three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers did two-and-a-half decades prior. But that didn’t happen.
“You know, this whole era of yours exists inside a what if.”
“This whole era would have been different if one thing had gone differently.”
“Don’t tell me how many titles the Spurs would have won if Kawhi’s uncle hadn’t whispered in his ear like that bald dude in that inappropriate dragon show you made all of us watch at too young an age.”
“Well, if you had watched that show all the way through and not grown so uncomfortable watching the fornication scenes, you would have learned a thing or two about what-ifs.”
The kid rolls his eyes at me, or whatever kids are doing in 2027 to display disgust and impatience with their elders.
“I’m talking about the greatest team that never was.”
“That never was?”
“You’ve probably heard about the Seven-Seconds-Or-Less-Suns, but this team—”
“Was that Devin Booker’s squad?”
“No, the Seven-Seconds-Or-Less-Suns had Amar’e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, and Steve Nash—”
“The Orlando Magic coach?”
“Yes, the Orlando Magic coach, which still surprises me because he never really seemed like a lifer for the occupation. Anyway, at the start of the decade, he was coaching the Brooklyn Nets—”
“Sure, but not then. They had played everything perfectly. They waited for Kyrie Irving to burnout on two stops—”
“Isn’t he helping Elon Musk start a basketball league on Mars, if they ever get there?”
“I don’t know about that, but he was the best ballhandler in his day. He won a title with LeBron in Cleveland.”
“LeBron is the best ever.”
“Well, I mean, there have been so many good players.”
“It’s LeBron or Ja.”
“The Nets had Kyrie and KD and then they traded for James Harden. How was anyone going to stop that? Who’s going to guard the Slim Reaper?”
“Oh, you mean the guy who’s won titles with the Warriors, the Suns, the Mavs, the Bucks, and is now on the Grizz. Jeff Van Gundy was comparing him to a guy named Robert Horry the other night. Was he more than a shooter when he was younger? I feel like you can just tell he used to do more for a team.”
“He was great, son.”
“They were unstoppable. They should have won the title in 2021.”
“That’s when the Bucks won their first.”
“Yeah, and they wouldn’t have won it except that KD had to take on the entire Bucks squad on its own. He died a heroic death that postseason. Then the next year Kyrie Irving wouldn’t get vaccinated, and James Harden felt like he might as well be anywhere else as long as it was Philadelphia.”
“Were any of these guys better than Ben Simmons? He’s the best Net of all time. He owns most of the franchise’s records.”
“I don’t know. The point is the Nets could have owned basketball for at least half a decade. It’s not hard to imagine them winning three titles in a row.”
“I’m looking at Basketball-Reference. They only played sixteen games together, Dad.”
“That’s what I’m saying — what if they had played seventeen?”
“Dad, why are you playing that song about a cat again?”
“I just can’t let it go, son. I think it’s that line about not knowing when. Can you sit for a while?”