The New Jersey Nets were an ultra talented team from 2001-2003.
Led by all star point guard Jason Kidd, they had high fliers in Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson and were rounded out with the supporting cast of Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn.
In 2002, that Nets team faced the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
While the Lakers had the best center and shooting guard tandem in the league with Bryant and O’Neal, they had a well-rounded supporting cast of Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, Samaki Walker and Derek Fisher.
“Oh it was a wake-up call just to see a well-played team playing together,” Kenyon Martin told me on the Scoop B Radio Podcast.
At 6’9, Martin literally covered everybody defensively from postitions 2-5. “Shaq was dominant that series,” recalled Martin.
“We got to be out there and play on that level.”
The Lakers would prove to be too much for the Nets and New Jersey was swept in four games. Kobe Bryant was also more than a handful and he had an iconic dunk on Nets center Todd MacCulloch during that series.
See for yourself here….
Martin remembers the lessons. “Helping my team,” he said.
“And putting them in a position to win. That meant a lot that I was there for my career and my confidence moving forward.”
The Nets would return to the NBA Finals in 2003, where they faced Tim Duncan, David Robinson and a Gregg Popovich-led San Antonio Spurs.
Martin had a solid Game 3 stat line in the ’03 Finals, scoring 23 points and hauling in 11 rebounds. In Game 4, the former Cincinnati Bearcat notched a 20 point, 13 rebound outing in New Jersey’s 77-76 win.
The Nets would ultimately lose the series 4-2. Martin respects the heck out of Tim Duncan. “Tim Duncan played his ass off,” said Martin.
“He made plays, he blocked, that is why he was the finals MVP. He played his ass off. I have to take my hat off to him, he played well. He put them on his back and they followed him. Guys made open shots when they had to and Stephen Jackson made threes in game six. It was a collective effort, but Tim definitely led them. But we definitely had an opportunity to win that.”
After the 2003 NBA Finals, things would change for the Nets. Jason Kidd would sign a 6-year, $99 million deal to stay with New Jersey. The Nets acquired Alonzo Mourning and after a 22–20 start to the season, Byron Scott was fired as head coach and replaced by Lawrence Frank.
“We had a target on our back,” said Martin.
“People wanted to beat us and teams weren’t going to let us keep running through the east. So teams got better. “I don’t think we made enough moves to better our team, but we were right there. We still proved we were one of the better teams in the east. So it was one of those things. Indiana came in first and they came in first in the east. It was just one of those things, man. Teams got better and I think we stayed the same.”
At the end of the 2003–04 season, Martin would exit New Jersey. The forward was involved in a sign-and-trade deal that shipped him to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for three future first-round draft picks.