Magazine article The New Yorker

FROM JERSEY DEPT. OF SPORT Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

FROM JERSEY DEPT. OF SPORT Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

The Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey occupies a hallway near the box office at Continental Airlines Arena, in the Meadowlands. It's basically a bunch of bronze plaques affixed to the walls. From a distance--say, from the ticket line, which almost never has enough buyers in it to account for the number of tickets available--the Hall of Fame seems little more than a gag, an instance of bumpkin boosterism. But on closer inspection it's an impressive shrine, rows of plaques depicting (with the usual varying degree of recognizability) not only the obvious Jersey heroes, such as the Giants' linebacker Lawrence Taylor and the Princeton basketball great Bill Bradley, but a roster of stars and what coaches call "character guys" who would match up well against any other state's. Among them are Vince Lombardi (Englewood), Jersey Joe Wolcott (Merchantville), Dick Button (Englewood), Paul Robeson (Somerville High), Alexander Wojciechowicz (South River High), Rosey Grier (Roselle High), Carl Lewis (Willingboro High), and, of course, Pele (Tres Coracoes). There are also plaques commemorating the first intercollegiate football game (Princeton-Rutgers, 1869) and the first game of baseball (Hoboken, 1846).

Not yet enshrined there, however, are the purest representatives, nomenclature-wise, of the state's athletic aspirations: the 2003 New Jersey Devils (hockey) and the 2003 New Jersey Nets (hoops), the arena's tenants, who are both now in the final round of their respective championship tournaments. Rarely have two professional teams from the same arena and town (and East Rutherford is a town, with a mayor--and a population of less than half the arena's capacity) made it this deep in the same season; never before have both won. It looks as though the Devils, who were once derided by Wayne Gretzky as a "Mickey Mouse organization," are going to hold up their end of the deal in their series against a real Mickey Mouse organization, Disney's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Nets, who will play the San Antonio Spurs, are underdogs, but they're scrappy and they haven't lost a game since April.

Traditionally, New Jersey troubadours--Roth, Sinatra, Springsteen, Piscopo--have celebrated the art of getting out. The state's defining cultural feature, fair or not, is the Turnpike, a means for passing through or moving on. But, in the Meadowlands right now, immigrants are having their day. None of the players on the Nets and the Devils are from Jersey, though many of them will one day make the wall of fame. …

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