- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Hours after Gov. Chris Christie bid the Brooklyn-bound team good riddance, the stars of the team’s 35-year stay in the Garden State gathered at the team’s final game to talk, laugh, share old memories and express some sadness the franchise is leaving for a new home.

The typically blunt Christie kicked things off roughly four hours before the tipoff when he said he would shed no tears over the departure of the Nets, who lost their final home game 105-87 the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

“My message to them is, goodbye,” Christie said at an afternoon news conference at Newark Beth Israel Hospital where he signed a bill to promote organ and tissue donation. “You don’t want to stay, we don’t want you.”

The Nets have played the last two of their 35 years in New Jersey in Newark at the Prudential Center Arena, the high-tech home built by the city of Newark and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils in 2007.

The Nets’ owners in the 1990s had sought to move the team to Newark from the Meadowlands but couldn’t work out financing a new arena. They eventually sold the franchise in 2004 to real estate developer Bruce Ratner, whose plan all along was to move the team to Brooklyn, and the Nets wound up in Newark as they waited for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to be completed.

Christie scoffed at the team’s decision to choose New York over New Jersey.

“That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America they have a chance to play in, it’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities, and they want to leave here and go to Brooklyn?” he asked. “Good riddance, see you later. I think there’ll be some other NBA team who may be looking to relocate and they might look at that arena and the fan base in the New Jersey and New York area and say, `This is an opportunity to increase our fan base and try something different.’”

At halftime of the game, about a dozen former players were introduced to the sellout crowd along with former team owners, executives and the mother of Drazen Petrovic, the talented guard who was killed in an automobile crash in Germany in 1993 after the team lost in the playoffs.

They did a lot laughing and reminiscing in a news conference after the ceremony.

“It’s sad being it’s 35 years that the franchise was here in New Jersey and to really be a part of that and knowing that it is not going to be here anymore, it’s a sad day just for the people here in New Jersey,” said Derrick Coleman, the Syracuse forward who the Nets took with the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.

Coleman said he always thought about what might have been had Petrovic not been killed, but at the same time he relished what they accomplished.

Of course, the laughs started when he was reminded of his infamous “whoopty-dee-damn-do” comment, something he said when questioned about teammate Kenny Anderson missing a practice one year.

“I was just talking to Kenny about that earlier, and I told him: `I was sticking up for you’ so I blame him all the time. It was the first thing that popped into my mind,” Coleman said.

Anderson shook his head when asked about the topic.

“What do you want me to say about that, I missed practice 20-something years ago,” said Anderson, who is a high school coach in Florida. “I missed practice and then Derrick said `Whoopty-dee-damn-do.’ It was a joke but everybody brings it up.”

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