Nets coach is second-to-last in the standings, but standing tall with God

Nets coach is second-to-last in the standings, but standing tall with God
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Praise the Lord and pass the roundball!

New Jersey Nets head man Avery Johnson delivered an impassioned sermon to an enthusiastic crowd at a Crown Heights church on Tuesday night, quoting from Proverbs and preaching about life — and predicting “pandemonium” when the team finally moves to Brooklyn.

“Have your applications ready,” Johnson advised the mostly black crowd at the First Baptist Church. “We’re bringing jobs, we’re bringing hope and excitement to Brooklyn!”

Avery’s squad barely has a prayer in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, where it has posted a 13-32 record — good for the less-than-inspirational second-to-last place.

“Everyone is telling me to keep my head up,” he said. “I’m not looking at New Jersey — I’ve got my eyes on Brooklyn!” he said to cheers.

Team officials have said that the move to Brooklyn will be completed in time for the 2012-2013 season.

The diminutive 45-year-old former point guard was as comfortable in the pulpit as he was when he was dishing the ball to former teammate David Robinson, commanding the attention of the 250 men who filled the airy chapel.

The talk was organized by the Mighty Men of Valor, a ministry at the church, which is led by the father of former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman Jr.

“He gave a powerful message and provided a roadmap to success,” said Norman, who was jailed in 2007 for campaign corruption and extortion convictions.

Johnson, who grew up in a housing development in Louisiana, said he learned early on that “someone is always watching,” who can make a difference in a person’s life. In his case, it was a high school coach who recruited him out of grade school, and then reconnected with him years later to help him find a spot on Southern University’s basketball team — where he led the nation in assists two years in a row.

This ultimately attracted the attention of the NBA, where Johnson had a 16-year run.

Johnson supports gyms and church programs in Houston, Dallas and New Orleans, and said he planned to do the same in Brooklyn.

But he advised that in order to be blessed, “you have to get in a posture so you can be blessed.”

His secrets:

• Get wisdom from the right mentors (Johnson’s is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich).

• Take academics seriously (He has a degree in psychology).

• Get into healthy relationships. “Some people are parasites, and some are protégés,” he opined. (Dump the parasites.)

• Get in shape (“You put doughnuts in front of me and I’m going to act like a fool. But sometimes, you have to close that pantry”).

• Get out of the blame game, “especially that black-white game.” (“All it does is make us have excuses.”)

• Get into reality and out of religion (“The reality is to go to church, get the word, and put it into action”).

• Get the ear of a disciple (“Stay close to God so you can hear the whispers”).

Johnson is best remembered for sinking the series-ending shot that carried his San Antonio Spurs over the Knicks in the 1999 championship game, but New York fans carried no ill will.

“I’m going to root for the Nets when they come to Brooklyn,” said Knicks fan Amir Lewis. “He enlightened me as a person tonight.”

And sports fans said they were eager for a professional team’s arrival.

“If I had my way, the Dodgers would have never left,” said Crown Heights resident Bobby Burch.