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Kidd truly made teammates better
Kidd’s NBA resume is as well decorated as they come — 10 NBA All Star Game appearances, a Rookie of the Year award in 1994-1995, and the second most assists in NBA history — but much like his game itself, it was often the intangibles that defined him as the premier point guard of his generation.
Kidd wasn’t the flashiest point guard, but he was the gold standard. He didn’t have the Allen Iverson crossover move that kicked off “Sports Center” on a nightly basis, the Tim Hardaway UTEP two-step that was immortalized in video games or even the Gary Payton defensive stance that was emulated by thousands of young ballplayers. Instead, he had 107 triple doubles, two gold medals with Team USA and the experience of 1,391 regular-season games.
Perhaps more than any of this, though, was Kidd’s uncanny ability to turn around NBA franchises.
If Bill Parcells was known for this in the NFL, Kidd was that individual in the NBA for nearly two decades. As a rookie in 1994-95, he instantly sparked interest and brought success to a Mavericks franchise that had reached its nadir after a series of losing seasons and negative headlines. The Mavs improved their win total by 23 during his first year on the team and became a “must watch” outfit for NBA fans across the country.
In his first full season in Phoenix, the Suns won 16 more games than the season before. In New Jersey, the Nets made a 26-game leap in the win column, going to the NBA Finals — a first for the franchise — in his first year with the squad.
After being the final piece to the Dallas Mavericks' championship puzzle and helping the franchise get its first ring in team history, he joined the Knicks for his final season in 2012-13. The team won 54 games — the franchise’s first 50-win season since 2000 — and an 18-game improvement from the previous season. He was also considered one of the key additions — both on and off the court — for the 2008 Team USA basketball team that won gold after a forgettable 2004 collapse in Athens four years earlier.
In New Jersey, the Derrick Coleman/Drazen Petrovic-led squads were never able to get over the hump and make a legitimate run through the NBA playoffs. They were good teams, even entertaining ones, but never in the same conversation as Eastern Conference powers such as New York, Orlando and Chicago. The years that followed Petrovic’s tragic death were draped in mediocrity, and even worse, a boring version of basketball.
Kidd arrived, and the entire complexion of the team changed. They were winning games, but they were also mighty fun to watch. His alley-oop passes to Kenyon Martin would have rivaled YouTube clicks with any of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s today, and he instantly made Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles into the best players they could possibly have been.
Look at the contracts guys like Van Horn, Martin, Kittles, Brian Scalabrine and Richard Jefferson netted after playing with Kidd in New Jersey, and his impact on teammates becomes evident. He wasn’t the highlight machine or the big scorer. He didn’t have a trademark “move” kids on playgrounds practiced for hours. He was simply a winner, and the ultimate teammate.
In December, Carmelo Anthony called Kidd just that, noting that he was “the best teammate I’ve ever had,” in a postgame press conference. Those sentiments have been echoed time and time again by former running mates Vince Carter (New Jersey and Dallas), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Martin (New Jersey and New York).
It’s one thing to be remembered as a great compiler of statistics or a fierce competitor. It’s another to go down as one of the game’s greatest teammates.
Gary Sussman, the vice president of public relations for the now Brooklyn Nets, recalls Kidd’s first afternoon in a Nets uniform.
“In his very first practice as a Net, he dove headfirst on the floor after a ball that was going out of bounds. This was practice one,” Sussman said over email on Monday. “It set the tone. We ended up with 52 wins and made our first trip to the NBA Finals.”
Though he had been a star in high school at St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda, Calif., Kidd’s legend was born during the 1993 NCAA tournament. The leader of a sixth-seeded California squad, Kidd scored a game-winning shot with one second remaining in regulation to get past LSU in the opening round. The running, twisting shot, later dubbed “the pretzel shot” by longtime LSU head coach Dale Brown, was symbolic of Kidd’s offensive game as a whole — crafty, mysterious and wholly unique to him.
In the second round of the 1993 tournament, Kidd, just a freshman, led the Bears past two-time defending champion Duke. Todd Bozeman’s team beat the Bobby Hurley/Grant Hill-led Blue Devils 82-77, in a game in which Kidd converted a game-deciding three-point play with just 1:11 left in regulation to assure the upset. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called it a “big-time play,” noting after the game, “He made it because kids like him are winners, and they will make those plays."
Eighteen years later, Kidd was converting the same types of dramatic buckets and “big-time plays” for the Dallas Mavericks in their NBA Finals upset of the Lebron James/Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat in 2011.
There are several highlights in Kidd’s decorated career worthy of YouTube clicks and Twitter links, but none do the man’s 19 years in the NBA much justice. There isn’t that one “moment” — a game-winning shot over Michael Jordan or a flying slam dunk over Shaquille O’Neal — that captures what he was as a player.
It was the wins, the consistency and the ability to turn everything he touched into gold, almost instantly, that made Jason Kidd such a special basketball player the past 20 years.
"It's a grind," Kidd said on Monday. "Physically, I feel good. Mentally, I might be just a little tired because of the grind. And once if your mind is not into it 100 percent, then you are not going to be successful and bad things can happen with the sense of injuries. I don't want to go down that road. It is time for me to look forward to doing something new."
For 19 NBA seasons, Kidd gifted us with a skill set few others could emulate. He never had he prettiest jump shot or the best postgame quotes, but he had the vision, the leadership and intangibles of an all-time great.
Late afternoon on Monday, mere hours after announcing his retirement, Kidd’s wife posted this picture of Kidd with two of his children to Instagram.
There’s plenty more for Jason Kidd to accomplish in his life. He’s already done it all on the basketball court.