By Jason Keidel
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Ten years ago that glow from the smelly, industrial swamp wasn’t the Sopranos. It was Jason Kidd – the best point guard we’ve seen straddling the Hudson River since Walt Frazier. And now back with the team that drafted him, Kidd has himself and his Dallas Mavericks four wins from their first NBA championship.
Kidd didn’t, however, fast-break through the NBA without a few leaks from his ledger. He milked his free agent period, doing a most intimate tango with the San Antonio Spurs before re-signing with the Nets, then, of course, demanding a trade back to Dallas.
On his fourth team in a career that had no statistical dips, Kidd is too good to be a vocational vagabond, a gypsy who hops around the NBA like George Clooney in Up in the Air.
And thus we have the public perception of Kidd as malcontent, a wife beater and coach killer, who stayed in each city long enough to make them exponentially better before bouncing over some abstract offense. New Yorkers, like every other native group fortunate enough to see Kidd in play (yes, a cheesy pop culture reference circa 1991), watched his splendid game with wonder and then wondered why he left. Byron Scott certainly is still baffled about how a coach coaxes his team to two NBA Finals appearances then gets fired.
Kidd is among the oddest dichotomies in recent sports history, as his off-court countenance of pouting and preening belies his utterly selfless play on the hardwood. In my lifetime, only Magic Johnson is a better passer of the pill, and Kidd is behind only John Stockton in career assists. And Kidd was hardly content with being the pretty boy galloping down the hardwood on another three-man weave. Indeed, it was often his rebound that started the fast break and averages close to 7 rebounds per game over his career – a staggering number for a point guard not named Magic.
If Kidd is to surpass Clyde, Isiah Thomas, and Stockton, he must win this year. His bulging bio as a bridesmaid won’t keep him from Springfield, but it will keep his grill off Mt. Rushmore.
Should he win, I rank Kidd right behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson on the short list of greatest point guards in history. But win he must. And he knows it. And while he’s coasting on the coattails of Dirk Nowitzki, Kidd’s contributions will be paramount to the pinnacle. Kidd is hardly merely collecting a check, as his 10 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 7.6 APG during the playoffs indicate.
And there’s no shame in the aging legend riding the wings of younger stars to finally bring the bling home. John Elway let Terrell Davis blast through the tackles to two Super Bowls. Jerome Bettis let a bruising defense, Hines Ward, and Big Ben do the rest. Walter Payton let the 46 Defense and William Perry clean his path to the Super Bowl. And David Robison had no problem surrendering the marquee to the marvelous Tim Duncan while the soft-spoken superstar ended the Admiral’s career in splendor.
Like Magic Johnson, the only hole in Kidd’s wholly brilliant game is his jump shot. Nets fans winced more than once when Kidd checked his toes two inches beyond the arc and fired a few bricks off the backboard. But Kidd has the ever-elusive “It” factor, his pursuit of and penchant for making everyone on the team better trumping the lone hole in his whole game.
At 38 and in his 17th season, Kidd is playing with house money and would love to cash in with the one award he’s never won: a Larry O’Brien Trophy. It would be a fitting ending to an odd but transcendent career, a nice “ring” to it, if you will. Such a career warrants a sappy double entendre.
The team winning the first game of the NBA Finals wins the title 73 percent of the time. But the Dallas Mavericks have the one player unshaken by the odds. Indeed, Jason Kidd just may have the Heat precisely where he wants them.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
Nets fans: Are you rooting for Kidd? Let Keidel know in the comments below…