By Jason Keidel
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Rod Thorn wasn’t arrested. But the brutality of his crime was so egregious that the Warren Commission looked into it.
Jason Kidd was the Hope Diamond in the heist of the NBA century, when the Nets shipped notorious narcissist, ball-hogging, and vaseline-gulping Stephon Marbury to the Phoenix Suns for Kidd. Thorn was probably doing backflips or somersaults or windmills or moonwalks when Phoenix agreed to be so historically and savagely duped.
Kidd instantly made the Nets relevant, then respected, then regal. Then when he had two wing players in Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who actually knew what to do with the savant’s peripheral passing game, the Nets made the NBA Finals twice, each time losing to far superior teams with galactic, athletic behemoths in the middle named Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal.
Swap either man with electric, eclectic guard in those series and Kidd is hugging the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But alas, they weren’t, and Kidd wasted his talent in the wasteland of Northern New Jersey, where the Sopranos got exponentially more adoration than the Nets during Kidd’s resplendent reign.
Indeed, there were more people in the “Bada Bing” on a Tuesday night than there were courtside during Kidd’s near-perfect prime. Precisely five years from five hours ago, Kidd will be holding court in Springfield as a Hall of Fame inductee.
On more than one forlorn winter dusk I slid along Route 3 and snuck into the Meadowlands, Izod Center, or whatever the iteration was branded at the time. It was always cold, the parking lot salted, with speed bumps of ice to slip on. The marsh was frozen and rancid and the only life every night came from the racetrack next door and Kidd on the hardwood floor.
Having Kidd’s artistry framed for an indifferent fan base, in an arena with swaths of empty seats, was like hanging a Vermeer in a Burger King. For those of us who were sick of the Knicks in general and then downright appalled by the Isiah Thomas’ trifecta of bad coaching, general managing, and sexual harassing, Kidd was an oasis in the frigid darkness of the Meadowlands.
And now the passing point guard nonpareil has hung up his sneakers, leaving a wake of worshipers behind. Other than Oscar Robertson, I’ve seen every point guard of import, and Kidd is second only to Magic Johnson.
You can parse the particulars, his ten times named an All-Star, his video game stats – second all-time in assists, third all-time in triple doubles, oddly enough, behind the aforementioned Big O and Magic Man – but stats weren’t his game, as cliche as it sounds. You indeed had to be there, on those frigid days and dusks, to see how unselfish and unblemished he was, his blue-collar ethos becoming his de facto calling card and siren call to all free agents who knew Kidd could make them wealthy and winners.
For an ephemeral magic moment, Kidd was the best player in the five boroughs and beyond, whose head was always held high on the court, like a trucker on a rural road searing above traffic, looking to make his team better. The lone knock on Kidd was his long-range shooting. The eternal Joke claimed Kidd’s real first name was “ason” because he had no “J” in his game. But since he rebounded like a power forward and saw the court like Bobby Fischer, his deficiencies were incidental.
The symbolism and irony are stark. Kidd retires as a Knick, knowing that they needed a young Kid named Kidd, the player with the game and gravitas to corral Carmelo Anthony, who only knows about passing from watching it on television. On and off the court, Kidd deflected to his teammates, and that cannot be taught. You either want to win or you want to look good. We know where Melo stands on that.
When the season started I said the Knicks couldn’t win a title with Anthony unless Kidd somehow wrenched the clock a few ticks backward. He couldn’t, and you saw the result. The Knicks became a gaggle of ball hogs who couldn’t buy a basket and then mutinied, the nadir coming when Tyson Chandler astutely asserted that the team needed less exclusion and more inclusion on offense.
Thankfully, Kidd isn’t atop the dubious list of “Greatest, ringless player” – in some part due to Dirk Nowitski, Rick Carlisle, and just enough drops in his symbolic tank to lead Dallas to a world championship. It would have been too incongruous to think of Kidd without a ring, since his name rang so well so long along the dark, dank tunnels leading to locker rooms, where he held court for so long so well that he became judge, jury, executioner…
And, now, an immortal.
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