Jason Kidd has heard it from the critics his entire career. They claimed he lacked maturity, had crummy practice habits, couldn’t shoot from outside, bristled against authority and didn't have what it took to win the big one. After a trade to New Jersey, it looked like the beginning of the end. But in one startling season Jason hit his stride, leading the hapless Nets all the way to the NBA Finals. Now, at an age when most point guards are sunning themselves outside their mansions, he has made the Dallas Mavericks into a championship team. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Jason Frederick Kidd was born on March 23, 1973, in San Francisco, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Steve and Anne, welcomed a girl, Denise, a year later. Kim, the last of the three Kidd children, arrived 10 years after Denise. Steve and Anne eventually divorced, but stayed on amicable terms.

The Kidds lived comfortably in Alameda, a suburb of Oakland, near the Oakland Coliseum. They owned three horses. Every summer, the Kidds took family vacations, including trips to visit relatives from Steve’s side of the family in Plattsburg, Missouri.

The product of an interracial marriage, Jason always looked up to his parents. Steve, an African-American, began as a baggage handler for TWA and ultimately rose to a highly paid supervisor’s position. Anne worked as a computer programmer for Bank of America. Steve and Anne taught their children to respect others and strive to meet their goals. The lessons Jason learned from his parents naturally translated to his athletic career.

The first sport Jason was drawn to was soccer. He especially liked seeing his face on the mock trading cards produced by the leagues he joined. By the third grade at Grass Valley Elementary School, however, Jason was hooked on hoops. With most of his friends still playing soccer, he often found himself in games with older kids. Jason believes this is how he developed his marvelous passing instincts. To ensure he would invited back each day, he made sure to get the ball to teammates for easy scores.

It didn’t take long for observers to realize that Jason was a special talent. He had a rock-solid build and amazingly quick hands, and he could run all day. Jason wasn’t a great shooter, but no one saw the court better. Articles about him began appearing in local newspapers while he was still in grade school.


 

 

 

 

     
 

Jason was heavily influenced by Magic Johnson. He watched the Los Angeles Lakers whenever they were on television. Jason loved the way Magic orchestrated the team’s Showtime attack.

Jason soon became a fixture on the playground scene in Oakland. Though he came from a different world than those he competed against, he earned their respect with his unselfish game. The king of the courts back then was none other than Gary Payton, who graduated from nearby Skyline High School in 1986. Already a notorious trash-talker, Payton was headed for NBA stardom, and everyone knew it. Jason gladly matched up against him, though he was often taken to school.

In 1987, Jason entered St. Joseph of Notre Dame High School, a small, private Catholic school in the Bay Area. The news was music to the ears of St. Joseph’s basketball coach, Frank LaPorte. Jason was already receiving recruiting inquiries from college scouts. With his scintilating freshmanat the helm, LaPorte was confident the Pilots could compete for the state championship.

It took a couple of years, but Jason did lead St. Joseph to the state title, in his junior season in 1991. By that point, he was enjoying rock-star status. Fans mobbed him for autographs before and after games. St. Joseph sold Jason Kidd t-shirts by the thousands. The Pilots regularly played in the Oakland Coliseum to accommodate their huge crowds.

Jason spent the summer after his junior campaign working out—and holding his own—with NBA stars like Payton and Brian Shaw. Off the court, he tried to sort through the dozens of scholarship offers he was receiving. It wasn’t only colleges showing interest in Jason. There was also talk of him jumping directly to the pros.

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Magic Johnson,
1980 The Sporting News
     
 

Don Nelson, coach of the Golden State Warriors, and UCLA coach Jim Harrick both went on record saying Jasonhad the talent to bypass college. NBA executives back on the East Coast had also become familiar with Jason—most notably Willis Reed, who received video from Jim Hadnot, a pro scout and friend of Steve Kidd’s.

When Jason’s senior season began, he focused on capturing another state championship. That title came the following spring, as did a trophy case full of awards. Jason averaged 25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and seven steals. The teenager claimed the Naismith Award as the nation's top high school player and was named the high school Player of the Year by Parade Magazine and USA Today. The all-time prep leader in assists (1,155) and california ’s sixth-best career scorer (2,661 points), he also was voted the state's Player of the Year for the second time in a row.

Jason made his biggest headlines when he announced his college choice: the University of California. All along it was assumed that Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, and Ohio State were at the top of his list. In fact, Cal didn’t even appear to be on his radar screen—partly because of his lackluster SATs, but mostly because he never made an official visit to the school. Unofficially, Jason connected with Cal’s persistent assistant, Todd Bozeman, and he liked how close the school’s campus was to his home. Jason was also friendly with many of the Bears, having run with them in pick-up games at Harmon Arena.

ON THE RISE

Jason arrived at Berkeley in the fall of 1992 under the weight of great expectations. The Bears, coming off a 10-18 season under coach Lou Campanelli, hadn’t won a Pac 10 title since 1959, when the legendary Pete Newell guided the school to the national championship. In addition to Jason and the team’s other prized freshman recruit, Jerrod Hasse, Campanelli had decent talent to work with. Sophomores Lamond Murray, Al Grigsby, K.J. Roberts, and Monty Buckley had all logged major minutes the year before. If senior forward Brian Hendrick returned from knee surgery, Cal had plenty of depth and experience.

The campaign opened with an easy victory at home over Sacramento State. The media peppered Jason with questions afterward. According to guidelines set by his parents, this was the only time reporters could talk to the freshman. The Bears took their next four, climbing into the Top 10 for the first time in nearly 30 years. Then the team began to falter. The problem was Campanelli and his drill-sergeant mentality. Jason led his teammates in an uprising, and in February, the embattled coach was replaced by Bozeman, who just five years earlier had been driving a truck for FedEx.

From there, Cal sizzled, finishing the regular season at 19-8. Jason was the catalyst. He averaged 13.0 points and nearly eight assists and five rebounds, established an NCAA freshman record for steals, and became the fifth newcomer in conference history to be named to All-Pac 10. His fine play earned the Bears a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

     
 

In the first round, Jason sparked an upset over LSU. With the score tiedt 64-64 , Jason converted a twisting lay-up with only seconds on the clock. Tigers coach Dale Brown tabbed the game-winner the “pretzel shot.” A few days later, Jason engineered an even bigger shocker over Duke, which was gunning for its third straight national title. Kansas ultimately ended Cal’s magical run in the Sweet 16. Thanks to Jason, the Bears were back.

That summer Jason accompanied USA Basketball's elite 10-member team on a five-game European tour. Among those selected were Travis Best, Michael Finley, Donyell Marshall, Aaron McKie, Eric Montross, and Bryant Reeves. Jason, the squad’s only freshman, helped Team USA to a 3-2 record. He tied for the club lead in assists and steals, and scored 20 points in an 85-83 overtime loss to Spain.

Jason faced a lot of pressure entering his sophomore year. Cal was ranked in the Top 20, and though Hasse had transferred to Kansas, the Bears returned the heart of their roster. Jason, who had packed on 10 pounds of muscle, was determined to improve his outside shooting, the one glaring weakness in his game. (During his freshman year, he had hit one less than 30 percent from three-point range.) His other goal was to lead Cal to the Final Four.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned. Injuries to Grigsby and Roberts left Jason and Murray as the team’s only two reliable scorers. Jason picked up the slack, and then some. The first sophomore ever named Pac 10 Player of the Year, he scored 16.7 points and grabbed 6.9 rebounds a game, and topped the nation with 9.1 assists. His total steals (204) and assists (272) broke Kevin Johnson's school records.

Jason also became the first Cal player to earn First-Team All-America honors since Russ Critchfield in 1968, and was a finalist for the Naismith Award and John Wooden Award. The Bears made it back to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the first round to Wisconsin-Green Bay. Jason made just four of 17 attempts in the contest.

Despite his disappointing showing in the tournament, Jason felt he had proven everything he needed to in college and declaredhimself eligible for the NBA draft. He joined a star-studded collection of guards, including Grant Hill, Jalen Rose, Eddie Jones, and Wesley Person. The Milwaukee Bucks chose first and went with Glenn Robinson, Purdue’s high-scoring forward. Next up were the Mavericks. Though Hill was the more polished player, tDallas picked Jason. He signed a nine-year contract worth more than $54 million in early September. Nike, Classic Cards, and Sega Genesis also inked him to lucrative deals.

The summer wasn’t all fun and games, however. Before the draft, Jason was arrested for hit-and-run and speeding after leaving the scene of an early-morning car accident. Jason pleaded no contest, was fined $1,000, and sentenced to 100 hours of community service and two years probation.

More problems surfaced. Jason admitted to fathering a child after being hit with a paternity suit, and then another woman accused him of slapping her at a party, but no files were charged. Finally, three days after he signed with the Mavs, his Chevy Suburban was stolen. Needing a way to endear himself to Mavs fans, Jason paid to have a new gym floor installed in a local Dallas church and bought a block of 30 season tickets for use by underprivileged kids.

Many believed that Jason was boarding a sinking ship in Dallas. The team had won a total of 24 games during the two previous seasons. The Mavs had mutinied under coach Quinn Buckner the spring before, and morale couldn’t have been worse. Old-timer Dick Motta was brought in to calm the waters. He welcomed the return of center Roy Tarpley, who had missed three straight seasons because of a drug suspension. Tarpley figured to thrive in Motta’s forward-oriented system, as did Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. Jason, Dallas’s third J, was counted on to keep everyone happy by distributing the ball evenly.

The formula worked immediately. The Mavs collected nine wins in their first 16 games, and Jackson and Mashburn each registered 50-point performances. By New Year’s Day, Dallas had equalled its victory total from the previous year. The Mavs finished at 36-46, and Jason received much of the credit for the team’s turnaround.

No rookie guard had ever had a bigger impact. A quarter of Dallas’s victories came after the Mavs had trailed by double-digits. Jason was at his best after Jackson went down with a season-ending ankle injury, averaging more than 15 points and eight assists in his absence. He posted all four of his league-leading triple-doubles during the last three weeks of the year. In a double-overtime win against the Houston Rockets, he exploded for 38 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals. The only newcomer to finish in the league's top 10 in two statistical categories (10th in assists and 7th in steals), he shared the Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill.

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Jason Kidd,
1992 Sports Illustrated
     
 

Heading into the 1995-96 season, big things were predicted for the Mavs. Though Motta tried to temper expectations, fans and the media talked of the team breaking its five-year playoff jinx. From the get-go, the campaign was a disaster. By mid-December, the Mavs were 6-12, Tarpley was looking at a lifetime suspension after violating his aftercare agreement, center Donald Hodge got arrested for marijuana possession, and Mashburn, who had been feuding with Jackson, was lost for the year to a knee injury. The club never recovered and finished at a dismal 26-56.

Jason tried to push, pull, prod and carry the Mavs through their struggles, but the team didn’t respond. The situation came to a head on the road in February in Utah, when Jackson and reserve Scott Brooks nearly exchanged punches at halftime with the club leading the Jazz by 20 points. Dallas lost the game, and Jason, already upset with Jackson for his selfish play, barely spoke with his backcourt mate the rest of the year. Fans in Dallas appeared to side with their second-year point guard. In a poll in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jason was voted the city’s second most popular athlete, finishing behind Troy Aikman and ahead of Emmitt Smith.

Despite a frustrating year, Jason posted terrific numbers. He raised his scoring average to 16.6 points, ranked second in the league in assists, and led all guards in rebounding. With 783 assists and 553 boards, he became the sixth player in NBA history to record at least 700 assists and 500 rebounds in a season. The last to pull the double was Magic Johnson in 1990-91. Jason also made the West All-Star squad. He dished out a game-high 10 assists and added seven points, six rebounds and two steals in a 129-118 loss.

The off-season was far from relaxing for Jason. During a Nike-sponsored trip to Japan, Michael Jordan lectured him, accusing him of wasting his awesome potential. Meanwhile, Dallas owner Donald Carter sold most of his share in the team, and the new ownership group fired Motta and hired disciplinarian Jim Cleamons, formerly an assistant in Chicago. Jason wasn’t particularly happy with the selection of Cleamons, mostly because he wasn’t consulted on the decision. Still, when the two met, they seemed to be on the same page. Days later, Jason blabbed that the Mavs might have to choose between him and Jackson. Though he quickly rescinded the statement, the damage was done.

Controversy resurfaced when Jason found he couldn’t get along with Cleamons. By December, the Mavs were actively shopping their point guard, no longer confident about his leadership skills and work habits. To quell the anticiapted uproar over a mid-season deal, the team whispered its concerns about Jason to a handful of local sportswriters, who dutifully printed them as news items. Another off-court incident—this time a car accident in which he was a passenger—seemed to underscore these claims. On the day after Christmas, Dallas sent Jason, Tony Dumas, and Loren Meyer to the Phoenix Suns for Sam Cassell, A.C. Green and Michael Finley.

Fans in Arizona were thrilled, and Jason was grateful for a chance at a fresh start. In his first game in a Phoenix uniform, he dished out nine assists and hauled down seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Unfortunately, bad luck struck when a fractured collarbone landed Jason on the injured list. He came back several weeks later, and coach Danny Ainge paired him in the starting backcourt with Kevin Johnson. They formed a dynamic duo, both finishing in the top five in the league in assists. Jason’s scoring touch improved playing next to his fellow Cal alumni, too. In a March victory over Golden State, he set season-highs with 33 points and eight three-pointers. The Suns surged into the playoffs, giving Jason his first taste of postseason action. Though Phoenix dropped its first-round series to Seattle, he performed well.

Despite the Suns’ exit from the playoffs, Jason was riding high after the 1996-97 season. He and his girlfriend, Joumana Samaha, got married and became the unofficial first couple of Phoenix. The two had been dating for more than a year. Ironically, when they first met, Joumana had wanted nothing to do with Jason. An aspiring television reporter, she felt he was the prototypical jock. Jason began to win her over on their second date when they saw the moive “How to Make an American Quilt.” But what really sold Joumana was Jason's family. After spending time with the Kidds, she was sure he came from good stock.

Jason arrived for training camp in 1997 eager for his first full year with Phoenix. Joumana had worked with him to improve his image, pushing him to become a better interview with reporters. Jason also like what he saw from h’is teams roster. With proven scorers like Cedric Ceballos, Rex Chapman, Danny Manning and Cliff Robinson, Ainge’s run-and-gun Suns expected to challenge for supremacy in the West. Also bolstering the squad was the acquisition of Antonio McDyess from Denver.

Phoenix broke from the gate quickly and despite an assortment of injuries stayed close to first place in the Pacific Division. Every night someone new led the club in scoring. Thanks in part to a 10-game winning streak in April, the Suns posted a 56-26 record, good for third in the division. In the playoffs, however, they were derailed by the San Antonio Spurs and their twin towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

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Jamal Mashburn, Jason Kidd,
Jim Jackson, 1995 Beckett
     
 

The disappointing finish soured an otherwise upbeat year for Jason. Eight of his teammates averaged double-figures. An All-Star—and twice the NBA’s Player of the Week—he was the league’s second-best assist man behind Rod Strickland. Jason’s four triple-doubles—two of which came against Dallas—tied for tops in the NBA with Grant Hill. He also showed drastic improvement in his shooting percentage from the field and the foul line. Teams, in fact, were starting to rethink the accepted strategy of giving Jason open looks from the outside.

Jason continued to grow as a player in the off-season, which lasted quite a bit longer than anyone anticipated thanks to the NBA lockout. Joumana helped him immensely during November and December, lining up next to him to run sprints and feeding him pass after pass as he worked on his jumper. She did all this despite having given birth to their first child, Trey Jason (T.J.), that October.

MAKING HIS MARK

When the owners and players finally settled and the ensuing 50-game season began, Jason officially arrived as one of the league’s elite players. He became the first Sun ever to lead the NBA in assists, topped the circuit in triple-doubles with seven, and raised his scoring average to nearly 17 points a game. For his efforts, Jason was named All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team.

Still, Jason received criticism for his team’s lack of success in the playoffs. After finishing third again in the Pacific, Phoenix was ousted in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. The team’s major problem was a lack of muscle upfront. Though Robinson and Manning had been joined by Tom Gugliotta (signed to replace McDyess) and Luc Longley, the Suns couldn’t compete against clubs with dominating centers and power forwards. The shortcoming wasn’t Jason’s fault, but the blame was laid at his feet. Although he had done a lot of growing up since meeting Joumana, maturity was still an issue for Jason.

Jason faced the most difficult period of his like in the spring of 1999 when his father died of a heart attack. The news hit him hard, but accepting his dad’s passing helped him put a lot of issues in his life into deeper perspective. That summer, he traveled to Puerto Rico with Dream Team III for the Pre-Olympic Qualifying tournament. While some members of the U.S. squad allowed the sun-drenched beaches and ever-beckoning casinos to distract them, Jason and teammate Tim Duncan kept the Americans focused on the court. The team won all 10 of its games, took the gold medal and earned a spot in the 2000 Olympics. Jason led the squad in assists and steals.

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Jason Kidd,
1998 Upper Deck Ovation
     
 

Jason’s impressive showing in Puerto Rico, combined with his strong performance in 1998-99, bolstered his image around the league and within the Phoenix organization. The NBA began promoting him as one of the sport’s top attractions.

The Suns, meanwhile, sought his input on how to improve the club. Jason actively recruited free agents Penny Hardaway and Oliver Miller, both of whom signed with Phoenix. The acquisitions appeared to give the Suns all the ammunition they needed to compete against the West’s big boys. But Ainge surprised everyone by resigning two months into the campaign. Named as his replacement was Scott Skiles, at 36 the youngest head man in the NBA. The combative coach held his own, guiding the Suns to 40 wins in their last 62 games.

Jason played brilliantly until a broken right ankle cut his season short in March. For the second year in a row, he earned All-NBA First Team honors and topped the league in assists. He also set a new career-high by pulling down slightly more than seven rebounds per game, an average that bettered 17 of the league's 29 starting centers.

Jason wasn’t the only Sun to go down with an injury. Hardaway, Chapman, and Gugliotta also spent significant time on the sidelines. But thanks to development of Shawn Marion, Kevin Johnson’s comeback from retirement, and the hard work of Skiles, Phoenix managed to make the playoffs with a record of 53-29.

The question on the minds of Suns fans heading into the postseason was whether Jason would heal in time to make an appearance in the first round against the Spurs. No one doubted Phoenix needed him to engineer an upset of the defending champs. Remarkably, the Suns took two of the first three contests without Jason. He returned for Game 4 and helped Phoenix close out the series. In 31 minutes, he had nine points,10 rebounds and three steals.

The underdog Suns succumbed to the Lakers in the next round. Jason’s brightest moment came in Game 4 when he recorded the first triple-double (22 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds) of his postseason career. Once again, the Suns fell to the eventual league champions, as LA took the NBA title.

Jason didn’t get much chance to rest in the summer of 2000. Named a tri-captain of Dream Team III, he led the U.S. squad to Olympic gold in Sydney. Though the Americans went undefeated, the road to their title was more difficult than anyone expected. Jason did a commendable job getting all his All-Star teammates involved in the offense. Overall, he averaged six points, five rebounds and four assists, and shot better than .500 from the field.

When Jason returned from Australia, his thoughts turned to the upcoming season with the Suns. Aside from the addition of free agents Mario Elie and Tony Delk, the team looked similar to the one that had surprised fans in the previous spring’s playoffs. The campaign started on a promising note, with Phoenix winning seven of its first eight. But the year quickly degenerated into a series of off-court dramas.

Hardaway was accused of waving a gun in a woman’s face. Cliff Robinson, the team’s top scorer, was nailed with a DUI. The biggest headlines focused on Jason. In January of 2001, he was arrested for striking Joumana during a domestic dispute. The story was front-page news in papers across the country. Jason immediately issued a public apology. With his wife at his side, he told a throng of reporters that they planned to stay together and work out their problems.

Jason left the club for several days. When he came back, the team experienced a resurgence. With the Suns encouraging him to look for his shot more often, Jason transformed himself into a dangerous scorer. Six times during the year, he poured in more than 30 points. He exploded for a career-high 43 points in late March at Houston.

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Jason Kidd, 1999 Topps Team USA
     
 

The Suns responded to their floor leader’s inspiring play and climbed in the Pacific Division standings. In early April, they won four in a row, and Jason took home honors as NBA Player of the Week. The club ended the year at 51-31. Jason pushed his scoring average to 16.9 points a night and still topped the league in assists. In the process, he joined John Stockton, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy as the only players to lead the NBA is passing for three straight seasons.

In the playoffs, the Suns met the hungry Sacramento Kings. After winning the first game on the road, Phoenix got steamrolled and dropped the series in four. That gave management the excuse it was looking for to ship Jason out of town. The Suns, particularly owner Jerry Colangelo, had grown very protective of their image. Even though Jason had taken great pains to rebuild his public persona, the club wanted him out of town.

In June, Phoenix dealt him to New Jersey, getting Stephon Marbury (whose reputation wasn’t exactly squeaky clean) in return. Jason said all the right things upon joining the Nets, but there were plenty of questions about his desire to play in New Jersey. The Nets, as everyone in the league knew, were a rudderless franchise.

That is not to say they lacked talent. Kerry Kittles was coming back from reconstructive surgery to his right knee, Kenyon Martin was recovering from a broken right fibula, and Keith Van Horn was determined to prove he was tough enough to develop into a consistent performer. Free agent Todd MacCulloch was being counted on to provide a presence in the paint, and a quartet of rookies—Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, Brandon Armstrong, and Brian Scalabrine—were vying for significant playing time. Byron Scott, still trying to find his way as a coach, thought the addition of a leader like Jason could turn these ingredients into a recipe for success.

At Scott’s request, Jason addressed the Nets before the campaign, telling his teammates they had the potential for a special year. He backed up those words in the season opener against the Indiana Pacers. With the Nets trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, Jason spearheaded a furious comeback for a 103–97 victory. According to Jason, that win set the tone for the entire season.

By December, the Nets had moved to first place in the Atlantic Division. Fans were slowly beginning to believe in the team, and the normally desolate Continental Airlines Arena was actually providing New Jersey a homecourt advantage. Jason could hardly wait for the Suns to come to town. Determined to send a message to his former team, he racked up 11 assists before converting his first bucket and sparked a 106–97 win. The Nets followed with impressive victories at home over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards. The contest against Washington attracted the biggest crowd of the season. Jason and the Nets treated the packed house to a stunning 44-point blowout.

By the All-Star break, Jason was gaining support as the league’s MVP. New Jersey was atop the East at 35-12, and he was regularly posting double-doubles. More important, he was providing direction to the entire organization. The Nets resisted the pull of gravity and continued their fine play in the season’s second half. New Jersey shifted into overdrive down the stretch to finish at 52-30 and capture its first division title since coming into the NBA in 1976-77.

In the first round of the playoffs, New Jersey squared off against the Pacers. After the Nets dropped the opener at home, critics predicted yet another early exit for Jason. He responded with two solid performances—including 25 points in Game 3 in Indiana to give his club a 2-1 series lead. When the teams returned to the Meadowlands, Jason and Reggie Miller staged en electrifying contest of “Can you top this?” It took two overtimes for the Nets to pull away, 120-109. Jason said the game was by far the best he’d ever been involved with.

Up next were the Charlotte Hornets. New Jersey took the first two games at home in workmanlike fashion. As the series headed South, word leaked that the regular season MVP would go to Tim Duncan of the Spurs. The Nets were beside themselves. While Jason’s final numbers—14.2 ppg, 9.9 apg, and 7.3 rpg—didn’t jump out at anyone, the impact he had had on the team was undeniable. The Nets used the slight as further motivation.

Things appeared to take a turn for the worse when Jason clunked heads with David Wesley going after a loose ball in Game 3. The blow opened a gash over Jason’s right eye that required 15 stitches to close. Though he returned midway through the third quarter, the Nets lost 115–97. Jason halted the Hornets’ momentum in Game 4, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points to key an 89–79 victory. The Nets closed out Charlotte three nights later.

Four wins away from the NBA Finals, New Jersey faced the Boston Celtics, a team led by two huge stars in Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. Jason outshone both in Game 1, a 104–97 win, with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. He registered another triple-double in Game 2, but the Celtics bounced back to even things up.

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Bob Cousy book

     
 

When the action shifted to Boston, the Nets blew a 26-point bulge in the third quarter. Jason, held scoreless in the game’s final 12 minutes, accepted much of the blame for the 94-90 loss. What rankled him more than anything was the way Joumana and T.J. were taunted throughout the contest. With that in the back of his mind, he guided New Jersey to a gutty 94–92 win in Game 4—and then gave the Boston crowd a piece of his mind. The revitalized Nets swept the next two contests to earn the franchise’s first berth in the NBA Finals. With 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 6, Jason became the first player since the 1960s to record three triple-doubles in a playoff series.

The final against the Lakers proved to be the mismatch everyone predicted. The Nets had no way to stop Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant made every big shot he attempted. Jason tried to rally New Jersey, but the load was too much to carry. There was nothing left in the tank. The Lakers won the series in four straight for the their third title in a row.

Jason entered the 2002-03 season with the world at his feet. A free agent at the end of the campaign, he dictated to the Nets how he wanted the team built. The major move New Jersey made in the offseason, trading away Van Horn and MacCulloch for Dikembe Mutumbo, was done in part to appease him. The deal gave the Nets an interesting starting five, with Jefferson filling out the frontline with Martin and Mutumbo. Unfortnateuly, the big man got hurt and missed virtually the entire regular season.

Despite the loss of Mutumbo, the Nets confirmed their status as one of the top teams in the East. Through December, it looked like New Jersey would runaway and hide from the rest of the conference. Jefferson and Martin were maturing into stars, and the supporting cast took turns providing a spark off the bench. Jason, meanwhile, was enjoying another MVP-caliber season. He posted 12 double-doubles and showed a more dominant scoring touch than in years past.

As the campaign progressed, opponents found ways to slow down the New Jersey fast break, and the team labored at times in the half-court game. Jason finished the year with sparkling stats—18.7 ppg, 8.9 apg and 6.3 rpg—but there were more questions than answers ioing into the playoffs. At 49-33, the club was the second seed in the East, losing the #1 spot to Detroit. That meant if the Nets advanced to the Conference Finals against the Pistons, they wouldn't have homecourt advantage.

Fans and the media wondered whether New Jersey would survive its opening-round match versus Milwaukee. Before the trade deadline, the Bucks had acquired Gary Payton and paired him in the backcourt with Sam Cassell. Milwaukee now presented a major challenge. The Nets were up to it. Behind Jason's 14-point, 14-assist performance in Game 1, they made a statement with a 109-96 victory. Though the Bucks won three nights later, New Jersey proved it was the more battle-tested team. Taking three of the next four, the Nets dismantled Milwaukee to move on to the semis. Jason registered his first triple-double of the postseason in the clincher.

From there, the team shifted into overdrive. Facing the Celtics in the next round, New Jersey cruised in an impressive four-game sweep. Hitting on all cylinders, the Nets beat Boston in every phase of the game. Jason did whatever his team asked of him. Twice he grabbed 10 or more boards in a contest, and in Game 4 he led all scorers with 29 points.

New Jersey surged into the Conference Finals with an eye on the NBA title. Squaring off against the Pistons—a plodding team with a suffocating defense—the Nets were determined to fight fire with fire. The result was a tight series in which neither team had much room to operate. New Jersey gutted out the first two contests in Detroit with a pair of two-point wins. Martin was the hero, opening eyes with his ability to take over a game on offense. Jason was smart enough to feed the ball to his tattooed teammate and let him do his thing.

Back in New Jersey, the Pistons looked like a team that knew it was done. Sensing their despair, Jason seized complete control of the series. In Game 3, he torched Detroit with 34 points, spearheading a 97-85 victory. Two days later he put the Pistons out of their misery. The Nets prepared for their second trip to the NBA Finals in as many years, this time against the Spurs.

In the New York area, the media gave the Nets no chance of beating San Antonio. Duncan was the NBA's best player, and when he teamed up with Robinson, the Spurs held a clear advantage in the paint. Add point guard Tony Parker and swingman Emanual Ginobili to the mix, and San Antonio boasted an eclectic combination of talent.

Duncan and Parker were the stars of Game 1, as San Antonio rode a third-quarter run to a 101-89 victory. Jason turned the tables two nights later, hitting a couple of impossible bank shots in the fourth quarter to seal an 87-85 upset win. With the next three contests in New Jersey, the Nets had an opportunity to capture the title on their home floor. It wasn't to be. Duncan was simply too much. He scored whenever the Spurs needed a bucket, spotted the open man every time he was doubled in the post, and dominated play around the rim at both ends.

New Jersey scratched out a 77-76 victory in Game 4, thanks in large part to Jason, who was clutch from the foul line down the stretch. San Antonio, however, was executing its game plan perfectly. By shutting down Martin, Jefferson and crew, the Spurs forced Jason to assume a bigger scoring burden. Less effective when thinking shot first, he had to do too much on his own, and New Jersey became predictably inefficient on offense. When San Antonio won Game 5, the series was all but decided.

The Nets came out gunning when the action shifted back to Texas, but a 19-0 spurt by the Spurs after intermission buried Jason and his teammates for good. San Antonio claimed the crown, Duncan was named the MVP, and Jason—who bore much of the blame for the shocking Game 6 collapse—could offer no excuses other than the Spurs were the better club.

Afterwards, Jason was conspicuously non-committal about his future. While some expected that a second-straight trip to the NBA Finals would cinch his return to New Jersey, he indicated differently. Seeking the most certain path to a championship. He considered heading back out West, where most the NBA's most powerful teams resided.

Jason thought about what was best for Joumana and the kids, too. After the birth of his twins, Miah and Jazelle, in 2001, family became even more important to him. The passing of his father and the deaths Jim Hadnot and Frank LaPorte also had an impact on him. Another shock to his system came in October of 2002, when Gary Mack died. Mack was the counselor and sports psychologist in Phoenix who helped him through his marital troubles.

Ultimately, Jason had to decide between the defending champion Spurs and the Nets. When New Jersey offered more money, his choice was made. He agreed to a six-year, $99 million deal and began preparing for another shot at a NBA title.

To appease Jason, the Nets signed center Alonzo Mourning to bolster their frontcourt. The move proved disastrous. A kidney ailment hampered Mourning all year, and he was done by January of 2004 after appearing in just 12 games. Without him, the Nets struggled. Only two games above .500 midway through the season, they released Scott and replaced him with assistant Lawrence Frank. The baby-faced coach provided the spark New Jersey needed—the club won 13 straight and climbed back to the top in the East.

The Nets also had to survive a knee injury to Jason, which forced him to miss 15 games. But the team kept its head above water, thanks to strong play from Martin and Jefferson. New Jersey wound up at 47-35, good enough for the Atlantic Division title and the second seed in the playoffs. Jason finished the season averaging 15.5 points, 9.2 assists (tops in the NBA), and 6.2 rebounds.

New Jersey squared off against the cross-river Knicks in the first round and swept them in four games. That set up a meeting with the Pistons, who used their swarming defense to grab a 2-0 series lead. The resilent Nets won the next two to even things up. Jason was sensational in Game 4, dropping a triple-double on Detroit with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

When the Nets took Game 5, they appeared to be in total control. But the Pistons bounced back in Game 6, and then closed out New Jersey in the decider. It was a bitter loss for the franchise, and Jason in particular. He was awful in Game 7, going scoreless on 0-for-11 shooting from the floor.

Jason's mood didn't improve over the summer, especially after the Nets let Martin walk to Denver as a free agent. In his place, they signed a collection of NBA journeymen, none of whom was expected to have much of an impact. When the 2004-05 season opened, New Jersey looked like it had nothing left in the tank. Jason was clearly unhappy. When Jefferson went down with a wrist injury, fans pushed the panic button.

Jason and the Nets responded with more spirited play. On the strength of a hot finish, New Jersey went 42-40 and advanced to the playoffs. Forward Nenad Krstic proved to be an effective rebounder and inside scorer, and Frank showed he could do a lot with a little. The most important development, however, was the acquisition of Vince Carter from the Raptors. Revitalized by his ticket out of Toronto, Carter regained his All-Star form and gave Jason the perfect running mate. When Jefferson returned to full health, the Nets boasted a dangerous three-headed attack, with Krstic making a valuable contribution in the paint. Jason, who battled assorted injuries of his own, saw his scoring and passing numbers fall, but his floor leadership remained crucial to his club.

The Nets drew the top-seeded Heat in the first round. Miami had pulled off a major trade in the off-season, getting Shaq from the Lakers for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and several others. With the big guy nursing a sore leg, however, many predicted an upset by New Jersey. It wasn't meant to be. Dwyane Wade was solid, Shaq managed to get his points, and the Miami bench was fantastic. The Nets, meanwhile, seemed out of sync. Jason shot poorly, Carter tried to do too much, and Jefferson didn't get into the flow of things until Game 3. By then it was too late. The Heat swept the series in four.

The Nets opened the 2005-06 season with the triumvirate of Jason, Carter and Jefferson intact. That gave New Jersey a great chance to dominate in the NBA’s ever-weakening Atlantic Division. This they did with a solid 49–win campaign. It took a while for the Nets to establish a rhythm—they alternated wins and losses most of the season. Jason took much of the early blame, but he ended up getting plenty of credit when New Jersey took 17 of its last 22 to enter the playoffs with great momentum. He averaged 13.3 point, 8.4 assists and a team-high 7.3 rebounds. Carter, meanwhile, broke the team record for points with 1,911 and scored 20 or more 23 times in a row during one stretch.

The Nets disposed of the Pacers in the first round, winning four of five after dropping the first game at home. In the second round, New Jersey looked great against the Heat in a Game 1 victory, but then dropped four straight, including a 106–105 finale. Though Miami went on to win the championship, the story in New Jersey was the sting of a second straight early playoff exit.

Jason again found himself under the miscrscope. Although he was still a solid defensive player and, as always, a superb floor general, there were questions about his motivation and his age. Jason hoped to answer them in the 2006-07 season.

The emergence of Krstic as a viable fourth scoring threat led some to predict the Nets would make another run at the NBA Finals. This dream was derailed in the early part of the year, when New Jersey overwhelmed by injuries. Krstic went down for the season with a bum knee, and Jefferson missed a couple of months with a bad ankle.

The Nets went into March with a losing record but pulled to .500 after Jefferson returned. New Jersey captured 10 of its last 13 games. Jason was a key contributor. He enjoyed an excellent year, averaging 13.0 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.2 rebounds. He also made the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.

In the first round of the playoffs against the Raptors, Jason did it all with 14 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. The Nets beat Toronto with relative ease, but in the next round they ran into red-hot LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Once again, New Jersey made a second-round exit to the eventual NBA Finalist from the East.

After two trips to the NBA Finals and several near misses, the Nets seemed to lose their edge in 2007–08. Jason played hard early in the year hoping to lift the team, but he was already thinking about a new address. It seemed clear that Jason no longer felt the supporting cast in New Jersey was good enough to contend for a championship. He ventually let the team know he wanted out. A deal with the Lakers seemed like a possibility, but LA refused to part with young center Andrew Bynum.

Jason's numbers were actually up in most categories in the first half of the season, which helped the Nets move him. The team that finally stepped up with a decent package was Dallas, Jason's original club. The key player from the Mavs headed to New Jersey was Devin Harris. Dallas also added two draft picks.

kidd-8
The Nets, 2002 SLAM

     
 

The Mavs were gambling that Jason would be the player to get them over the hump—and back to the NBA Finals. On paper, the odds seemed to be against it. Jason would have to continually adjust as his body aged, and at the same time he would have to orchestrate an offense that could not win playoff games by relying solely on superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Jason learned this lesson the hard way when Dallas was blown out of the playoffs in the first round. A few days later, coach Avery Johnson was shown the door by owner Mark Cuban, and replaced by Rick Carlisle.

In 2008–09, Jason led the Mavs to their ninth straight 50-win season. In a strong Western Conference, this was barely enough to secure a playoff berth. Dallas made the postseason by being nearly unbeatable at home in the second half. They defeated the Spurs in the opening round, but fell to Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets in the conference semifinals.

Now Dallas faced some serious questions. Did the Mavshave the talent to be a championship contender? And if so, could they count on Jason, now 36, to be their floor leader? The answer from Cuban was a resounding Yes. The Mavs signed Jason to a three-year deal worth $25 million. They also signed veteran Shawn Marion. Even with these changes, the team was still a work in progress midway through the 2009–10 campaign. Dallas dealt Josh Howard for three quality players—Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, and Deshawn Stevenson. Along with holdover Jason Terry, this gave Jason and Dirk a real supporting cast. The team finished strong in the second half, but once again Dallas stumbled in the playoffs. After beaing the Spurs in the opener, the Mavslost the series in six games.

During the offseason, the Mavs entered the running for LeBron James but failed to sign him. Instead, they traded for Tyson Chandler, a powerful center who would relieve Nowitzki of some pressure in the paint. Along with Haywood, this gave the Mavs a trio of agile seven-footers. Along with Marion and Terry, Dallas headed into 2010–11 with an excellent lineup.

The Mavs played consistently well all year and were among three teams (including the Thunder and Spurs) considered strong enough topple the Lakers. With 57 wins and a #3 seed, Dallas figured to get a crack at LA in the second round. After beating Portland in the opening round, Jason and his teammates squared off agains the Lakers as expected. It was the first time the two teams had met in the postseason since the 1980s.

In the opening game of series, Jason looked 10 years younger. He was all over the court, and in the final quarter he played brilliant defense on Kobe Bryant. Nowitzki caught fire, and Dallas squeaked out a 96–94 win. Among Jason's 11 assists was an alley-oop to Chandler that shocked LA and changed the momentum of the game. Two nights later, the Mavs took their second game on LA's home floor. The series moved to Dallas, where the Mavs finished off the sweep, winning Game 4 in a blowout.

The Western Conference Finals matched Oklahoma City's youth against Dallas's experience. It was no match at all. Jason led the Mavs in assists in every game as they took the series in five. The pivotal contest came in Game 4, when Dallas erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime. They outscored the Thunder 11–4 in extra period to take a commanding lead in the series. Two nights later, back in Dallas, Jason had seven rebounds, 10 assists and just one turnover as the Mavs took the series with a 100–96 win.

The Mavs found themselves in a replay of the 2006 NBA Finals, facing Wade and the Heat. Of course, this time both teams had added firepower—Dallas with Jason and Miami with LeBron and Chris Bosh. Miami took the opener on its homecourt, but Dallas rebounded from a double-digit deficit in the final quarter to win 96–94. Wade had a huge game for the Heat—Jason simply couldn't keep up with him. But Wade's premature celebration in front of the Mavs bench riled up Dallas and sparked their remarkable comeback.

When the series moved to Dallas, the Heat won Game 3 behind a supberb effort from Wade. But the Mavs weren’t done. Behind an ailing Nowitzki, who was suffering from flu-lik symptoms, Dallas launched another rally in the fourth quarter. The Mavs held on for an 83-83 victory. Jason was uncharacteristically quiet. He didn’t score a single point and had only three assists.

Fortunately, Jason and the Mavs found another gear. Working with Jason Terry and Jose Barea, he helped five different Mavs score in double figures in a thrilling 86–83 win in Game 4. Dallas went on to take the next two games and win the championship. Jason had 13 points, six assists and three steals in Game 5 and nine points and eight assists in the clincher. After 17 years in the NBA, he finally had his ring.


Dirk Nowitzki, 2003 UA

     
 

Lost in the excitement of the Mavs’ championship was the fact that, at 38, Jason became the oldest guard ever to start in the NBA Finals. You’d never know it to look at him. He plays with the same passion and exuberance he did in his last trip to the promised land—when he was an old man of 30!

JASON THE PLAYER

It’s no secret that Jason’s greatest asset is his ability to see the floor. Indeed, he anticipates plays as well as anyone who has ever played the game. Jason loves to push the tempo. Teammates are eager to run the floor with him because they know they’ll get plenty of easy buckets.

They are also willing to bang bodies and establish position, because Jason excels in the transition game and will find them with a feathery pass. He doesn't throw the ball after they get open, he passes as they get open.

Dallas is a good destination for Jason’s fast-paced, gambling style. He is a physical, gritty and respected leader. Although he doesn't have the outside shot of Steve Nash, he supplies the Mavs with everything else the team lost when they let Nash go to the Suns. As a defender, Jason has held his own as he slowed down. In the 2011 playoffs, he was assigned to guard Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant late in games.

 


Jason Kidd,
2008 Sports Illustrated

     

 

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