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BROOKLYN— Jason Kidd was done playing defense.
The questions, which began Tuesday night after the Brooklyn Nets edged the Boston Celtics, kept coming.
At shoot-around Thursday morning he was asked about his No.5 jersey being retired Thursday night in Barclays Center.
The first question he faced before the game against the Miami Heat, was about the honor few players in any sport receive.
So when he was asked, as a teenager growing up in Northern California, if there was a jersey ceremony that stirred his soul, Kidd did what did best in his 19 years as an NBA player.
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He caught everyone off guard.
Instead of going right, and talking perhaps about seeing Jerry West’s jersey retired, he went left and told us about, Calvin Byrd, his former teammate at St. Joseph Notre Dame High in Alameda, Ca.
“It was just amazing because his jersey is now hanging in the rafters and you’re like, man, ‘I hope one day I can do the same thing,’’ said Kidd.
“Just to understand how special that means that I guess no one will wear that jersey. And from the hard work and the success that he had, Calvin that is, paid off. And that was reward.’’
Kidd’s reward, one he spent months trying to downplay and deflect, came in a packed Barclays Center.
There were fans in New Jersey Nets No.5 jerseys, fans in Knicks No.5 jerseys, even a fan in a No.5 Phoenix Suns jersey.
Kidd, a rookie coach who is trying to bring together a team that will win this franchise its first NBA title, tried mightily to low key this honor.
When asked about it before the game he quipped, “They cancelled it.’’
No way; no how.
When Kidd, who played seven seasons with the Nets, was hired in June, team management almost immediately began planning for this honor. They just needed the new coach to sign on. Not so easy.
“I’m very thankful, but a lot of people are asking why is it not during the regular season?’’ Kidd. “It was my choice.’’
“During training camp would be even better, but preseason game, get it done with, over and we move on. It’s not about me. It’s about the Brooklyn Nets. Hopefully, it’ll be quick.”
It was not quick. But it was poignant. It was regal. It reflected his brilliance on the court.
Because anyone that has followed this franchise knows that more than the franchise record for assists (4,620), steals (950), 3-point field goals made (813) and triple-doubles (61), Kidd did for the Nets what Tom Seaver did for the Mets and what Joe Namath did for the Jets.
“When he came here, he just changed the whole culture of Nets basketball,’’ said Heat superstar LeBron James.
Which is why Kidd didn’t want to be singled out. It flies in the face of what the Nets had become and what he expects the Brooklyn Nets to be this season.
It is not about one GM or one coach or one player.
When Kidd was approached about having his jersey retired it went over like a kid opening the Christmas present he didn’t want.
“We went to Jason, and we said, ‘Jason, what would you like to do? This is what we want to do.’’’ Brett Yormark, the president and CEO of the Nets and Barclays Center, told WFAN co-hosts Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton on Thursday.
“And he chose this game tonight, and I think it reflects him as a player. He was always selfless and it was always team-first. He did not want to take away from the team during the regular season — and this was his desire.”
When Kidd was traded to the Nets in June of 2001 - a deal that initially sickened him because of New Jersey’s lowly standing in the NBA - he immediately set upon the task of transforming the Nets from a punch line to an Eastern Conference power.
“I said we would win 42 games,’’ said Kidd. “People laughed.’’
No one laughs at the Nets anymore. The laughter died when Kidd arrived. Serious basketball took its place.
The Nets won 52 games in 2001-02, or twice as many games as they won the year before Kidd arrived. They twice played for the NBA title in 2006 and 2007.
He spent the last of his 19 seasons with the Knicks. Upon his retirement his latent desire to coach emerged.
The Nets now had his DNA. So in June he came home, not to his birthplace of Northern California or to Dallas, where he won his one NBA title but to the Nets, where his value as player was fully grasped.
He had transformed a franchise, changed perception. The Nets hadn’t retired a jersey since 1999, when the regal Buck Williams was so honored.
Kidd was part of the most glorious years in Nets history and he is the future. It’s heady stuff, stuff he didn’t feel comfortable with.
“I don’t know if anyone’s had their number retired and then had to go to work,’’ he said. “I’m going from that to going back and telling my team to keep LeBron out of the lane.’’
Heck, he’s been able to do just about everything else for the Nets. Should he lead the Nets to NBA title as a rookie coach he will become part of the city’s sports lore.
“We can do it right now,’’ Kidd said before Tuesday night’s 82-80 win over the Boston Celtics. “Just let it be quick.’’
“They can put it up. They don’t need to bring anybody in.’’
Yes they do, Jason. Yes they do.
Because more than the 14.6 points, 9.1 assists and 7.2 rebounds he averaged as a Nets player, it was his leadership and drive that dragged this franchise out of the Jersey swamps.
Now the Nets play in a basketball palace on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. They are the team with uber cool, black and white throwback jerseys.
One of those jerseys, the No.5, was raised to the rafters.
Kidd, resplendent in a blue suit, white pattern shirt and red tie, smiled fully as the banner bearing his jersey was raised. He leaned over once and whispered to his lovely wife, Porschla Coleman, herself a vision in red.
“Getting your jersey retired is one of the biggest honors in sports,’’ said Dwayne Wade. No matter level it’s on. It’s a big honor.’’
Kidd knows. He, too, had his jersey retired at St. Joseph Notre Dame High. It hangs in the rafters alongside Byrd’s.
BONUS VIDEO – Nets Retire Kidd's Jersey