Suns News

Just Kiddin'

Read Part II

ANDRE CORNWELL LEANED UP AGAINST A PADDED WALL under a basket on the Suns' practice court and watched one of his closest friends get his picture taken. And taken. And taken. And taken some more.
    Jason Kidd, a little over a week removed from a Dallas Mavericks uniform, was dribbling a ball while an NBA photographer was snapping away, hoping to get a variety of photos of the point guard in his new No. 32
Jason Kidd drives
to the hoop
against Vancouver.
Suns jersey. After all, the 23-year-old All-Star was injured in the first game with his new team and magazines and trading card companies were in desperate need of photos of him post-trade.
    As Jason tossed the ball from one hand to the other and flipped it behind his back while the flashes went off, Andre was thinking back to the first time he'd laid eyes upon his friend in the third grade. It was 14 years ago in Alameda, Calif., and Jason, a member of the soccer team at St. Paschal's Parochial School, was walking across the school grounds wearing a team coat with KIDD printed across the back. Cornwell took it as bragging.
    "When I first saw him I didn't like him," he said laughing as some more flashes lit up Jason's scruffy jawline. "I said 'That boy right there thinks he's the kid, he's the one.'"
    And so, when the coach of the school basketball team asked Cornwell and the rest of the tryouts if they knew of anyone else who might like to play, Andre wasn't about to bring up what he thought was just a cocky schoolmate.
    "Somebody suggested him and I was like 'No way. No, I can't stand him,' and then when he first practiced with us, we just clicked right there."
    The pair quickly became close friends and with Kidd playing center and Cornwell playing point guard, they
A superstar in the making.
would often pretend they were Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mastering the give and go, the two had their own little version of "Showtime" going on a few hundred miles north of L.A.
    As the duo got a little older they would head over to the "Dunk Courts" after school and on the weekends. Dunk Courts was the well-known nickname of four hoops at Grass Valley Elementary School, about a quarter mile from Kidd's school. The courts were a popular attraction because of their lower rims, a good foot to a foot and a half below regulation. Kids 14, 17, even up to their early 20s would come out for some of the best pickup games in the area. And so, when Cornwell and Kidd, who were barely double-digits in age, would show up, they were always picked last, if at all.
    But Jason, who was big for his age, quickly began to earn more playing time by passing the ball. That way, he wasn't hurting his team by missing shots and he was helping the older kids get good looks. "You always had people who wanted to score," he said. "They felt that that was the thing to do. For me, I didn't mind if I didn't score all day, just as long as we kept winning and we stayed on the court and we didn't lose. You never wanted to lose because you always had to wait a long time, so I always did what I had to do to help the team win."
    By the time they reached junior high, the boys were going from school to school and part to park looking for the best games and the best players -- like local street ball legends J.R. Rider, Brian Shaw and Gary Payton. Pounding the pavement, they'd battle with the future NBA'ers, trying to just be respectable.
    "We'd be out there until it was dark and we couldn't see the basket anymore," said Kidd. "There was a lot of competition, a lot of trash-talking and it was a lot of fun. It helped me to get to where I am now."
    By the time he reached high school, Kidd was well known throughout the Bay area for his unselfish play and his knack for the dish. In fact, by the time he finished his four years at St. Joseph of Notre Dame, a private, Catholic high school of about 500 students in Alameda, he was the state's all-time career assists leader.
    "He made everything so much easier, ya know, getting you the ball in the right place," said Kris Stone,
A poster of Kidd in high school.
who was Kidd's teammate throughout high school. "He'd put it right there for you, but some of the guys in high school would blow the layups and he was just real patient with everybody."
    The teenage phenom was understanding when a teammate would miss an easy shot, for they weren't nearly as experienced as the guys he had begun playing with during the summers -- guys like Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Manute Bol -- members of the local Golden State Warriors who would let him join their pickup games at the recreation center of the University of California at Berkeley.
    "Watching him playing with them, I was thinking 'Oh my god, he's going to get killed,'" said Cornwell, who admittedly just observed those games. "Then as time wore on he started to compete with them and compete well."
    Jason's talent and competitiveness made him extremely popular around school and in the community. So much so, that T-shirts, hats and posters bearing his likeness were sold at games. Attendance became so overwhelming that several contests were moved to the Oakland Coliseum, where over 11,000 fans would pack the building, many of which had to purchase their tickets from scalpers outside.
    "His junior and senior years, there was no doubt about it, he had taken over," said Frank Laporte, Jason's coach and history teacher. "Whenever you needed a go-to guy he'd just hit it. I recall one game he scored 20 out of 22 points in the last quarter to win the ball game for us."
    During another game in the 1991 state tournament, he grabbed a rebound in the closing seconds, took the
Kidd received many accolades and awards in his youth.
ball coast to coast for the layup and the lead and then stole the inbound pass to seal the win. Kidd would lead the Pilots to back-to-back Division I state championships and would be named California's Player of the Year both seasons.
    But it was even before the two titles that he would first catch the eye of his future college coach Todd Bozeman. It was during a Nike high school camp in Preston, N.J., before the start of Kidd's junior year. "His team was the best team at the camp and it was because of his enthusiasm, his energy, his desire, his willingness to just do whatever it took for his team to win," recalled Bozeman, who had just recently been hired as head coach at Cal. "He wasn't scoring a lot, but he was getting guys buckets. He was controlling the flow of the game. Defensively he was all over the place and right away he just stood out."
    "So for the next two years of high school I watched him a lot because he wasn't too far from Cal over in Oakland."
    Bozeman wasn't the only one watching. By the time he was a senior, Kidd had already been featured in Sports Illustrated and was being sought by hundreds of schools across the country. Often times he would spend his lunch break in his coach's office answering phones because the calls were all for him. "The best thing I could say about him back then, and even in college, was that he could dominate a game without scoring a point," said Bozeman. "He had sort of a throwback mentality where he just wanted to win the game. He wasn't interested in a whole lot of flashy things. He just went out and won the games." Kidd eventually chose to attend Cal so that he could remain close to his family and friends. And although he lived in an apartment off campus with Cornwell, Jason's home in college would become the gym.

Be sure to visit next week for Part 2 of Just Kiddin'.

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