From his days as a high school legend in Oakland to 19 impressive NBA seasons, Jason Kidd was ‘the first LeBron,’ a guard who could do it all and presented opponents with a matchup nightmare.
Here are 10 things to know about the Hall of Famer and one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game.
Point God: Kidd is one of the most unique point guards in NBA history. He ranks second in both assists and steals and has the most rebounds ever by a guard. What separates him from others at the position is his deference when it comes to shooting and scoring. Kidd averaged only 12.6 points in his 19-year career, made just 4.5 shots per game and his field-goal percentage sits at a rather underwhelming 40 percent. However, Kidd has the third-longest consecutive playoff streak in NBA history at 17 seasons, trailing only Karl Malone and John Stockton, and single-handedly turned around franchises when he arrived. In short, Kidd managed to win games in spite of his reluctance to score. Richard Jefferson, one of his teammates with the Nets, said: “I don’t think in the history of the game there has ever been a guy to dominate more games without scoring.”
Jumper in progress: The quip among NBA people about Kidd in college is that he had an NBA body and a YMCA jump shot. And for the most part of his 19 seasons, that was true. Kidd was one of the best passers in basketball history (college and pro) but shooting was problematic. Yet late in his career, he developed a dependable jumper from decent range and even became a threat from deep. Kidd shot nearly 36 percent from 3-point range after he turned 30 and was even a volume 3-point shooter with the Mavericks, taking nearly five per game. Kidd now ranks 10th in NBA history on the list of 3-pointers made (1,988). “He went from a non shooter when he first entered the league to a tremendous three-point shooter,” said Rod Thorn, the former Nets executive who traded for Kidd.
Prep power: Kidd was a legend in high school and this was well before YouTube and the Internet. He was already 6-foot-4 and threw entertaining passes that sometimes bounced off the hands of unsuspecting teammates. Gary Payton, another Oakland legend, compared him to Joe Montana with a basketball and said Kidd was “the first LeBron” in terms of generating buzz in high school. Payton personally “trained” Kidd in summer pickup games and the Glove, five years older, was relentless in his critiques and defensive efforts against Kidd, who complained to his parents that Payton “wouldn’t let me score.” The tough-love helped because Kidd led his high school to consecutive state titles and won national player of the year as a senior. St. Joseph’s, a small Catholic school (600 students) in Alameda, had to move some of its home games to the Oakland Coliseum because the demand to watch Kidd was intense; his games drew 12,000 at the Coliseum, often outselling the Warriors. The school also sold Jason Kidd T-shirts for $10 each to benefit its athletic program and the shirts sold briskly.
Double Dallas: Kidd had two stints with the Mavericks, the first when he began his NBA career and the second when his career was winding down. The Mavericks in 1994-95 were rebuilding with youth, namely Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson, while the Mavericks of 2011 were loaded with such veterans as Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry. Kidd was traded after his first three seasons in Dallas to Phoenix partly because of an inability to mesh with Jackson and Mashburn; his immaturity was cited. Ironically, the Mavericks craved Kidd in 2008 because of his maturity; by then, Kidd had a string of successful seasons with the Nets where he showed great leadership skills with an otherwise average team.
Turnaround man: When Kidd was traded by the Suns to the Nets in 2001, he inherited a wayward franchise coming off a last-place finish in the Atlantic Division. Kidd’s impact was immediate and the Nets had a 26-game improvement, still tied for the sixth-biggest turnaround in NBA history with the 2003-04 Nuggets with rookie Carmelo Anthony. The top-five in that category are the 1997-98 Spurs (36 wins) helped by Tim Duncan’s addition, the David Robinson Spurs of 1989-90 (35), the Celtics of 1979-80 (32) with Larry Bird, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bucks of 1969-70 (29 wins) and the 1988-89 Suns (27) and Kevin Johnson. Kidd improved the Mavericks (23 wins), Suns (16 wins) and Nets in his first seasons with those teams.
Spurned the Spurs: In the summer of 2003, right after he took the Nets to the NBA Finals for the second time in as many years but came up short of a title, Kidd became an unrestricted free agent at age 30. And one of the teams that made him a high priority was the Spurs, coached by Gregg Popovich and who then had a 27-year-old Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and a point guard they drafted two years earlier named Tony Parker. Popovich felt Parker, while promising, lacked the seasoning and leadership of Kidd. Putting Kidd next to Duncan, Popovich felt, would potentially form a dynasty; Kidd had finished second to Duncan in the 2001 MVP voting. The Spurs flew Kidd and his wife Joumana to San Antonio, where they were met by the recently-retired David Robinson. However, within days after Kidd returned to New Jersey, he signed a six-year, $99 million deal to stay with the Nets. The reason? His wife, who dabbled in TV, wanted to stay in the New York area to further her career. The couple divorced four years later, Parker led the Spurs to three more titles and won the 2007 Finals MVP, Kidd and the Nets never made it past the second round again and he didn’t win his first NBA title until 2011 with the Mavericks.
Trade quirk: The trade that sent Kidd from the Nets to the Mavericks was actually done on the second attempt. The first try fizzled when one of the players involved in the deal, Devean George, invoked his early Bird Rights and couldn’t be included. So the redone trade was made when Keith Van Horn, the former Nets forward who had retired, came out of retirement just to be included in the package to make the salaries work. Van Horn received $4.3 million for the trouble of filing paperwork twice — to un-retire, get traded, then retire again.
Champion finally: In his third NBA Finals, Kidd finally struck gold, helping the Mavericks beat Miami in 2011. In that championship run throughout the postseason, Kidd averaged 9 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and nearly two steals per game. But while the numbers were relatively mild, he did leave a historic mark: At 38, Kidd became the oldest starting point guard ever to lead his team to a championship.
Tie game: The co-winners of the 1995 Rookie of the Year award were Kidd and Grant Hill. Their careers then took separate roads: Hill had the better start while Kidd the more productive finish. Hill in his first five seasons, all with the Pistons, averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Then he struggled the rest of his career while mending from ankle surgery; Hill went seven straight years without playing a full 82 games (and missed an entire season) until he hit that mark with the Suns in 2008-09. Kidd, meanwhile, was on his third team when he arrived in New Jersey in 2001, but soon finished just behind Tim Duncan for the MVP award and led the Nets to a pair of Finals appearances. Both Hill and Kidd retired in June of 2013; Hill announced his retirement two days before Kidd.
New coach: Just nine days after retiring as a player, Kidd was named coach of the Nets, now relocated to Brooklyn. It was only the third time in NBA history that a player became a head coach the season after retiring, joining Mike Dunleavy (Lakers) and Paul Silas (Rockets). The Nets wanted Phil Jackson but he declined. Kidd interviewed with GM Billy King, who said of Kidd: “He reminded me of Larry Brown” and was hired after a strong recommendation by Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Kidd on Team USA. The reunion was highlighted by the Nets retiring Kidd’s No. 5; Kidd played seven seasons with the franchise, reached a pair of Finals, was an All-Star in five and first team All-NBA in two. He owns the only retired NBA jersey by the Nets; the rest are from the ABA.