The All-Star Kidd

PRACTICE LET OUT 45 MINUTES AGO, but
echoes in a back hallway are still coming from the arena.
Dribble... dribble... a drawn-out laugh... Dribble... dribble...

Showered and heading for the parking lot, Rex Chapman decides to
stop and check out who's out on the floor. He takes an abrupt left
and a few moments later he's at center court watching an impromptu
game.

The last person he'd expect to see taking part was Jason Kidd.
The recent visitor of seven NBA cities in 11 days with the Suns, he
took a three-day detour through New York for the All-Star Game
before returning home. Fresh off a four-hour plane ride from the
Big Apple, Kidd and his Nikes had just touched down in America West
Arena for the first time in 17 days.

Nobody would have said anything if Kidd was the first one out of
the building on the night of Feb. 9. But there he was on the arena
floor, playing a little one-on-one with Suns assistant coach Frank
Johnson.

The two were testing their perimeter play, creating quick shots
without driving closer than 16 feet to the basket. Kidd had the
ball in what apparently was a next-bucket-wins situation.

He took three steps to his right, faked left, dribbled through
his legs and elevated for an 18-footer. With a sound between the
range of a thud and a clank, the ball bounced off the opposite side
of the rim.

"See, Rex," Johnson says. "He doesn't have that one yet."

Kidd responded before Chapman's lips reached a full-fledged
grin. "Yeah," he says. "But I'm getting there."

Right now, Jason Kidd is not your typical All-Star. To him, the
last step in creating a shot isn't the flick of his wrist. It's a
perfect pass. To him, good defense isn't a bonus. It's a part of
the game. Sounds like a commercial. But it doesn't make for a very
good one.

The high-flying, high-scoring types like Kobe Bryant, Kevin
Garnett and Shawn Kemp can have all the glory as far as Kidd seems
concerned. He says he considers himself to be a part of the same
NBA youth movement that they are. But, presented with a chance to
play with all of them at the All-Star Game in New York, he kept his
game in utter contrast. It really wasn't a surprise.

"I just didn't have a chance to shoot," Kidd said upon his
return.

Didn't have a chance? Somehow, the rest of the All-Stars found
221 chances. Kidd found one. But Suns fans can overlook that
because Kidd is a proven leader.

The Suns themselves, on the other hand, refused to look the
other way. As far as they were concerned, Kidd should have broken
away from the all-around game that earned his reputation as one of
the best floor leaders in the NBA. The Suns wanted their teammate
to live a little at All-Star Weekend, to be selfish for once -
maybe make a run at the MVP. Yeah, right.

Having left Madison Square Garden earlier this month as the only
All-Star without a point to his name, he received a playful cold
shoulder from his teammates upon his return.

"They wanted me to shoot," says Kidd, whose passing game was
born on the Oakland playgrounds while running with older players
who demanded the ball. "I didn't want to disappoint my teammates,
but that's how the All-Star Game goes sometimes."

Kidd has now appeared in two of the midseason classics, the
other in 1996 with Dallas. He also played in the 1995 NBA Rookie
Game in Phoenix. His All-Star Weekend assist total: 29. His
All-Star Weekend point total: 14. So goes the game of Jason Kidd,
and who can really question his success?

Leaving the scoring up to the Michael Jordans and Grant Hills of
the NBA seemed fine with Kidd during his trip to the Big Apple - as
long as they didn't do it while he was guarding them. Millions of
NBA fans watched as Kidd matched up with - and held his own against
- Jordan, Hill, Tim Hardaway and Penny Hardaway in a matter of a
few New York minutes.

"You can get embarrassed at any moment," the Suns guard says.
"For me, I just wanted to make sure they didn't embarrass me. And
that's hard, because they're all All-Stars. It's not fun."

Don't get Kidd wrong. All-Star Weekend is fun, even if you're as
tired as he was after the long Phoenix road trip. Thankfully, the
Suns were playing in New Jersey on the final date of the trip, so
Kidd had a short flight to Manhattan.

The only problem was, the threads that would help him fit in in
New York were in Phoenix. As much as Kidd hoped he would be
selected to the game by the Western Conference coaches, he didn't
pack like an All-Star for the Suns' road trip.

"My wife brought my clothes," he says, "and I sent my other
clothes back with the team. Luckily, she brought me some good
stuff."

Properly attired, Kidd and his wife, Joumana, took in some of
the weekend's events with Gary Payton and his wife, Monique. Payton
and Kidd, both from Oakland, have been friends since childhood,
when Payton's father coached Kidd on an All-Star team.

The NBA planned several events for the players, like a Friday
night jam session hosted by MTV.

"That bash was exciting," Kidd says. "There were tons of parties
going on, but you couldn't make them all. You just tried to pick
and choose which ones you were going to and then went to bed as
early as you could, because in New York they never sleep."

On Saturday, Kidd passed up every offer he had for a night on
the town. He was too tired.

"I wish I could have seen a Broadway play, but I didn't get a
chance to," he says. "Maybe the next time I'm in New York I'll get
a chance. I really didn't do too much. I didn't hang out as much as
normal or get too involved in the crowds because I had a long road
trip before hand. For me, it was just a basic time to rest."

Kidd was so tired that in the two days leading up to the big
game he told the press he wouldn't mind warming a seat on George
Karl's Western Conference bench. But Kidd saw plenty of action - 19
minutes to be exact.

After entering the game with a minute left in the first quarter,
he dished out two assists to Mitch Richmond within 20 seconds. Kidd
finished the day with nine assists, second-most to Payton's
game-high 13. His ally-oop pass to Eddie Jones was a highlight for
the sports networks that night and his between-the-legs pass to a
streaking David Robinson was another keepsake for the Kidd
highlight reel.

"It was fun," he says, "because you get to do things you
normally wouldn't do. Certain things you wouldn't see in a regular
game come out in those types of games, and that's what makes the
excitement."

The weekend was that much more special, Kidd says, because
Michael Jordan was named MVP after playing in what may have been
his last All-Star Game.

"It was a great honor to be in a situation like that, to be on
the court with Michael," he says. "I can always look back at that
tape and say I played with the greatest basketball player that ever
played the game. It was just a thrill to be around the greatest
players, to have some fun and to watch Kobe and everybody else do
their thing."

Funny Kidd should mention the Lakers' youngster, because NBC
certainly did. Four on-air interviews may have seemed like a bit
much to some, but Kidd says he understands why the fans and media
are giving Bryant so much attention. With Jordan's retirement
apparently imminent, a natural tendency is to look for a
replacement. And with the careers of stars like Hakeem Olajuwan,
Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley winding down,
there's plenty of room for up-and-coming stars.

"They have to concentrate on somebody who has the ability," Kidd
says, "and Kobe has the ability. They just want to see if he can
respond. That's just something they're concentrating on, and I
think that's a huge responsibility. But I think he can handle it.
He played good. He was trying to get the MVP."

Bryant, the youngest All-Star ever at the age of 19, almost did
it. He scored 18 points in 22 minutes, while Jordan tallied 23
points in 32 minutes.

Bryant wasn't the only young player to play impressively,
however. Rookie Tim Duncan pulled down 11 boards. Hill and Eddie
Jones scored 15 points each, Nick Van Exel added 13 and Kevin
Garnett 12. Kidd agrees - the youth movement is on.

"I think we've got a great group of young guys coming in that
are playing great right now and are ready to make a move," he says.
"I think that's going to help the league."

But does Kidd consider himself among the youthful superstars who
will carry the NBA?

"I'm one of those young guys," he says. "I just want to go out
there and have fun, and if I'm part of that youth movement, that's
going to be great. When you look at the Magics and the Isiah
Thomases, hopefully I can be mentioned up there with those
guys."

Kidd's teammates and his coach, Danny Ainge, believe he has what
it takes to become one of the NBA's best all-time point guards.

Quickness has never been a concern for Kidd. He leads the
fastbreak as well as anyone. And his assists? Well, let's just say
his dishes are of the gourmet variety. He's second in the NBA with
more than nine assists per game.

Playing good defense is second nature. At the mid-point of the
season, Kidd was holding opposing teams' starting point guards to
just 8.9 points and 4.1 assists per game, That, to go along with a
36.6 shooting percentage.

There's no question, Kidd is an All-Star. So many aspects of his
game are so strong right now. He leads all point guards in the NBA
with 6.5 rebounds a game and his 2.24 steals per game are among
league leaders. It's hard to imagine that Kidd could add other
dimensions to his game. But if he wants to take the next step, he
knows he needs to keep improving.

No matter how many assists Kidd might get, how many rebounds he
snags or how many steals he adds to the box scores, the same
question keeps floating around: What about the points?

"If Jason could be more consistent with his shooting..." Ainge
says before pausing. "There's been nights when he's a very good
shooter and when he gets more consistent with that, he'll be a
superstar. Even without that, he's still a star."

Johnson says the strengths to Kidd's game won't suffer if he tries
to become more of an offensive-minded player.

"Sometimes, I think the only person holding himself back is
himself," the assistant coach says. "I think he holds himself back
sometimes by not taking a more aggressive role as a leader and
sometimes offensively. Hopefully that will come.

"He thinks the best thing for him is to take care of everyone
around him, and players appreciate guys like that who are looking
more for someone else rather than himself. But I've often stated
that being more aggressive will open up even more things for other
guys and his game will take off if he does that."

"I would like to score a lot more," Kidd admitted before the
All-Star break, "But there's a time and a need for that. On this
team, I don't have to do that, so I concentrate on what I do
best."

And that had been living up to the standard of the "Ultimate
Creator," a description that NBC commentator Bill Walton used to
describe Jason during the All-Star Game.

Since then, Kidd seems to have taken a new focus. It seems he
may have decided to fill the biggest void in his game. It seems he
might be a little tired of having the loose end of his game
mentioned again and again.

The new priority for the Suns guard: working on his shot.

"It's something that I'm focusing on," he says. "Especially
coming into the second half of the season, I want to score more.
And if I want to score more, I've got to practice shooting
more."

The day after his one-one-one with Johnson, Kidd stayed around
after an afternoon practice and stroked long-range shot after
long-range shot. A couple hundred worth probably. That night, he
went out and scored a team-high 21 points in an 88-86 win over
Sacramento, the first game after the break.

"His game goes to another level if he hits a jump shot and makes
them defend him," Johnson says, "because so many teams have
defended him by playing him back and playing the pass. That's what
we've always talked about."

Apparently, Johnson is getting through. And so are others who
say Kidd doesn't shoot enough. Johnson wasn't the one who initiated
that impromptu shooting contest the day after the All-Star Game,
Kidd was.

Really, it's a no-lose situation for the Suns' point guard who
turns 25 next month. Whether he goes back to playing the role of
ultimate creator or keeps balancing that with a newfound will to
score, he's an All-Star. But he could be realizing that All-Star
status isn't enough to be mentioned with the Magics and Isiahs.

"There's a big difference between an All-Star and a superstar,"
Ainge says. "And I think that when Jason learns to shoot the ball
better and becomes an effective offensive player, that will raise
him to the next level."

Who knows? A few commercial deals may yet await.

Reprinted with permission of
Fastbreak magazine
, the official magazine of the Phoenix
Suns.

Return to top of
page

NEXT UP:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter