When I Was Young…
My ode to The California Kidd.
by Sandy Dover / @San_Dova
I’ve watched Jason Kidd ever since he was a rookie with the Dallas Mavericks. I was 10 years old, going on 11, and entering the NBA as a passionate fan for my very first season in 1994-95. J-Kidd himself was 21, a full decade older than me. He stood out to me for a few reasons. He was skilled and flashy, he was tall, he was fast, and though we don’t look alike, being light-skinned and of African American heritage, a bit of me could relate to him on the surface. He played with my favorite player Jimmy Jackson, and he just had a cool about him that was uncommon. He was special.
This past June, Mr. Kidd played in his third NBA Finals in 17 years and finally won, leading a team of also-rans and thought-to-have-been losers to an opportunity to hold the championship trophy. It’s no coincidence. As hard as he’s played for all of his 17 seasons in the league, he’s worked just as hard, if not harder, to stay and continue to be productive. Just last season, just before he was to turn 37, J-Kidd was an All-Star (a questionable alternate selection by NBA commissioner David Stern, but he was an All-Star nonetheless). Just five years before that, he battled career-threatening microfracture knee surgery and returned at nearly the same top speed he played at as a 25-year-old. And he has his 25-year-old body still, too (the weight room has treated him well; also being a 6-4, 215-lb man doesn’t hurt his cause).
I’ve seen him in Nos. 5, 32, 5 again, and now 2. I saw the true blue Mavericks uniform he wore as a young All-Star, the purple and black days of the Phoenix Suns, the platinum gray threads of the Nets of New Jersey, and he’s returned to north Texas in what was dark blue and what is now bright comet blue of the current Mavs order. I always wanted to have those old uniforms he wore. I looked up to him as a player on the court. He wasn’t a perfect role model, though, that’s for sure; it didn’t seem too great that he and JJ basically got traded away from each other by squabbling over Toni Braxton, and physically assaulting his wife essentially was his boarding pass to New Jersey in the first place, but no man (or woman, for that matter) is a perfect human being. I can’t judge him; we all make terrible mistakes at times.
I remember those beautiful shoes he wore early in his career with the large ovals on the sides. The Nike Air Zoom Flight ’95 model, they were called. My family couldn’t afford to just lay those down at my feet, but those were another fiber in my beloved connection to the Kidd.
He came into the league and was called “Ason” because the joke was that “he had no J”—now the point guard who often was left open to shoot (and had so many lesser talented teammates on so many bad teams, he had to take the worst possible shots to prevent 24-second violations) is third on the all-time list of players with three-point field goals made. Go figure.
I remember watching him in his second year in the league play against the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995-96 on TNT, way before Ernie Johnson was doing his regular gig with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith (I think Dick Versace and Vince Cellini were taking their own turns in front of the Turner Studios cameras!). J-Kidd matured into a perennial All-Star and got smarter and wiser and stayed fast before the surgery later on.
I started getting older too, and I started patterning my game after his. I saw the similarities that we had (the few of them we shared). Even though I wasn’t a large kid, I had long arms, so I could defend bigger players, just like him. I had a lot of stamina and was deceptively fast—Jason has a great bit of stamina, too, and in his case, he wasn’t deceptively fast, he was as fast as lightning! He didn’t have a great jump shot for a time, and because my hands were so small, I didn’t do well with that, either, but I learned how to finish near the basket, as he often would with flair. I ran fast breaks and passed the rock to teammates without looking, like him. I didn’t have the handle like he did, so I worked on my ballhandling and made myself a default point guard (or something close to it), despite the fact that I was a natural small forward for my age and size as a young kid. Eventually, I filled out, started shooting better, got a much-improved handle, and my vision even opened up when looking for teammates; I actually got literally fast, too, and not just that fighting-through-screens kind of fast, either. I credit the work I did to watching him and being inspired.
The guy that ruffled Tony Parker’s feathers when he was thought to come to San Antonio in 2003, and the same man who was thought to be a failed gift back to Dallas when traded for a younger Devin Harris in 2008 is now the experienced role player who is ably balancing the offense with fellow future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. In the same time, I was a child who went from believing that I was a future NBA player to a young adult writing about the same game that I fell in love with watching said player.
I have his original blue DALLAS jersey in a large plastic bag that disappeared years ago in my family’s home. I’ve been looking for it for nearly a decade when I’ve visited, but if and when I find it, best believe that I’ll be sporting it on the regular with extreme prejudice.
I Kidd you not.
Sandy Dover is a published author, fitness enthusiast, and SLAM web columnist & print contributor whose work has been featured and published by US News, Yahoo!, Robert Atwan’s “America Now“, and BUCKETS magazine. You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline and via his website at About.Me/SandyDover.