With college basketball season tipping off this week, we’ll be running a number of features that once documented a current NBA star during his NCAA come-up. Up first, this Q+A with Jason Kidd, who at the time this was written—in SLAM 1, published in May of 1994—was running the floor at the University of California, dazzling fans with no-look passes and quick fast breaks.—Ed.
by Lance Dawes
He’ll do that to you. Trick you. Like his favorite play, bouncing the ball off a defender on an inbound pass and then driving to the hoop. He’ll do that to his teammates too, drilling them with no-look passes. “He once knocked the heck out of my face in practice with a pass,” University of California forward forward Alfred Grigsby once said, “My fault, I didn’t see it coming.”
Of course lots of people saw Kidd coming, as he is probably the most highly visible high school phenom since Lew Alcindor. But his raw ability still caught the college world by surprise. The first pass of his college career caught teammate Lamond Murray square in the back. Later that same game, he brained another teammate in the forehead.
But his teammates came to expect miracles, and sure enough, he led them to the promised land, bringing the Golden Bears to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Kidd’s impossible twisting layup with 1.5 seconds left beat LSU in the first round. Two nights later, a three-pointer with 1:11 remaining knocked out reigning champion Duke—and served as a ceremonial passing of the (point) guard from Bobby Hurley to the new collegiate sensation, the California Kidd.
He knocks critics who say Cal can’t get there again, and predicts an appearance in the Final Four. And he’s promised that if the team makes it that far, he’s jetting to the NBA. So the show has just begun.
SLAM: Why hoop? You got enough style to be a skateboarder.
Jason Kidd: It was really an accident. In the third grade, the CYO team didn’t have enough boys in the class to have a basketball team. So I just volunteered all the time ’cause I was more into soccer. After a while it came to a point where soccer and basketball were at the same time so I had to make a decision.
SLAM: How come you don’t smile?
JK: When I’m on the floor, I’m intense for 40 minutes and on defense, I play with reckless abandon. I take gambles a lot and sometimes I come out on top and sometimes I look bad. But I can’t think about that—I just bear down. ‘Cuz when you start second guessing yourself, that’s when you start to play really bad.
SLAM: I hear you playin’ golf now, like that Jordan guy. What else did you do over the summer?
JK: The only thing I did differently was rest. I been playin’ constantly since the third grade and sometimes your body is gonna tell you to rest. My feet started to hurt and my body and mind were mentally drained. I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I took a month off. I played a lot of golf and slept a lot. Then I very slowly started comin’ back by lifting weights and shooting.
SLAM: How did you rank Cal in the preseason for this year?
JK: Fiftieth. Yo, I think the preseason polls are a waste of time. They only exist because everyone wants to see the pictures in the magazines.
SLAM: When Coach Lou Campanelli got canned in mid-season last year, the media came up with enough conspiracy theories to rival JFK. Do you think it was because of your potential value to the NBA?
JK: I think it all gets political when the dollar is mentioned. When you talk about $75 million you start talkin’ about politics. But right now those kind of politics don’t affect me. Think that’s what separates the good ball players from the average. They already have goals in mind, and they’re going to carry those out and not let anybody change that.
SLAM: Does all the hype ever go to your head?
JK: I really don’t pay much attention to the media hype. I try to pass it on to my teammates, ‘cuz if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be answering any of these questions. I don’t think it goes to my head because of the foundation I had at an early age. I give a lot of credit to my parents who made sure my head didn’t swell, ‘cause sometimes you look back and see yourself on covers of magazines and you think “You the man!” but really you’re just taking someone else’s spot from last year.
SLAM: What do you do when you’re not studying and practicing?
JK: I just hang out with my best friend, Andre Cornwell, and we listen to a lot of music. I’m definitely into the music thing.
SLAM: Jethro Tull? Guns N’ Roses?
JK: I don’t think so. I listen to rap, but also listen to R&B. Lately I’ve been getting into the classics, the old stuff, like Marvin Gaye.
SLAM: Does music matter?
JK: I think it does. I think music is something that’s knitted into basketball, ‘cause when I’m driving to the arena, I might want to play a typical song that will get me hyped, a little fired up. And when I get into the locker room, I might want to listen to a song that just calms me down a little, you know, makin’ sure everythin’ alright so I can focus.
SLAM: What would you change about basketball if you could?
JK: The shot clock. I think the shot clock should be reduced to maybe 20 seconds to make it a really fast game. Up-tempo. you’d see a lot more people taking more gambles on defense.
SLAM: You started playing pick-up games with NBA pros in high school. Before you went to Cal, you won MVP honors over Gary Payton, Brian Shaw, Chris “Money” Mullin in a pro-am league. Tell me you’re totally unfazed when you meet these guys on the court.
JK: I think it only affects me when I walk into the gym to see millions of dollars running up and down the court and I’m just on a college scholarship. But when you’re out there playin’, you’re just worried about doing something positive and making sure you don’t make a mistake and lose the ball game.
SLAM: So what do you think the main difference will be when you go pro?
JK: When you’re at college, you have the atmosphere of things being wild and you got the adrenaline flowin’ and you do things sometimes the pros wouldn’t even do. In college you ave the sixth man—that’s the crowd. When you’re playing the game and the crowd is behind you, you have the advantage. But when you start talkin’ dollars and cents, the pros are a little bit more serious ‘cause it’s their job and they’re getting paid to go out there and do what they’re capable of doing. In the pro atmosphere, it’s like being at the opera, where they just clap at an out-of-this-world play, like the Jordan dunk or the Magic pass.
SLAM: Describe basketball as an animal.
JK: I dunno, a cheetah…a lion… a fast moving animal that strikes. A snake…a cobra…a deer…something that can run smooth, attack, and defend itself.
SLAM: Do you see basketball as an artform?
JK: It’s definitely an art form from the outside, but I think for the players it’s something that they worked on, and not just to make it an art, but something that they wanted to do. And they sweat for hours, days and years, just to perfect what they do.
SLAM: What would you want people to know about you?
JK: I’m really shy. I love to be outdoors, and I love to experience new things. I just tried to pick up golf and bowling. Something that doesn’t have to deal with basketball. Horseback riding. Anything that’s fun at least once. It’s not fun, I won’t do it again.