Jason Kidd: A Reflection

by February 28, 2008
23

By Jake Appleman

*

Part I: THE BEGINNING (OF THE END)

Visiting locker room, Madison Square Garden, last preseason game (Nets-Knicks) before 07-08 officially tips off.

“Alright guys, I’m done for the season,” Jason Kidd says jokingly. 10-15 Sportswriters of assorted ages and outlets share a laugh with one of the greatest point guards in NBA history.

Kidd, who had just spent an extended period ensconced in the middle of a semi-circular media chamber of questioning, was referring to his excessive preseason media participation—the Philly area media also reportedly had him pinned in a corner a few days before.

“Alright guys, I’m done for the season.” The comment rings of such ridiculous irony after the fact, it’s impossible not to think in metaphors. It started with a series of questions I had to ask Kidd for a feature on him that I was working on. (Perhaps selfishly, I wonder if Kidd would have even talked pregame—he normally wouldn’t—that night if he didn’t have a pending SLAM interview that had already been put off once.)

When others picked up on the scent, it turned into something bigger. Kidd was relaxed, answering questions beautifully and pleasing the throng like we were his teammates in the open floor.

The story turned out like most things I’ve written about J-Kidd: very positive. I wanted to pay respect to what he’d meant to the New Jersey Nets franchise and their fans. More importantly, some of the things he said underlined what at the time seemed like his very genuine hope for this year’s rendition of the Nets.

Oops.

**

PART II: Fans

I can’t lie. Jason Kidd changed my life. In the fall of 2001, a few months after graduating high school, my family moved from the suburbs back into New York City. I decided to take a year off before starting college and get to know the city. All of my friends were either finishing high school or starting college. I was alone, adjusting to the biggest metropolis in the country.

The year before, the Starbury Nets were awful and injury riddled almost beyond belief. On the bright side, pre 9/11, the desolate “morgue”—as we called the “Izod Center” back then—was home to lax security guards that gave young NBA fiends the perfect opportunity to witness their heroes, or Vladamir Stepania, up close. We would sneak past security guards like Speedy Gonzalez racing past Sylvester the Cat in search of some good cheese.

01-02 changed everything. Thanks to increased security measures that aimed to, among other things, block terrorists like me from enjoying the occasional plastic bottle cap, my co-opted seats close to the floor were replaced by my actual seats way up in the East Rutherford sky. It didn’t matter, though, because the Nets were winning.

01-02 section 215 row 9 seat 1 New Jersey Nets fan exercise: Step 1) Kidd grabs rebound or outlet pass slung in his direction–focus extra attention on developing play, quickly adjust glasses if necessary. Step 2) Kidd races ahead–zoom, zoom–and feigns penetration, drawing the defense in–slide butt slightly down towards edge of seat. Step 3) Kidd whips a pass to an open KVH or Kerry Kittles–raise arms way above head, indicating the potential for made 3 pointer. Step 4) Shot in air, heading towards basket–hold breath. Step 5) Ball splashes through net–swing arms down before cocking right arm back and smashing clenched fist through stale arena air.

That winter, in between folding shirts and dealing with bitchy tourists while listening to the same damn highlight loop at the ESPN Zone in Timesquare, I had the Nets. They were my salvation from a life so ridiculously boring, I had to devise new ways to keep things interesting (count pigeons walking by, get lost going places on purpose, leaf through copies of old SLAMs, etc.).

The Nets pushed me through an otherwise forgettable year of my life and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. And it’s because Jason Kidd and a band of suddenly healthy brothers took the Meadowlands Racetrack and fused it with a nearby basketball court.

The 01-02 Nets, from the perspective of a fan, were the most important team I have ever rooted for. Older and more cynical by the day, I don’t ever expect that to change.

My story is one of many, but it’s the only one I know.

***

PART III: Masks

Some people wear masks to prevent the world from seeing their true selves. Other people hate the way a mask feels and can’t help but stand buck naked in front of the world screaming, “love me, hate me, I just don’t give a f–k.” Most of us, however, lie somewhere in between. The league’s Type A’s in this comparison are Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd. Type B’s are Rasheed Wallace and Gilbert Arenas (though Arenas, for reasons obvious to the true blog-hard, can waver anywhere between a B- and a B+).

Back before I was given the gift of the press credential, it was easy to focus simply on the way Kidd led his team and played basketball. Fans of the game rarely want any of that extra personal junk clouding the worship of the heroes, though the internet age has made the separation of church (basketball) and state (of mind) incredibly difficult.

The strangest masks-related reality of Kidd’s tenure in Jersey proved to be the juxtaposition of Kidd’s rep against teammate Vince Carter’s. Kidd was consistently deified while Carter was reviled. Truth be told, Kidd’s on-court personality proved a far cry from his media persona. And while Vince may not play the game the way you like it, you can occasionally look into his eyes and catch a small, fleeting glimpse of the real VC. More to the point, it’s a lot easier to understand the psychology of a human being with a penchant for undermining good offense by haphazardly jacking a fadeaway–habit divided by laziness = human nature–than somebody who plays the game one way and plays other games in other ways. For those stuck under large internets-related rocks, Dave D’Allessandro of the Newark Star Ledger recently wrote that, “in the pantheon of passive-aggressives, [Kidd] has no peer.”

Yet, because Kidd’s game sought to redefine the word unselfish, people (fans, media, whoever) frequently projected the way he played on to his character off the court. The irony of the Kidd/Carter dynamic and the way it was treated–Kidd’s a leader and a winner, thus he’s a winner and leader in life; Vince is a lazy, thus he’s pretty much a disappointment in every regard–is that the presumption was absurd.

Think about it: Far be it from me to annoint VC as any sort of saint, but at least he admitted that he quit on the Raptors–and still deals with the boos whenever he returns to Toronto. It’s widely believed that Kidd quit on the Nets and he told the press straight-faced that he had a migraine. Truth or winning? What’s your sauce?

****

PART IV: Relationships

In the modern era where divorce reigns supreme, the marriages that work are the ones where compromise is turned into an art form. Two sides must have a trust that is simultaneously inherent and built upon, to the point that each side cannot truly live and enjoy life to the fullest without the other. Jason Kidd, literally and figuratively, is not a man made for marriage (SURPRISE!!!!!!!).

Like most competitive fiends that ascribe to winning it all at any cost, Kidd is the type enamored by the ring of temptation. His eyes saw jewelry sparkling in the distance like an oasis. He couldn’t help but leave an emotional train-wreck in his wake. It’s his worst fast break.

This is what saddens sentimental Nets fans: A full commitment was made to The Captain—till retirement do us part—and he quit on us. Of course it’s also important to recognize that Kidd is an NBA player, not AC Green. It doesn’t take a Durex Condom Tester to realize that monogamy isn’t natural in the jungle of professional athletes (lions) and groupies (horny grazing deer).

As is the case when any long-standing relationship turns sour, those ditched can’t help but a feel an awkwardly confusing bitter sweetness. We welcome the newbie Nets to the fold—players, cap space and breathing room for guys already there that will invariably better the team—while remaining nostalgic for a past that will never be anything more than highlight reels and emotional recall.

Considering this is a work-related divorce, a lot of it boils down to how you look at it. If you see J-Kidd as an unhappy employee at a company—and come on, most of us have been there—you might understand his desire to split. However, if you’re the type that believes, in part due to responsibility assumed by those earning outrageous sums of money, NBA elder statesmen need to shut their pie-holes and stop acting like a ring is a late-career birthright, resume venting.

*****

PART V: The Conclusion

It’s the strangest mixture of ‘thanks for teaching us how to win and forever changing a franchise’ and ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’

That said, buck what you heard, there still isn’t a ring he can win that’s more important than the revolution he led in the Jersey swamp.