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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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"Jason isn't the guy who could take us to the next level. Management wasn't comfortable putting the franchise in his hands." —Mavericks interim general manager Frank Zaccanelli upon trading Jason Kidd on December 26, 1996
"Kidd's skill set and leadership will help us close out games and series. Because of him we have a better opportunity to win a championship." —Mavericks coach Avery Johnson upon acquiring Jason Kidd on February 19, 2008
Surreal. One regime's scapegoat is another regime's savior.
You can—as I have and will continue to do—play Buzz Killington on the Dallas Mavericks trade for Jason Kidd. It is, after all, a deal that forces them to win an NBA Championship as an older, slower, smaller team reliant upon backup big men signed off the discard pile. The franchise's most controversial transaction since Kidd was traded away 11 years ago just might turn out to be owner Mark Cuban's worst decision since he climaxed The Benefactor with Jenga. Considering Kidd's declining Blue Book value, the Mavs traded away too much in point guard Devin Harris and center DeSagana Diop, much less the three other players, two first-round draft picks and $3 million. Kidd could easily end up both the Minnesota Vikings' Herschel Walker albatross and our most overblown New Jersey import this side of Bill Parcells. The Mavs' braintrust promises it's a swell deal, but aren't these the same guys who let Steve Nash walk? Who originally took Harris with the fifth overall pick? Who recently whiffed on Maurice Ager and Nick Fazekas? In the end, the Mavs let Nash go too soon, brought back Kidd too late and will again fall short of their first NBA title.
But you gotta admit, Kidd has you caring.
There's no denying the impact of his second coming. A lethargic, spoiled fan base is suddenly re-energized by the temptation of instant gratification. His debut last Wednesday was Fox Sports Net's highest-rated Mavs game of the season. The Mavs' basketball IQ instantly soared. With a Hall of Fame leader, they are no longer physically soft or psychologically frail. The Mavs may not win it all, but the franchise that has blown more great leads than Barney Fife finally has a closer.
Whether or not Kidd produces a title in the next two years, his homecoming saga is titillating. And to think, this whole full-circle jerk was made possible by...Suki?
At age 3 Jason Frederick Kidd dreamed of being not John Stockton but John Wayne. But during an Oakland, California, ride atop one of his family's horses—an Appaloosa named Suki—he was bucked toward basketball.
"My parents warned me, but I wanted to go fast like John Wayne," Kidd told me during his first go-round with the Mavs. "Just when I got going, a dog ran out and spooked us. He raised up and bucked me off, and that was it."
By 14 Kidd fixated on another Wild West icon, Magic Johnson. His first love was soccer, but Kidd soon found basketball with friends Andre Cornwell, Kris Stone and Jay Hadnot. Four years younger and considerably smaller, Kidd was always selected last in pickup games on the concrete court with the 8-foot rims behind Grass Valley Elementary. He accepted, and eventually perfected, the golden rule—"No pass, no play."
"I was just out there for exercise at first, but Jay taught me how to pass and who to pass to," Kidd said. "He helped me find real joy in passing."
While Hadnot—who committed suicide at 21—was the friend Kidd lost, Cornwell became the brother he never had. Though less than 5-foot-8 as teens, they teamed up on the late-night courts and consistently beat the Bay Area big boys.
"We saw Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Magic run this sweet give-and-go, so we decided that would be our play too," Kidd said. "We called it the 'GG' and acted like we invented it. Andre even wanted me to get goggles like Kareem. But, no way, I wanted to be Magic."
At 21, after a short-but-sweet college career at Cal, Kidd was drafted No. 2 overall by the Mavs in '94. He owned a $54 million contract, $15 million Nike shoe deal and the immense pressure of resurrecting the Mav-wrecks, at the time the worst franchise in pro sports. Initially, the star who digs Robert DeNiro and Chinese food willed Dallas to a 23-game improvement, became the first Mav to start an All-Star Game and donated $50,000 for an outdoor basketball court at the West Dallas Community Church School. He imposed his will on the team, infused fans with hope and totally amped Reunion Arena with his passion. Think Barack Obama with a basketball. But there was also a hushed paternity suit, the traffic accident he "forgot" to tell the Mavs about, a missed practice because he fell asleep at the Waffle House and, of course, public feuds with teammate Jim Jackson and coach Jim Cleamons.
At 23—just two and a half years after he arrived—Kidd was gone. To Phoenix, then New Jersey, grudgingly growing up along the way. Through relentless jeers on his returns to Dallas. Through seven more All-Star appearances, two unsuccessful trips to the NBA Finals and a couple gigs with USA's Dream Team. Through the domestic abuse of his wife and ensuing nasty divorce. Through the death of his father, Steve, from a heart attack in '99.
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