Jason Kidd is sucking a small Gatorade and sweating like a fat guy on a rec gym free-throw line.
He is atop a trailer at "Hoop it Up" in the West End. The sun feels hotter up here. And he really hates that Texas sun. No offense, of course, he adds--as if insulting the weather would slight his hosts.
In this case, his hosts are several thousand Dallas Mavericks fans, who normally see his face big as a medicine ball on DART buses and scream his name even louder on this busy day of the off-season.
"Jason," "Kidd," they yell from below. And: "Mavericks suck."
He waves, like a visiting dignitary doing PR from a hotel veranda.
This stuff is getting worse--more intense. The Jason we knew during the season dealt with pressure by a simple rubber band pop against a wrist--just to remind him this was supposed to be fun.
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But the off-season demands of being Rookie of the Year, in a year when he should have been a junior in college, have surpassed even his expectations--and, occasionally, his coping mechanisms.
Reporters ask about the expansion draft. They ask about his part in a labor lawsuit filed by several big-name NBA players. Heavens, they ask whom he would take in the free-agent draft.
Nobody used to care about his opinion on such matters.
"My dogs feel left out," he tells me, after the others have walked away. Happy to change the subject, he smiles like your mom when she finally gets to pull out the grandbaby pictures. "I haven't got to see them much. They're fine. But they're out in California with my folks. I'd like to see my dogs."
But the two Rott-weilers with a penchant for pillow stuffings haven't got to run with their dad in a while. Jason's heart is about as big as a grown guard dog and that means the Rotties will have to wait--until when, he is not sure.
"Everybody wants a piece of me," he says. "There's only so little to go around. I'm not Shaq--I'm not that big, so there's not that much of me to spread around. I'm a little person."
And that's the way it feels sometimes this off-season. A little part goes to this celebrity golf tournament; another little piece to that basketball camp. A hand goes to the kid who wants an autograph. A TV guy needs to borrow his face--but just for a sec; he'll get it back.
Okay, Jason? He almost always acquiesces. But he wonders now and then, with the season over, when he'll get to play a round of golf, run the Rotts, or doze all day with videotape soundtracks running in the background.
Rest, blessed rest, is a major imperative for this young man.
"Sometimes I have to just sleep. Sometimes it's hard and you just want to get away from everybody. Everybody's always wanting something. Yeah, it's harder dealing with it sometimes, maybe harder than it was.
"Then I have to remember, this is the NBA. This is what I want to do."
I ask about coping mechanisms.
"I've run out," he laughs. "You got any?"
Well, a bubble bath, a beer, and a pedicure usually work for me, I tell him. Kidd laughs.
"Really, when I can, I just sleep, that is what I do," he says. "I'll just put on a tape or leave MTV on and just sleep all day.
"Sometimes I play golf, but that is more stress than anything now since I'm so terrible."
He played the previous day and refuses to disclose his score, finally revealing he shot a round "in triple digits." But there is to be no sleeping today. A crew shooting a Gatorade commercial moves in for the kill.
"Life's a sport, drink it up," the pseudo- sportscaster from Gatorade's agency yells. Jason smiles a Gatorade smile--whatever that might be, he isn't sure. He's never been one for needless flash off the court.
A "Hoop it Up" promotional shot is next.
Hey, don't forget. Channel 5 is waiting for you after this, Jason. "Can you sign this, Jason?" "Hey, Kidd!" "Jason." "Dallas sucks." "Go Mavs."
Kidd waves to the crowd below once more. He doesn't mind events like this.
"This is good," he says, as a pack of thirtyish guys pound the pavement under a hoop. "The concrete is where it all starts. It's where it started for me. There are so many factors like the wind and the surface.
"This is hot--but it's kinda fun.
"Nothing I've had to do [in the off-season] has really been out of my element. Well, except Jay Leno.
"I mean that was a dream come true. You see David Letterman and Jay Leno and those guys. Then I saw myself on Leno and the news."
"My family is my cement," he says, sitting 1,500 miles away from his foundation by the Bay. "I'm trying to get some time in August just to be with Mom and Dad. I just really don't know when the whirlwind will stop."
He blows a lot of air through his cheeks and recites the summer "to do" list--basketball camps and personal appearances and celebrity golf tournaments.
"Then if we are not on strike," he says, "There's the mini-camp for the Mavericks.
"Days are long. There's 24 hours in a day. But you can only do so much in 24 hours, then you have to sleep."
The questions keep coming, and he answers--a little piece here, a little piece there, with only a little Kidd to pull the pieces from.
The words sound as exhausted as this man, who is known to collapse and sit in the shower after a game, sapped to the point of dysfunction by his efforts on the court.
This day he is sapped by the demands off the court. When you're Rookie of the Year--and an awfully indulgent one at that--there is no off-season.
There is only the blistering heat beneath the tall downtown mirrors of the city which gets to claim the Kidd.
Other reporters converge. One asks him to rate his season. "A-minus," he says.
And the rest of the NBA can only wait and worry as to just what the hell an A-plus might be for Jason Kidd.
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