SPRINGFIELD, MA – When the portrait is painted on the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship team, among the players who deserves a front row seat on the canvas is point guard Jason Kidd.
As skillful as Leonardo da Vinci was with a brush, Kidd was the quintessential playmaker, the player who could ring up triple-doubles by the dozens at a moment’s notice. And the player who could totally dominate a game by scoring less than 10 points.
For artfully steering the Mavs to the franchise’s only NBA title, proprietor Mark Cuban described Kidd as “invaluable” to his organization.
“I’m indebted to him for helping us win a championship,” Cuban said. “He was an on the court leader that got everyone involved.
“He was a psychologist on the court keeping everyone happy.”
All psychology aside, Kidd has reached basketball’s ultimate mountaintop as he’ll be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday at 6 p.m. at Symphony Hall. It’s an honor well earned, according to Rick Carlisle, who coached Kidd with the Mavs from 2008-’12.
“He’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game to me because of all the different ways that he impacts the game on both ends of the floor,” Carlisle said. “He just has such a great resourcefulness for competing and finding a way to win that I put him up there with Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, all those guys that just had that knack for getting a team over the top and getting teammates to realize higher levels than they thought they could realize themselves.”
Kidd reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and ‘03 when he played for the New Jersey Nets. But he was denied by Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in ’02, and by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs in ’03.
Even though the Mavs were facing the lethal trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the overly-hyped Miami Heat in the ‘11 Finals, this time Kidd wasn’t going to be denied his championship as the Mavs dethroned the Heat in six pulsating games.
“I knew how bad Jason wanted it,” Carlisle said. “I knew that it was a fire burning so hot and so deep and so intensely that. . .he had been close a couple of times.
“I knew how much it meant to him, and that made it especially meaningful for me.”
A 10-time All-Star, Kidd was mostly known for his flair for the dramatics, for seemingly having eyes in the back of his head while executing passes that defied gravity. And for seemingly having these super natural powers to will his teams to victory.
“He’s one of the best point guards to ever play the game,” Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “He went to the Finals twice in New Jersey, and then I was so happy for him that we were able to get him a ring here in Dallas. He deserved it.”
Both Carlisle and Nowitzki were very impressed with the way Kidd re-invented himself during the latter stages of his career. Kidd knew the game was changing, so he donned his Superman cape and rolled with the changes in uncanny fashion.
“One of the most impressive things about Jason’s career is how he adapted over the years,” Carlisle said. “He was a triple-double guy who didn’t shoot a lot from the outside, and then he ended up as one of the all-time great three-point shooters.”
Having viewed the three-point shot as an after-thought earlier in his career, Kidd wound up third on the NBA’s all-time list in three-pointers made with 1,988 when he retired in 2013. Nowitzki marveled at the way the Oakland native adjusted his game on the fly while seemingly not missing a beat.
“At the beginning he wasn’t the greatest of shooters,” Nowitzki said. “He was a triple-double machine, and then as the game went along and he got old he turned himself into one of the greatest three-point shooters this league has ever seen.
“To me he’s one of the greatest all-around players this league has ever seen. He was a beast on defense, one of the best rebounding guards this league has ever seen. Obviously his passing, the defense, the strips, the steals. He was basically a triple-double threat every night, so I’m really, really happy for him.”
Kidd’s basketball IQ was on full display on a nightly basis, and he was among the best of any player who ever laced up a pair of sneakers in terms of NBA intellect. It was as if he was Albert Einstein developing the theory of how to effectively run an NBA offense.
When asked what it was about Kidd that made him one of the greatest players of all-time, Cuban succinctly said: “His knowledge of the game. His intensity. His understanding of what it took to win a game.
“The time he ran into the Atlanta head coach in order to draw a tech and send the game into overtime was the most genius play I have ever seen.”
Cuban was referring to a Feb. 26, 2010 game in Atlanta between the Mavs and Hawks. With 1:37 remaining in that game and the Mavs trailing 97-95, Kidd was bringing the ball up the court when he saw Hawks coach Mike Woodson hovering a bit too far onto the court while trying to bark out some defensive signals to his players.
Kidd noticed Woodson wasn’t looking his way, so he charged up the floor and made a bee-line directly towards the Hawks coach and they ultimately collided.
The referees charged Woodson with a technical foul.
Nowitzki converted the ensuing free throw, Kidd promptly drilled a 3-pointer, and the Mavs eventually won in overtime, 111-103. And oh, by the way, Kidd finished the game with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists. And he was a youthful 36 years old at the time.
The Mavs made Kidd the No. 2 overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. And even though Kidd had breathe new life into the franchise and was chosen to the 1996 All-Star team, the Mavs unceremoniously traded him to the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 26, 1996.
Still, on Friday, Kidd will become the first player drafted by the Mavs to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“That’s very special for the franchise,” Carlisle said. “Jason had an amazing career.
“It’s very interesting that he started in Dallas and then ended up coming back and winning a championship in Dallas, which was phenomenal.”
Kidd’s arrival back in Dallas in 2008 was a godsend for Nowitzki, who played the first six years of his career with a creative pass-first point guard in Steve Nash. Thus, four years after Nash left the Mavs and went to the Phoenix Suns via free agency in 2004, Nowitzki was blessed with another prolific pass-first point guard in Kidd.
Ironically, like Kidd, Nash also will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night.
“I was excited to get the opportunity to play with a pass-first point guard again who made his teammates better,” Nowitzki said of Kidd. “He was obviously a huge part of us later winning the championship.
“His defensive leadership, his passing, his floor game, he was our floor general. He was almost our coach on the court, so I was excited that he came on board, and a couple of years later we won the championship together.”
A championship that put a renowned stamp on Kidd’s Hall of Fame career.
“Like LeBron James, he plays every facet of the game,’ Carlisle said of Kidd. “He defends, he rebounds, he helps, and he was great in our zone the year we won the championship.
“Offensively he bangs in open shots, he makes plays and more than anything else he brings the best out of his teammates.”
After his playing days were over, Kidd coached the Brooklyn Nets (2013-’14) and Milwaukee Bucks (2014-’18). The Bucks surprisingly fired Kidd last Jan. 22, which was a dark moment on an otherwise sterling career for the NBA’s five-time assist leader.
“I always thought he’d be a great coach, but I thought he was going to end up being an (NBA) owner,” Carlisle said. “I really didn’t think he was going to jump into coaching that quickly, but when he did I thought it was great.
“I thought he did a great job both places and I know he’ll be back. I was just so honored to get the chance to work with him for a few years, and when we won in 2011 it was a very special moment for all of us.”
A very special moment fit for someone of Kidd’s impeccable stature. In short, when it came to directing an NBA offense with breathtaking precision, Kidd was truly a renaissance man.