Keith Grant started his NBA career in 1980 as the equipment manager for the first year Dallas Mavericks expansion franchise. In between his washing the uniforms days and his longtime executive suite perch, Grant has done pretty much everything for the basketball side of the Mavericks. This weekend two of his all-time favorite Mavericks, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, are being enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
We wanted to know about his experiences with these players and what contributions he thinks each brought to the Mavericks during their time here. Grant is beyond excited for the enshrinement ceremony on September 7th in Springfield, Mass. so we barged into his office earlier this week to get his thoughts.
Q: Can you believe that Jason Kidd and Steve Nash are both going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at the same time?
A: It’s crazy that they are going in together. We were a bad team when Jason came to the Mavericks. We won 13 games the previous year and Jason’s rookie year we won 36. That’s a huge difference and he was a big part of that difference. He was co-rookie of the year with Grant Hill which is another ironic thing about this Hall of Fame class – Grant’s going in this year too. Jason had a reputation for not being able to shoot when he got here, but that didn’t matter to Coach (Dick) Motta. Motta said ‘All Jason Kidd does is beat ya.’ And that is what Jason did. The triple over-time game down in Houston his rookie year was one of my favorite games ever. In those days Jason had one speed and that was wide open. He ran circles around everyone else on the court. We had to put him in the hospital after at least two games that season to get oxygen.
Q: When was the first time you saw Jason Kidd play?
A: I don’t remember the first time that I saw him, but the first game I remember watching was in the NCAA tournament. Cal played against Duke in the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Duke had Grant Hill and it was a great game. Jason played great and made some fantastic plays through the game and down the stretch. Cal actually beat them.
Q: How did you know you wanted to pick Jason Kidd?
A: We knew we were going to have a high draft pick, but what we didn’t know is if Jason was going to come out or not. We knew he was perfect for our team. Dick Motta, Brad Davis, Norm Sonju, and I all agreed that he was our guy if he came out. Of course, he did and we got him with the number 2 pick in the draft. There were some other great players in that draft. Glenn Robinson went before him and Grant Hill went after him, but we thought Jason was the perfect pick for us because we already had Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. So I guess looking back on that draft it would have been hard to mess that one up.
Q: When Jason Kidd left did you know he was going to be such a fantastic player?
A: Well, there is never any clarity in how a player is going to turn out during in his career. I was really surprised that Jason got traded. I was on a four month hiatus during that time, so I wasn’t actually here to know the inner workings of that trade. I do know that the Mavericks got a fantastic player in return in that deal. Michael Finley was a very good player and had a great career with us. Jason really hit the peak of his career when he was with New Jersey. Rod Thorn, another guy going into the Hall of Fame this year, put together a fantastic team. As for getting to the NBA Finals in back-to-back years it’s nearly impossible. I don’t care who you are or what team you are playing on. It was a good run; they just couldn’t quite get over the hump.
Q: Isn’t it crazy that Rod Thorn is going into the Hall this year too?
A: Yeah, its awesome. He deserves it. Rod is a great guy. Probably one of the best guys in the NBA of all-time for me. For me, as a young guy coming up through the ranks he always took time the time to help me get involved with whatever was happening with the league. And then when the Chicago pre-draft came along Rod Thorn was a big part of that camp. He really brought us into the fold. Even when he came back into the league as a general manager he was always great. He’s a heckuva guy.
Q: How did it happen that Jason Kidd returned to the Mavericks?
A: The Mavs had been rumored for the trade for a long time. We were trying to get it done over the NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans, but there were so many moving parts we just couldn’t make it happen. NBA trades don’t just happen overnight. They take time and have to be nurtured along the way. I think Jason’s window in New Jersey had closed and maybe he felt that the Mavericks had a window with Dirk and Jason Terry. We were right there, but weren’t quite good enough to get it done in the playoffs. When we finally got the trade done it was such a pleasure to have him back. He was comfortable here. Right after the championship Mr. Carter, Jason, and I were talking and I told him that “this is just liked we planned it on draft night.”
Q: How did Jason contribute to the Championship run?
A: He came to us at the end of his career. He was just what the doctor ordered. A veteran guy who could run the team and control things on the floor. He was able to get the ball to the right people at the right time. He obviously learned how to shoot by the end of his career and was so clutch during the championship run. The shot in Oklahoma city was amazing. He was so clutch. The entire team was that year. Everyone contributed. Jason was such a calming influence to all his teammates. He leads by example in a quiet way. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy at that point in his career because he had figured out that it’s a long way to the end of a season. Jason just got it done. He was a total professional.
Q: How did the Steve Nash trade happen?
A: Well, that’s an easy answer. It was 100 percent Donnie Nelson. He had been an assistant coach at Phoenix and he had watched and worked with Steve every day. Steve was pretty much the third point guard at that time and Donnie come to Nelly (Don Nelson) and told him if there was ever a chance to get Nash that we should make a move to get him.
Q: Who would look at Steve Nash and surmise that he is an NBA All-Star point guard and two-time MVP?
A: We had watched Steve Nash in college and he was very good. But, you just didn’t know if he could take the next step. The same things that Motta said about Jason Kidd can be said about Steve Nash. ‘He doesn’t have the greatest speed…he doesn’t have the greatest quickness…but all he does at the end of the day is will his team to win.’ It wasn’t always easy for Steve in Dallas. He came to the team at the same time as Dirk and at times it wasn’t pretty. I remember one time I was on the road scouting and I called back home and they told me that Steve had been booed at home. That was really tough for him. Steve is a great guy. He’s not a good guy…he’s a great guy. He was trying to lay it out there for the team, but it just took him a while to get it going. People were impatient and that was tough. It’s one of those great stories when you think about it now. He played on a bad team and got booed at home, but then goes on to win two MVPs? That’s a great story. And maybe being booed at home played a small part in motivating him throughout his career. You are not going to find a more driven player that Steve Nash. He let it all hang out every time he was out on the floor.
Q: What made Steve Nash’s game so successful during the MVP years?
A: He created a niche for himself. He figured out a way to get down into the lane and make spectacular shots. It was crazy how he could figure out how to score. Everyone is trying to make those types of shots now which is a credit to him. When he was in Phoenix he had a good young team that was willing to run and make plays at the basket. Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were great finishers in the uptempo offense that Coach Mike D’Antoni ran. They all fit together. Plus Steve was comfortable in Phoenix because he was returning to the team that drafted him. It was fun to watch them play, but super hard to play against because they were so good. They never let their foot off the gas.