Net Income offers his thoughts on the retirement of No. 5. In the comments section, we ask you to take the opportunity to share yours.
It was three weeks after 9-11 and people were still shell-shocked by the horror. The towers were still burning and very few people were willing to venture out to any public event that could be a target for terrorists, even a preseason basketball game at Continental Airlines Arena.
My son and I have a tradition of attending the first preseason home game and this year, despite the trepidation everyone felt, we drove to East Rutherford to see what Jason Kidd was all about. The team had won 26 games the season before and in June, Rod Thorn had traded Stephon Marbury for Kidd, seen then as an exchange of flawed players. Kidd had never played in the second round, was nicknamed "Ason," for his lack of a "J" and was still in counseling after a domestic abuse incident. Marbury, four years Kidd's junior, had just finished an All-Star season but was, as everyone later learned, nuts.
Inside CAA, past the Burgundy Blazer Brigade who were taking their jobs very seriously that night, there were maybe 800 fans, 800 fans for Jason Kidd's first game of any kind in a Nets uniform! Before the game, Kidd addressed that the gathering --it was too small to be called a crowd. I don't remember much about what he said, except for two things: he sported a big smile and said something about having faith and having fun. He received modest applause.
Then the game began. Then we knew. The first thing that was evident was the energy. It was a different team, a team not unlike the first game Kidd coached last week: high-fiving, enthusiastic and wanting to win so bad you could feel it. There was one moment that my mind may be playing tricks with, but I have this memory of a bounce pass alley-oop from Kidd to Kenyon Martin that sealed the deal for me. It was going to be different and it was.
That season was magical. Even if the Nets win it all this season, it won't compare to what Kidd did in 2001-02, taking a team that had won 26 games and who only ONE preseason review predicted would make the playoffs to the promised land. There was the Sports Illustrated cover with Kidd, now "The Savior," tossing the ball AWAY from the New York skyline, the bowling ball pass, the K-Mart flagrants that established the team's toughness, the tap pass to Richard Jefferson, Game 5, "The world is flat after all," and so many moments that were followed by a beat of awed silence, then an explosion.
Kidd showed little emotion throughout it all. There were two memorable exceptions: him flashing two fingers on each hand after evening the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston. The target was a sullen crowd that had tried to intimidate his wife and young son; and smiling broadly a few days later while holding the championship trophy as his teammates serenaded him with chants of "MVP, MVP.." He was robbed. The Nets lost four straight to the Lakers but there was no shame. They were the fourth youngest team in the NBA with no real experience.
Then, he did it again the next season! They lost again but not until after they won 10 straight playoff games, often with ease, all of them led by the stoical captain. It was the year they should have won because after that, it was downhill. Cost-cutting by an over-extended Bruce Ratner hastened K-Mart's departure and robbed the Nets of the chance to lure other all-stars.
But as things slowly descended into mediocrity, there was ALWAYS Kidd, the All-Star, the All-NBA, All-Defensive team player. Sitting in seats good and bad, my son and I would crane our necks to get a look at the CAA's "Hustle Stats" board which would flash the numbers of points, assists, rebounds etc. He's two assists away from a triple-double, or a rebound or sometimes even a point. So often, you'd think he would never get it, never get the team over the hump, but so often he did. He was a revelation.There were still moments, like when he uncharacteristically jumped in Vince Carter's arms after VC silenced an angry crowd in Toronto with a game winner (made possible by a perfect pass.) But those moments got fewer and fewer.
When he left, after the bitter divorce, the migraine, the bad blood with ownership and the long wait for an arena that seemed like a mirage, it was more ugly than nostalgic. There was no catharsis. It was business and bad business at that. We questioned our fandom, our loyalty. "The Captain" was gone. The franchise had been robbed of its core. I rejoiced when he won it all in Dallas and wasn't bothered by him joining the Knicks. He was back in New York, after all.
Now, tonight, thanks to Billy King, Mikhail Prokhorov and Dmitry Razumov, there is an opportunity for that catharsis, that emotional moment of mutual respect between Kidd and the fans that we didn't get back in 2007. He's back with the Nets, although he has different responsibilities in a different arena in a different city. But his team is reminiscent of that magical moment in 2001 in one crucial way: He is their leader and that is undisputed.
We'll be there tonight, my son and I. The atmosphere will be different, more relaxed, and there will be lot more people there than on that night in early October 2001, when Kidd told the fans to have faith. We did then. We do now. Thanks J-Kidd and Good Luck.