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Tough Glove: How Gary Payton hardened Jason Kidd

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Jason Kidd in action

In four days, the greatest Net in history —if you think otherwise, go argue with someone else — will enter the Hall of Fame (along with the GM who traded for him, Rod Thorn.)

In the days leading up to the enshrinement, expect a slew of stories about the stoic, heroic, charismatic Jason Kidd. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN, who covered Kidd’s glory years in New Jersey, writes Monday about how Gary Payton, who grew up on the same Oakland, California, court that molded Kidd. It’s a good start to the many stories to follow.

Payton, five years older than Kidd, will introduce him as a Hall of Famer on Friday. He knew early on how great Kidd could be but knew as well how much greater he could be and so applied what’s called “tough love” (but which in his case, could be called “tough Glove.”)

“People don’t know, J was the first LeBron coming out of high school,” Payton told Youngmisuk. “He was good. Really, really good. In the Bay Area, that’s what all the talk was about -- J-Kidd.”

Like LBJ, JKidd could dominate with or without scoring. He could pass, rebound and play defense. Payton likes to think he helped him develop.

As Youngmisuk writes...

Finding himself at the mercy of The Glove’s legendary suffocating defense and soul-crushing trash-talking, Kidd said he was unable to score a single basket against Payton,

“Oh, there were tears,” Kidd told ESPN. “My parents would ask me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I would be like, I think I should pick a different sport because I am not very good at it. He wouldn’t let me score. [And] he would tell me you are not going to score ... that I was soft and that I wasn’t good enough. And for a kid in high school that was built up to be this great high school player, it was very humbling and hard to swallow.

”So, it was borderline quit or man up and keep coming back to try to figure out a way to score.”

It worked and Kidd followed Payton into the NBA and after some tough times in Dallas —where he denies he, Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn, ever broke or unbroke Toni Braxton’s heart— and Phoenix —where he was arrested for domestic abuse, he arrived in New Jersey. As Youngmisuk writes, it was a ”franchise known more for calamity than championships.”

It started with a short address to his teammates the night before training camp.

“The losing is over. It will not be accepted any long. Nothing that has happened before right now matters. Absolutely nothing. You work hard, you stick with me, you sacrifice and you do what’s best for this team, and we’re gonna win. Nothing else is acceptable.”

In talking to the media, he predicted his new team would win win 41 games. The media scoffed. He predicted a change in attitude. The media scoffed. They won 52 games and went to the Finals, then returned the next year. Indeed, the last time the Nets, Mavericks and Knicks won 50 or more games, Jason Kidd was the point guard.

He could be difficult, ask anyone from Byron Scott to Dmitry Razumov. Even his teammates knew it.

“This is a point guard that averages [nearly] 10 points a game, but you don’t want to piss him off because you know life is going to be miserable across the board for everybody,” Nets teammate Richard Jefferson told Youngmisuk, the adding, “I don’t think in the history of the game there has ever been a guy to dominate more games without scoring.”

He may not have been able to score on Payton, but as RJ noted, it was a good lesson.

There’s a lot more in the Youngmisuk article including Rod Thorn’s impressions of Kidd when he first saw him in high school. And there will be a lot more between now and Friday. All of it will be worth reading.