Originally featured in the October 2008 issue of AVIDGOLFER Magazine. Story by Robert Rodriguez
The grey whiskers are quite evident on Jason Kidd’s beard, but you won’t see him joining Emmitt Smith as the new spokesperson for Just for Men.
Still, the white speckles under his chin have fueled criticism that Kidd has lost a step, that he’s not the point guard he used to be, and that the Dallas Mavericks gave up too much youth and talent to get the aging Kidd.
His play during his second Mavericks tenure and the team’s short playoff run last season didn’t help silence those critics. He was benched during the waning moments of a crucial game against the Mavericks’ biggest rival, the San Antonio Spurs. He also was a defensive liability against the Western Conference’s quicker guards like Utah’s Deron Williams and New Orleans’ Chris Paul. And in the playoffs, it was Paul who simply outplayed Kidd and helped instrument the Mavericks’ quick exit.
Yet, instead of sitting at home and honing his game on his own this summer, Kidd went international. He was one of the point guards on the United States’ “Redeem Team” that captured gold at the Beijing Olympics. And the two guards that he practiced with and against on a daily basis in preparation for the Olympics? Williams and Paul.
The work definitely paid off, as Kidd got leaner, stronger and faster. Whether or not that will silence his critics remains to be seen.
“Critics can say what they want; that’s their thing,” Kidd said. “A lot of times I don’t think those guards can guard me, so it goes both ways. I still feel young, I still feel great, I’m healthy and the Olympics helped me. I’ve been All-Defensive Team for a couple of years; I don’t think I would have gotten those awards if I couldn’t guard anybody. I look forward to the challenge of guarding younger point guards.”
The Mavericks look forward to it, too. In fact, they’ve invested a lot in Kidd to lead the team back to the NBA Finals. On Feb. 13, the Mavericks and the New Jersey Nets reached an agreement on a trade to send Kidd and Malik Allen to Dallas for Devin Harris, Devean George, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Maurice Ager, two first-round drafts picks (in 2008 and 2010), and $3 million. However, the trade fell through when George invoked his (Early) Bird rights, as was stipulated in his contract at the time. The trade was retooled, with Trenton Hassell replacing George, and Keith Van Horn, who had agreed to come out of retirement, replacing Stackhouse because NBA officials informed the Mavericks that if Stackhouse were to be included in the deal, he could not re-sign with the team if the Nets chose to buy out his contract.
Six days later, Kidd was officially traded to the Mavericks along with Allen and Antoine Wright for Van Horn (via a sign and trade deal), Harris, Diop, Hassell, Ager, $3 million, and 2008 and 2010 first round picks.
As the 2007-08 season progressed, rumors surfaced that Kidd and then-head coach Avery Johnson clashed over offensive schemes. Johnson wanted Kidd to shoot more. Kidd wanted to do what made him a future Hall-of-Famer – distribute the ball to Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and other Mavericks sharpshooters.
“There were high expectations when I came to Dallas,” Kidd said. “Unfortunately, with the Western Conference the way it was, we did everything we could to try to win it. We just came up short. But I think with training camp and everybody being together, I think we’ll have a better chance going into next season. My season ended early, so I’m a little antsy to get back and play some basketball.”
Every Maverick should be antsy to get the 2008-09 season started because of new head coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle has gone on the record to say he will gear the offense toward the team’s strengths – Kidd dishing the rock to those with a hot shooting hand. And he recently told the Dallas Morning News, “I’m ecstatic to be in the same locker room with J-Kidd. Jason has hammered my teams so much through the years. I’ll say this: If people want to doubt his abilities, let them go ahead. But I would caution them against it. You should never underestimate greatness.”
“Rick Carlisle is a teacher of the game,” Kidd said. “I’m really excited about having him as the coach. I’m trying to understand his philosophy and run his team as well as I can.
“Being in Dallas for training camp gives me a little bit more time to make the adjustments and still learn my teammates. I think we’re all excited and have high expectations to try to win a championship.”
Both Kidd’s and the Mavericks’ window of opportunity to win a championship is closing fast. At 35, Kidd is at the tail end of his career. He doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Ewing and good friend Charles Barkley – muster up a Hall-of-Fame career but live with the void of an NBA Championship.
To do that, Kidd feels, he and the Mavericks need to follow the lead of the reigning NBA champs, the Boston Celtics. He knows that won’t be easy, especially in a highly competitive Western Conference.
“Last season, the Western Conference had 10 teams that could have easily made the playoffs,” Kidd said. “There were nine teams that either won or were close to winning 50 games.
“During the playoffs, there are no nights off. Just look at what Boston did and had to overcome. They went to seven games in the first round to a team that was eight games under .500. Yet, they were pushed to the limit. During the playoffs the regular season records are all thrown out because teams have got to try to win one game at a time. And despite being pushed to Game 7 twice in the playoffs, Boston found a way to win. That’s what a champion does.”
Should the Mavericks win it all, don’t be surprised if you see Kidd getting the ball to the hole more often – on the golf course. Kidd loves golf – absolutely loves the sport. It relaxes him and makes him focus on his full-time job.
“Mentally, golf allows me to forget about a bad shot, move on and prepare for the next shot,” he said. “That helps me in basketball – forget about a turnover or a missed shot, and move on because you can’t take it back. In golf, everything is about a routine – a pre-shot routine — how many practice strokes you take on the greens. (It’s) the same thing in basketball; everything has a routine.”
Kidd started playing golf after a high school friend invited him to play one day. An outstanding athlete who played baseball and soccer growing up, Kidd always thought golf was an easy game because the ball didn’t move. Oops.
“I went out with him and got humbled very quickly,” he said. “And then I hit one good shot, and thought I mastered the sport. I found out really quick that’s how you get reeled in to the game.”
Since then, Kidd has been teeing it up at some elite golf courses with some elite golfers. He’s played at Pine Valley in New Jersey, Cypress Point in California, Winged Foot in New York and Bandon Dunes in Oregon. He’s also played with Bill Gates, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.
Locally, Kidd hasn’t made the golfing rounds … yet. He’s played the TPC Craig Ranch, but there is one layout that he wants to tackle.
“I want to get out and play Dallas National,” he said. “I’ve seen the photos and it looks beautiful.”
Kidd doesn’t belong to an area private club, but like any golfer with exquisite tastes Kidd wants to join a club that has a great golf course and offers a good opportunity to practice. Of course, he only gets to practice about three months out of the year because the rest of the time he’s concentrating on basketball. At least that’s what he wants the coaches to believe.
“The nice thing is that you can play all year round here,” Kidd said. “You’ve got a lot of great golf. So I’m looking forward to that. Once the season starts, I try and concentrate more on basketball. But it’s all right to get out and hit a bucket of balls once in a while.”
During the off-season, Kidd likes to play golf at least three times a week. His golfing time was altered this year because of the Olympics, but surely, many would trade pegging it on a regular basis for a chance at a gold medal.
Kidd, along with others on the “Redeem Team,” was a big celebrity in Beijing. They played in front of sell-out crowds, and they were mobbed everywhere they went. Kidd enjoyed being around all those exceptional Olympic athletes, although, in his eyes, there was one particular group of athletes missing.
“I think golfers are athletes,” he said. “Yes, they take a nice walk in the park. But I think it’s something that mentally and physically can be draining. And I think Tiger Woods showed at the U.S. Open that golfers can be athletes. I think he’s one of the best, if not the greatest, athlete. He’s in that pool of them.”
When Woods first turned pro in 1996, Kidd left a tumultuous situation in Dallas for the drier pastures of Phoenix. So much has changed in those 12 years since. Tiger has revolutionized golf; Kidd revolutionized the point guard position. Tiger once loved playing in Dallas; Kidd now loves playing in Dallas.
“I’m happy to be back,” he said. “When I was there the first time, there weren’t that many people at the games. But now the Mavericks games are sold out all the time and the fans expect us to win. That’s exciting.
“Since my first tenure in Dallas, I think downtown has definitely grown. There was nothing really downtown; the first time I was here we played at Reunion Arena. I think with all the construction with the hotels and the new arena, it’s brought a lot of energy to downtown. And now, there are great restaurants and some new hotels are up. But the biggest thing hasn’t changed – the people are great. The fans here in Dallas, whether you talk about the Cowboys or the Mavericks, are great. Dallas is a sports town.
“Like [Mark] Cuban and Dirk [Nowitzki] and everyone else affiliated with the franchise, I want to win a championship.”
Jason Kidd In The Bag
Clubs: TaylorMade SuperQuad with a California Golden Bears headcover; Tour Edge 4-wood; Mizuno MP-32 irons; Titleist Vokey wedges; Odyssey Black Series putter.
On nearly joining the San Antonio Spurs: “That was five years ago and I was interested. I decided to stay [with the New Jersey Nets] because I felt I had helped build something that we were so close to turning the corner. And the Spurs had just beat us for the championship. It was a hard thing for me to sit there and see them get their rings when I knew it should have been us.”
On his incredible college battles against the Kansas Jayhawks: Kansas was the only school that I had come into my home. Roy Williams came to my place so I wanted to give my best effort when we played Kansas. Unfortunately, we [the California Golden Bears] came up short two times. But it was great to go up to Kansas and play in Lawrence, and then play them after we beat Duke in the Sweet 16.”
On maturing as a point guard: “When you’re young, you feel like you can do anything. You feel like you can pull off any pass, any shot, anything. As you get older, you become a little bit more cautious. It’s like a kid who jumps into a lake when it’s cold; the older person will touch his toes in the water and thinks it’s freezing and won’t go in. You learn through experience when you can be a little risky and when to make things simple.”