IT WAS ABOUT 14 months ago that Jason Kidd crossed the cultural Rubicon and made an appearance on — of all things — the Charlie Rose show.
The setting was the Nets' practice facility, where the erudite PBS host wore basketball sneakers for perhaps the first time in his life, trying to get a thorough understanding of Kidd's genius. Kidd gave him some pedestrian answers about fast break execution, at one point throwing him a bounce pass while Rose was situated under the rim. Rose, who knows the game as a Knicks season ticket holder, flubbed the layup.
He gave an embarrassed laugh, and asked, “What do you do if I blow the shot?”
Kidd responded matter-of-factly, “Well, then I’m going right back to you again, because I have faith you’ll hit the next shot.”
If ever there was an example of Kidd’s altruistic approach to the game of basketball, we got it Saturday night. We also got a glimpse inside the soul of a leader, and the impact he can have on a teammate in one simple gesture.
It was the second quarter of Game 4 against Detroit, Nets up a deuce. The initial play was remarkable enough: Kidd attempted a 20-foot jumper, and as the Pistons all watched the flight of the ball, he saw it drift wide right, so he ran down the rebound himself at the right baseline.
In one motion, however, he snapped off a touch pass to Rodney Rogers underneath the rim, and the crowd swooned.
It was highlight time, and all Rogers needed to provide was the Big Finish.
Only Rogers blew the layup. Looked a little like Charlie Rose in doing so, in fact.
"I should have made that shot," the Nets forward said. "I was probably too concerned about getting it blocked."
Now he had another concern: a sudden downpour of castigation, with all of Continental Arena calling for poor Rodney’s head.
Byron Scott was about to give the crowd what it wanted. The Nets coach immediately looked to his right and shouted, “Veal!” And Brian Scalabrine was up on his feet and trotted to the scorer’s table.
But not so fast.
BEFORE THE GROANS attenuated, Kidd picked off a pass by Ben Wallace and started back three-on-one — Rogers on the left, Kerry Kittles on the right, Chauncey Billups back. Around the top of the circle, Kidd looked directly at Kittles, before delivering a no-look pass to Rogers in perfect stride.
Gratitude? It came from everyone, just for this valuable basketball lesson, courtesy of No. 5.
Scott: “A lot of point guards would have looked at Rodney at that point, and probably gone the other way. But he had faith in Rodney, he has faith in the rest of his teammates, and that play was evidence of how he feels about the guys he plays with. That was great from a leadership standpoint to go right back to him. Again, I always compare him to Earvin (Johnson, better known as Magic), because Earvin did the same things. It just shows how great a leader Jason is.”
Anthony Johnson: “It just shows what J-Kidd is all about. Those things go unnoticed, but it definitely says a lot about the player he is. Rodney got a huge lift from that. You could see it. But J-Kidd is always lifting us. Every one of us.”
Rod Thorn: “He knows who needs the ball, he knows who needs a lift. That’s amazing leadership. Some people just have it. I don’t know why, it’s just born in him.”
Rogers: “I don’t know if every point guard would do that, but Jason’s a different guy. He has confidence in his teammates. Yeah, I kind of expected that from him.”
By now, we all have. Some point guards are blessed with astonishing physical skill, some with mental toughness, some with that indefinable thing we conveniently call charisma. Only Kidd can blend those three qualities, and only Kidd can demonstrate to 20,000 students what his job is all about - in a single, 20-second vignette.
"I would never let Rodney off," Kidd explained. "He had a tough shot and missed it, but this game is all about second opportunities, and on the break, he had one. So my job is to get him right back in the saddle, and do what he does best, and that’s to put it in the basket. I never hesitated — I was going to give him the ball as soon as I could, and the opportunity presented itself right then."
His agenda is now public knowledge: Nobody gets left behind in this ride to the NBA Finals. Even the spectators are better off for it.
You learn who your real friends are in the latter years of college. If you made close friends in high school, that’s good. If you made great friends in your first year of college, that’s nice. If all these friends stick with you after all these years and don’t leave and stop talking to you; if they keep in contact no matter what situation you’re in; if your bonds of friendship hold strong through the changes you all go through, well now that’s perfect.
True friendship takes years to build and strengthen.