Remembering Jason Kidd's Best Career Highlights and Moments

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

Remembering Jason Kidd's Best Career Highlights and Moments

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    When Jason Kidd decided take his seat at the front of the Brooklyn Nets bench back in June, he did so without the aid of any coaching experience.

    But when it comes to scheming offenses and drawing up defenses, the well he'll draw from isn't entirely empty.

    A few weeks prior to joining forces with the Nets, Kidd had ended a legendary 19-year playing career.

    His playing days need only two words to be properly described: first ballot. His Hall of Fame credentials were earned a while back. A 10-time All-Star, nine-time All-Defensive team choice and six-time All-NBA performer, he was a living legend even before he stopped lacing them up.

    His name will be etched alongside the league's all-time greatest point guards, but where he ranks in that discussion leaves some room for debate. A top-10 perch is his basement; his ceiling stops right at the heels of players like Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas and Bob Cousy.

    J-Kidd wasn't a scoring guard, a distributor or a defensive presence. He was all of the above, plus a transcendent rebounder and the kind of leader coaches usually only dream about. 

    Picking Kidd's best moment is sort of like choosing a favorite child. Luckily, he produced more than enough moments and highlights for us to stroll down memory lane and glance at some of his finest work.

Delectable Debuts

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    The 1994 NBA draft class will never crack someone's list as one of the best, but that not's for a lack of trying from two of the top three picks.

    Kidd, the No. 2 overall selection, landed with the Dallas Mavericks after a two-year run through the Pac-10 as a member of the California Golden Bears. He averaged 14.9 points, 8.4 assists and 5.9 rebounds over his college career, hinting at the across-the-board success he would enjoy at the next level.

    Grant Hill, the third pick, wound up with the Detroit Pistons after leading the Duke Blue Devils to a pair of NCAA titles during his four-year stay in Durham, North Carolina. A two-way force, Hill left school as the first player in ACC history with 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists, 200 steals and 100 blocks, via NBA.com.

    Both players dazzled in their first run on the big stage.

    Kidd struggled finding his scoring niche (11.7 points on 38.5 percent shooting from the field), but he shined with his assists (7.7), glass work (5.4) and defense (1.9 steals). Hill hit the ground running as an offensive force (19.9 points, 47.7 percent shooting) and was equally impressive with his versatile production (6.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals).

    This dynamic rookie duo earned Co-Rookie of the Year honors at season's end. They became just the second pair to share the hardware since it was first awarded in 1952-53.

Three Scoops, Please

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    For all of his basketball gifts, Kidd never learned proper party etiquette.

    Let me put it this way—if he's hovering anywhere near the chip bowl, you're best off passing up chips for the night. Forget double-dipping, he's the kind of guy with the audacity to...wait for it...triple-dip.

    Near the end of his rookie season, Kidd suited up for an otherwise nondescript clash between his lottery-bound Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Little did anyone realize at the time that the game would foreshadow one of Kidd's greatest gifts.

    The Mavs sprinted to a 130-111 win, paced by sophomore Jamal Mashburn's 32 points.

    But it was the rookie Kidd who caused the biggest stir. With 19 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, he secured his first career triple-double in his 68th NBA game. 

    It would eventually wind up being the first of 107 triple-doubles for Kidd, third-most in NBA history.

Style and Substance

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    If this is truly the golden age of NBA point guards, Kidd may be the man responsible for starting the revolution.

    At the very least, he helped pass the baton from players like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas over to today's top floor generals like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose.

    He was equal parts style and substance, both flash and production. He'd shimmy past his defender, break the ankles of another and never lose sight of the ultimate goal: giving his team the best chance to score.

    Sometimes that meant calling his own number (15.9 points per game from 1999-00 through 2004-05). Often it meant sharing the glory with his teammates (five assists titles over a six-year stretch from 1999-00 to 2003-04).

    He wasn't like the athletic freaks dotting NBA backcourts today, but Kidd could get out and move. His handles weren't legendary, but he put more than a few defenders on the wrong end of highlight reels.

NBA Bowling Done Right

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    Having court vision is one thing. Finding a teammate from across the court while on the move with a sweeping, low-flying pass is quite another.

    The difficulty of this delivery is impossible to describe. I'm not sure how many players could hit a moving target with this kind of pass in an empty gym. Doing it during an NBA game is remarkable.

    But that's the kind of player Kidd was, always thinking outside the box.

    He'd feed Dunk Contest setups to players out in transition. His ball fakes were some of the best the hoops world had ever seen.

    It was like he was a jazz virtuoso. Like his improvisational skills were so great that he could do no wrong on the hardwood.

    Yet there was nothing reckless about his approach. He finished his career with nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, a mark matched by only two players who played at least 30 minutes last season.

    Kidd simply saw the game of basketball differently than most players did. Combine that creativity with truckloads of talent and a genius-level basketball IQ, and you're left with delicious deliveries like this one.

Kiss the (Olympic) Ring

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    Kidd's first taste of Olympic hoops couldn't have come in a more pressure-packed environment: the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

    The standard for Team USA basketball had been set at a nearly unreachable level.

    The Dream Team, a 12-man roster with 11 future Hall of Famers, destroyed the competition in Barcelona during the 1992 Games. The U.S. strolled to gold with an average margin of victory of 43.8 points per game.

    Four years later, Team USA once again wowed the Olympic crowd. With a blend of returning talent (Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton) and dominant newcomers (Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal), the Americans once again cruised to gold, this time with a 31.8-point margin of victory.

    But the allure of the Olympics had faded by 2000. Several of the league's top stars (including Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal) declined invitations to participate due to injury or previous commitments.

    Kidd was one of the players who elected to join the roster. He was named one of three captains on the team. He averaged 6.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.1 steals to help Team USA to another 8-0 mark.

    After the Americans lost their grip on gold in 2004Kidd did not participate in those Games due to injuryKidd opted for a second Olympic stint in 2008. In Beijing, he helped lead Team USA back to Olympic gold with a 118-107 win over Spain in the championship game.

Rising to the Occasion in 2003

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    Prior to the 2001-02 season, the biggest thing lacking on Kidd's basketball resume was postseason success.

    But all of that changed when he was dealt to the New Jersey Nets in July 2001.

    The Nets sprinted all the way to the 2002 NBA Finals. Kidd, not surprisingly, was a postseason star. He averaged 19.6 points, 9.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds, but he couldn't keep the Nets from getting swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

    One season later, Kidd once again had New Jersey positioned for success. The Nets dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks in six games during the opening round, then swept the Boston Celtics in the conference semis.

    This set the stage for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Detroit Pistons.

    Playing in front of a hostile crowd in Game 1, Kidd struggled to find his own shot. He missed 13 of his first 18 field-goal attempts, including all five looks from beyond the arc.

    Still, the Nets held a seven-point lead with less than three minutes left in regulation. But New Jersey's offense stalled, while Detroit's started to catch fire. A pair of free throws from Chauncey Billups tied the score at 74 with 22.2 seconds left in the fourth.

    After a timeout, Kidd returned to the floor and vaulted himself into legendary status. He drilled a fadeaway 20-footer over two defenders with just 1.2 ticks left on the clock. The Nets held on for a 76-74 win and dispatched the Pistons three games later.

    Although the Nets fell in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, that did not block Kidd's shine. He averaged 19.7 points, 7.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds for the series.

The Ringleader

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    Remember those improvisational skills we discussed earlier? Well, this miracle is the extreme version of them.

    You'd like to just write this off as incredible fortune, but it's not quite that easy.

    Luck happens when you're messing around at the park holding trick-shot contests with your buddies. This, however, was an NBA game—a three-point contest with under 30 seconds left at that.

    Clearly, Kidd doesn't take this shot if the shot clock isn't dwindling to its final second. But that doesn't mean this is all blind luck.

    You can see him survey the floor as he starts his drive. The prospect of finding a shooter outside and having them deliver a crunch-time basket in the amount of time he had wasn't an option. Not in his mind, at least.

    He glances at the basket as he goes streaking across the lane. He saw something, and again, it was probably something the rest of us could not.

    Now, look at where the ball hits the glass. It's dead center at the top of the box. As soon as it left his hand, your first thought was, "What is he thinking?" But a split second later, there was no doubt it was going to drop.

    Ask him to make another of these shots, and he may never repeat it. But he made the one that mattered, and he probably knew he would make it before he let it go.

Historic Table Setting

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    When it comes to finding teammates, few players have ever done it as masterfully as Kidd.

    Well, actually just one player has managed to do it better. John Stockton, Utah Jazz legend and Hall of Famer, is the only player sitting above Kidd on the all-time assists rankings.

    Kidd is one of only five players to toss out at least 10,000 career assists. Only he (12,091) and Stockton (15,806) have topped the 11,000 mark.

    Who cares, right? I mean, he did play 19 NBA seasons after all. Surely his numbers reflect that longevity, right?

    Wrong.

    Kidd's claim to fame isn't that he lasted so long in the league, but that he managed to play at such an unbelievably high level for the amount of time that he did.

    He was a double-digit assists man at the age of 35 (10.1 per game in 2007-08). Just three seasons ago, after he had celebrated his 38th birthday, he tossed out 8.2 a night. That was tied for the eighth-highest mark in the league that season.

    Time doesn't make a player better. Too much of it often has an adverse effect.

    Yet Kidd remained relevant (and productive) throughout each of his 19 seasons. All of his career finishes—second in assists, second in steals, third in three-point makes—are truly deserved.

Kidd's Anti-Aging Effect

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    Father Time doesn't have favorites in professional sports. It just seems that way because some handle the effects of aging better than others.

    The thing that kept Kidd on the right side of his race against time was his ability to adapt to his changing body and mold his game however he needed.

    Early in his career, he was a (semi-) fast player who terrorized defenders with changes of pace and direction. He sometimes played too fast for his own good, but for the most part his speed was an asset.

    Like the rest of us, he slowed down over time. Once he rejoined the Mavericks midway through the 2007-08 season, he started ceding some control of the offense.

    He moved away from the ball, giving Dallas a second distributor to run its offense. His defense remained strong, as he used his knowledge of angles and tendencies to keep pace with younger, faster players. A 27.2 percent shooter from three as a rookie, he turned a former weakness into a significant strength, shooting 37.8 percent over his final six seasons.

    Had he been stubborn about his style, Kidd's career would not have lasted as long as it did. 

Cracking His Championship Barrier

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    Kidd's first taste of championship basketball was bitter.

    His aforementioned trips to the NBA Finals in the early 2000s were both a testament to his greatness and a source of false hope. His Nets had the talent to get out of the East but never quite enough to knock off the best from the West.

    For a long time it seemed likely that Kidd would be just another ringless star. New Jersey's championship window closed after its second finals defeat, and Kidd would spend the next several seasons on some good-but-not-great Nets and Mavericks teams.

    But the stars somehow aligned in 2011. Kidd's Mavericks managed to not only match up with, but ultimately defeat the Miami Heat's three-headed monster.

    At this point of his career, he was more of a complementary piece.

    But even though his numbers had tailed off, the remnants of his old stat-sheet-stuffing production remained: 7.7 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals for the series. And this time it was bolstered by the presence of his lethal three-point shooting (42.9 percent).

    This cool, crunch-time triple came late in Dallas' decisive Game 5 victory. The Mavericks added a double-digit win in Game 6, and after 16 long years of searching, Kidd finally had his NBA championship ring.

    Even with a career as long and rich as his, no moment ever tasted as sweet as this.