Cal Legend Jason Kidd Leads Another Contender
By Brian Price
Imagine a 12-year-old Jason Kidd running and gunning against a 16-year-old Gary Payton.
If you were on the Oakland playgrounds in 1985, you wouldn't have to imagine. You'd be witnessing some of the greatest street ball ever as two of the finest point guards in the history of basketball cut their teeth on the blacktop asphalt.
"We had a great relationship growing up and we're still friends today," said Kidd, current Dallas Mavericks All-Pro point guard and former Cal Golden Bear. "Gary went to another Pac-10 school, Oregon State. [When we played together as kids] he really helped me develop my own game. He's a guy that played the game hard every night and was an all-around winner."
Speaking of winning, it's no secret that the Mavericks, winners of 17 of their last 18, are thriving and are favorites to contend for an NBA championship this season. Their success is built largely around players from the Pac-10.
"Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are a really big part of our personality as a team," said Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. "Along with Dirk [Nowitzki], we're a guard-oriented, perimeter team. They put their stamp on every game with their ability to move the ball up the floor, shoot off movement, make plays, and shoot the three extremely effectively. They've all established themselves as big time players in this league."
In addition to Kidd continuing a proud tradition of strong guard play out of Cal, Terry is a product of the University of Arizona, a.k.a "Guard U."
After being drafted second overall by the Mavs in 1994, Kidd spent time playing for Phoenix and New Jersey before returning to Dallas. Those teams had cumulative records of 131-197 in the seasons before he arrived. Those same squads combined for cumulative records of 194-134 after his first complete season with each respective club.
Beyond his ability to rack up triple-doubles (he currently has 107 in his NBA career), Kidd has fortified a reputation as a player who revives losing teams and turns them into contenders. His time as a Golden Bear was no exception. Kidd is modest when acknowledging his ability to turn clubs around. "I just want to win," says Kidd. "Wherever I'm at, I try to bring a winning attitude and I don't want to stop until I win a championship."
At Cal, Kidd shifted his focus from interior play to running an effective offense through guard play. He continued a tradition of backcourt players in the 90's with Kevin Johnson and after Kidd, with the likes of Sean Lampley, Jerome Randle and current junior Jorge Gutierrez.
Cal was in the midst of a down-quarter century before Kidd decided to commit in the spring of 1992. At that time, it had been 33 years since head coach Pete Newell led the 1959 Golden Bears to an 71-70 NCAA championship win over Jerry West's West Virginia Mountaineers.
A California native, Kidd was a two-time state champion with St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, Calif., and was eager to continue representing his home state at the collegiate level. He spurned offers from top programs like Kentucky, Ohio State, and Kansas to join a program that had put together a 10-18 campaign the previous season.
"It was home for me. [Cal] was in my backyard," says Kidd. "It's one of the top schools in the country and going also meant my family and friends would be able to come watch me play."
His impact was immediate.
In 1993, Kidd was named National Freshman of the Year after he recorded 110 steals, an NCAA record for most steals by a freshman, and set a Cal record by racking up 220 assists, all on the way to a 21-9 record.
He also helped keep the team together during a mid-season coaching change from Lou Campanelli to Todd Bozeman. According to Cal, it was the first time in Cal basketball history a coach had been fired during the season. With resolve, the Golden Bears secured an eventual berth in the NCAA Tournament, only their second in the previous 28 seasons.
After a 66-64 first round win over LSU, Kidd led his Golden Bears to an upset over the reigning champion and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. "That was fun," the always-modest Kidd recalls. "The tournament is everything you want to experience as a college player, and then to be able to beat the defending champs that year was something really special."
Cal basketball was back on the map.
As a sophomore, Kidd was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, an accomplishment he regards as high as any of his other accolades at every level. "I dreamed about being recognized as one of the best," he says. "The hard work that I had put in up to that point paid off and it was tremendous to be considered one of the best players in the country."
The two-time All-American left the hardwood of Haas Pavilion after his sophomore year to enter the 1994 draft. Given his long list of accomplishments in a short period of time, Kidd returned to watch his No. 5 be retired as a permanent part of Cal history.
"Getting my number retired was the biggest compliment I could have imagined. And for it to be at Cal was such an honor," Kidd says.
Cal had established a blueprint for winning by recruiting dynamic guards who got Cal get back to the tournament in 1996 and 1997. The team won the NIT in 1999.
More recently, Cal, led by then-head-coach Ben Braun, returned to the Big Dance during the 2005-2006 season as a No. 7 seed and again last season, as a No. 8 seed, where they advanced to the second round before losing to the eventual champion Duke Blue Devils.
Currently, Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears are fifth in the Pac-10 and hoping for a postseason berth following a strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament.
As a pro, Kidd's accomplishments will have him in the Hall of Fame. He was the 1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year, has been to the finals twice, won two Olympic gold medals, and has 10 NBA All-Star selections under his belt. He also ranks second in NBA history with over 11,000 assists.