Jason Kidd had Gretzky-like vision

Jason Kidd had Gretzky-like vision
June 3, 2013, 12:45 pm
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In his 17th season, Jason Kidd captured an elusive NBA title in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. (AP)

Jason Kidd’s retirement after 19 years in the NBA, and 17 of those as an elite player, can be viewed as many things – a Hall of Famer’s needle finally reaching E, a great player who helped define his age, a measuring stick for the point guards of today and tomorrow.

But it is also a relief, because it is still more worthwhile remembering him as he was for so many seasons than imagine how he can resuscitate a career that ended with a whimper in New York. And you know how people’s memories get shorter and shorter and shorter the longer and longer they watch.

Kidd was an extraordinary figure, to be sure, perhaps the finest player the Bay Area ever produced save Bill Russell. Russell remains the jewel-encrusted adamantium standard for winning, position-defining greatness, and to finish second to him in any number of endeavors is to succeed beyond one’s wildest imagination.

And in a stroke of luck, Kidd did all these things in other cities, so that his gifts could become nationalized rather than asterisked by the “Well, I couldn’t stay up late enough to watch him play” crowd. Dallas, then Phoenix, then New Jersey, then Dallas again, and finally New York. He won one ring in 17 years of trying (the first two years were spent helping excavate the Dallas Mavericks from their miseries), but in that quest became the third player in the history of the game to play 50,000 minutes, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

Fifty thousand minutes of top-flight basketball – the equivalent of playing every single second in the NBA for five consecutive weeks. That’s how good he was, and how important he was regarded by the 10 coaches from whom he served.

His history, indeed, is an almost uninterrupted glide to the peak, from his time at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School to his championship in 2011 in Dallas. He managed this while having what most pro scouts would comfortably call an ordinary shot, and his defensive abilities were based more on quickness than body position.

But he had Wayne Gretzky’s vision, which is to say he was essentially an owl in human skin, and he had the uncanny gift of assessing where a play was going to go and how it would evolve in the process. It was that gift that separated him from a two-decade-deep field of great guards.

Perhaps it would have served him best had he retired after the 2011 season; he would have gone out with the ring he so desperately craved, and his last two seasons, truncated by injury and age. The last mentions he received in New York were how he could not make a field goal in the playoffs (he was 0-for-his-last-18 over 11 games, and played very little in the final two games against Indiana), but that’s condemning the Sistine Chapel ceiling because Michelangelo fell down the last two steps on the ladder after he was finished.

Kidd played until he had no play left, and so few athletes ever get to do that. Indeed, he goes a few days after Grant Hill, who also played 19 seasons but whose career was far more pockmarked with injuries that obscured his talent, and a few weeks after teammate Kurt Thomas, who finished 20 years in the league as a yeoman and enforcer.

And most of all, Kidd will have to wait for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame for only as long as it takes his presenter to say his name. Jason Frederick Kidd. No statistics or embellishments need apply.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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