|administrateur||Date: Saturday, 2013-10-19, 4:34 AM | Message # 1|
|NEW YORK -- Not long after becoming a New Jersey Net in a draft-night deal, Richard Jefferson was driving around his hometown of Phoenix when he heard breaking news on the radio. |
Jason Kidd had been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the New Jersey Nets. Meanwhile, in another part of Phoenix that late June day in 2001, while ordering carryout at a Taco Bell drive-thru, Kidd and his family learned that he had been dealt for Stephon Marbury.
The shockwaves were felt throughout Phoenix, spanning all the way to New Jersey.
"I literally almost wrecked my car on the freeway," Jefferson remembered. "I think I knew it before everyone else -- 'Oh, we are going to be really, really good.'"
And just like that, the Nets went from perennial train wreck to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the flash of a Kidd-fueled fast break.
Two Eastern Conference championships and four Atlantic Division titles later, the Nets raised Kidd's No. 5 jersey to the rafters of Barclays Center alongside other franchise greats such as Julius Erving, Buck Williams and Drazen Petrovic before the Nets face the Miami Heat on Thursday.
ESPNNewYork.com caught up with former Nets general manager Rod Thorn and Kidd's two former alley-oop partners -- Kenyon Martin and Jefferson -- who shared some of their favorite Kidd memories with us.
NO KIDDING AROUND
It didn't take Kidd long to make an impression on his new teammates. During a team dinner before his first Nets camp, Kidd told the Nets they weren't just going to win, they were going to make the playoffs after winning a grand total of 26 games the season before.
"He said it and it was kind of like a quiet still over the room," Jefferson recalled after practice with the Utah Jazz on Monday. "[Guys were] like, 'Wow. Hey, we probably shouldn't say that to too many other people right?'"
In practice the next day, Kidd set the tone. The All-Star point guard started warp-speed fast breaks off rebounds, delivered head-turning passes and repeatedly dove for loose balls as if he were playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
It wasn't long before Kidd had thoroughbreds such as Martin, Jefferson and Kerry Kittles all racing downcourt trying to beat one another to catch a Kidd pass. Combined with Keith Van Horn, Todd MacCulloch, Jason Collins and Lucious Harris, the Nets were on their way to a stunning 52 victories and the franchise's first division and Eastern Conference crowns in the 2001-02 season.
"We have been getting our butts kicked here for a while," said Thorn, who is now the NBA's president of basketball operations. "He turned it around from a franchise that was faltering and a team that was nondescript and not going anywhere to a team that made the Finals two years in a row."
During the Kidd era, there were countless moments Thorn, Martin and Jefferson will never forget.
Thorn recalls two games that stood out in particular. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Charlotte, Kidd had a scary head-to-head collision with David Wesley. With blood gushing from a cut near his swollen-shut right eye, Kidd needed stitches at halftime.
"I went in the locker room at halftime and he was lying on the table and his eye was completely closed," Thorn said. "There was a question about not only could he play, but could he play later on [in the series]? They stitched it up and he went out and played. I remember we had a day off between the next game, and his eye was so swollen he could barely see. By the time game time came, he decided to play, played great and we won [Game 4 and went on to win the series]."
"The toughness that he showed is one thing that I'll never forget," Thorn added.
And who knows what would have happened to the Nets had they never escaped a do-or-die Game 5 against the Pacers in the first round earlier that postseason. Kidd collected 31 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 51 minutes to outduel Reggie Miller in double overtime.
"If we don't win that game," Thorn wondered, "we may never have been the same team."
'THERE WAS ONLY ONE TEAM IN TOWN'
Kidd saved some of his flashiest performances for the New York Knicks. After playing before mostly half-empty home crowds at the Meadowlands, Kidd and the Nets relished playing on the Madison Square Garden stage.