Everyone today is still feeling Dirk Nowitzki’s pain, five years from watching a 2-0 lead on Miami melt away in the NBA Finals.
But what about feeling Jason Kidd’s misery?
He watched two straight trips to The Finals (in 2002 and ’03) evaporate. They were two trips most people forget about, only because it was done with the Nets, you know.
Yes, while Kidd and Nowitzki, headed back to The Finals, take a brief moment to share notes and swap war stories about their agonies, Kidd will reach for the tissue box first.
Dirk: “We were up 2-0, man. With home-court advantage!”
Kidd: “At least you had a home-court advantage. We had to beg fans to show up.”
Dirk: “Dwyane Wade was a beast. Too much to overcome.”
Kidd: “Try beating Shaq and Kobe and then Duncan and Robinson.”
Dirk: “This may be my last chance. I’m 32.”
Kidd: “Got you by six years.”
Kidd will enter the championship series, then, in a more desperate state than Dirk. He is No. 2 on the all-time assists list, one of the top pure point guards in NBA history and is surprisingly frisky today at age 38. He’s also in danger of becoming the next John Stockton: great player, no rings.
What he did with the Nets at the turn of the century was nothing short of spectacular. He transformed a desolate franchise into a team that was fun to watch, except big crowds never showed up to the Meadowlands. The Nets ranked 26th and 23rd in attendance those two Finals years. Bruce Springsteen sold out more nights at the Meadowlands than those Nets teams did.
Kidd also led a team that was raw and light on All-Star talent. The Nets’ starting five in 2002: Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles and Todd MacCulloch. The next season it was Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins for Kittles and MacCulloch.
Aside from Kidd, the only All-Star in the bunch was Martin, who got his lone nod back in 2004.
Finally: You try beating Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, who were young, friendly and dominating back then. That was followed by Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who would retire following the series.
Kidd and the Nets had no chance against the Lakers and were swept. They did tie the Spurs 2-2 and trailed by two points in Game 5 with four minutes left until Steve Kerr got hot and that was that.
And here’s where the story gets weirder. Kidd was a free agent the summer of 2003 and the Spurs flew him in on a private jet, with Duncan making a big pitch for him. The money was close to the Nets’ offer. But Kidd’s wife, Joumana, wanted to stay in the New York area to further her broadcasting career. They would divorce five years later and Kidd never returned to The Finals as a Net. The Spurs won two more championships.
Now you know why Kidd has a better sob story than Dirk.
Most likely, this is his last chance. And he knows it. You can tell by the way Kidd pushes his body in the postseason. He played 36 minutes a night against a younger and quicker player in Russell Westbrook. His averages against OKC: 9.6 ppg, 8.6 apg and 2.0 turnovers per game.
Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Dallas Morning News sums up a microcosm of Kidd’s clutch play in the West finals nicely:
With 13 seconds left and the Mavs leading 98-96, Kidd made the game’s biggest play.
Dirk missed a contested runner from the left wing, and the best rebounding guard in NBA history launched his 38-year-old legs high enough to grab his fourth offensive rebound.
He immediately passed the ball to Dirk, who was fouled with 13 seconds left. Dirk swished both free throws.
When the final horn sounded and the raucous throng at the AAC erupted into cheers, Kidd stretched his arms to the heavens and bounced excitedly up and down for several seconds.
“You can’t teach the stuff he does,” Jason Terry said. “His game will never ever show up on the stat sheet. The loose balls he comes up with, the way he strips guys, the way he makes whatever play we need.
“When it’s the fourth quarter and he’s on the court, we just feel like we’re going to find a way to win.”
He has led his teams to 14 straight postseasons. No active player has more playoff games without winning a title.
For someone who perfected the art of the assist long ago, he can’t allow this opportunity to pass.