I hope the new fans of the NBA don’t see Kenyon Martin as some old man. I mean, he’s aged in NBA years, but an old man is not what a longtime observer of K-Mart would call him, I doubt that.
My memories of Kenyon are tied to the University of Cincinnati and the New Jersey Nets, not those powder blue crème puffs out in Colorado. You know, the Denver Nuggets. I never really cared for him as a Nugget, and that probably has more to do with the fact that he hasn't been consistently healthy in Denver. He was the first athlete ever to undergo microfracture surgery on both knees. He’s been pretty jacked up, but he never let that keep him from playing.
Nets K-Mart was sort of punky. Not that he was a "thug" (and for a guy that’s a non-criminal, I detest that label), but his aggression made him a bit of a brute, an enforcer. He’s always been talented, and he wasn’t scared of anyone. Undersized as an NBA power forward, at just a tad under 6’9” and 230 lbs, controlling the paint as a Net meant something different from as a Cincinnati Bearcat. That was the real Kenyon Martin. The K-Mart with the black Jordan Brand uniforms and the black/black-metallic silver-varsity red Air Jordan Vs – that dude.
I remember not caring for him so much with the Nets either, but that wasn’t his fault. Known as a dominant inside player in college, I thought his game had to change. Even though he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, how could a guy his size (and more slender than former teammate Carmelo Anthony) be exactly as he was in college at the next level?
The was I speak of is the electric, young Texan who played under the fiery Bob Huggins. To put it concisely, Kenyon "was" a beast. Beast mode was his code, and it was only exclaimed by his tenacity around the basket. Dwight Howard now? Kenyon Martin was that at Cincinnati. Leapt with his head at rim level. Blocking shots with ferocity. Shaq-like dunks. Full court fast-breaks that often left opposing team demoralized in the process.
Former Bearcat teammate from 1997-99 and current president of Shining Star Sports (and Jordan Brand affiliate) Alex Meacham remembers; he knows what I’m talkin’ about:
He was a Prop 48 when he arrived at UC. … I believe that UC was one of his best offers, I’m not sure how highly touted he was out of high school. I mean, obviously, he wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American and all that, but you know, [he was a] good player. He came into UC [as] kind of a one-dimensional player.
He couldn’t play until after Christmas or somethin’ like that, and the game he came back to, he had, just like, two or three monster dunks, just off of rebounds, off of penetrate-pitch [plays], and the next day, the campus was just like, “Man, this kid’s gonna be a beast!”, you know? He springs off the court, as far two-feet jumpers, standing still, [and] he’s still the highest jumper that I’ve ever seen, especially [being the] quickest off the court, and I think the whole country noticed that [in] his senior year, when he was just blockin’ everybody’s shot.
He developed that jump shot that really took his game to another level. The 15-foot jump shot, the elbow jump shot, he really started to get that down and master that, and I saw his game completely take off. … He wanted to come work out with the guards…most big guys wouldn’t have wanted to come in and shoot with us
He’s a tough guy, and I think everyone knows that. Tough guy, tough-minded, refuses to lose, very competitive, all that good stuff. BUT, what people don’t know is, my senior year before every game, we had something called a “walk-through”—that’s where we walked through the other team’s plays. We walked through our plays against that other team.
We’re gettin’ ready to play UNC-Charlotte (now just called Charlotte) and they had a player named Diego Guevara, he would kill us, he was tough to guard, and so we were about to do this walk-through…and it was crazy, Hugs would (usually) come in there and take through what we were doin’, [but] Kenyon RAN the walk-through, Hugs sat there.
He knew where the guards should be, he knew where the forwards should be, he knew where the big men should be, and it got to the point where Kenyon was running these walk-throughs, and I tell ya, man—it was incredible. I mean, it truly speaks to his basketball I.Q. I think he was successful in college, and he’s become the NBA player that he is today because of this, not only his toughness, but his basketball I.Q., which a lot of people don’t know (about). Kenyon was a big man, and he knew where every guard should be on the court at all times. Just a tremendous feel for the game, mentally.
I think I went to one game when he played with the Nets, I thought he was a good player for the Nets. … I’m not surprised by the success he had there. I know he had a bit of a bad boy image with the flagrant fouls and he was gettin’ tatted up and all that stuff, but all that stuff, that’s him, but what he has inside…his heart and his mind, people don’t know it’s gold, man, complete gold. You don’t play in that league for that long, and be weak and not mentally strong.
That was Kenyon then, and save the injured knees, it’s still Kenyon today. By the time he left the Nets, the team had maxed out its potential. They'd been to two NBA Finals series with him, he became an All-Star, and all of those successful parts were starting to move apart from where they were first united at in the prior seasons.
Jason Kidd (who should’ve won the 2002 MVP Award) was bickering with then-head coach Byron Scott. Kerry Kittles was at the end of his rope, physically. Richard Jefferson was just beginning to come into his own, and it was just time for Kenyon to move on. He knew he was going to get a max contract (or something close to it), and in order for him to get it, either the Nets would’ve had to sign him (which would’ve been a bad concession, considering that the team needed J. Kidd to really tap into K-Mart’s strengths – and Kidd was expected to leave himself) or he had to go.
He left, and that was that.
Perhaps if he stayed around he could’ve become a perennial All-Star and been more productive by comparison to his tamer Nuggets years. That’s possible, but all we need to really acknowledge is that he was special and without Kenyon’s arrival to the Nets, that team never would’ve accomplished what it did almost a decade ago. He owes a debt of gratitude to New Jersey for their place in his life… and New Jersey is also indebted to him.
ed. note: stick around until the 2:18 mark in this video for my favorite Kenyon play ever. I remember watching that like it was yesterday. Also, do yourself a favor, and mute the video. -DK