Last week, a question got thrown around among a few of The Brooklyn Game contributors about what to do with the elephant in the Barclays Center that is Jason Kidd’s jersey hanging in the rafters. After all that transpired last month, did his second ugly exit from Nets warrant an “un-retirement” ceremony? Do his actions of the present dampen his play of the past?
When the Kidd news came out and that question appeared through my Twitter timeline, my answer was absolutely yes. Take it down, burn it, give the number to Cory Jefferson for all I care.
But I’ve calmed down. That’s the wrong way to go about it.
His number was retired for one reason and one reason only: he was a ridiculously good basketball player for the New Jersey Nets. When ridiculously good basketball players play for a team, that team shows their gratitude by letting nobody ever wear that number again. That’s just how it works.
But there’s a bigger question here:
What would’ve happened if the Nets didn’t retire his jersey in the first place last preseason?
If you make the decision to roll out the red carpet now, you look at everything. You look at his play, the wins, the NBA Finals appearances and franchise records. You look at his first exit. The migraines. You look at his coaching tenure: the shaky start, the spilled soda, the turnaround. You look at the capper: the sour taste left from the second exit.
Do you give that guy the highest honor you can give a former player?
He’d deserve the honor. Definitely. Jersey retirements should be about your ability to play the game at the highest level (unless you’re O.J. Simpson). He deserved his jersey retirement last year and he still would today.
But would he get it?
Would the Nets dare honor the guy who spurred them twice? Would a team like the Raptors ever retire Vince Carter’s number? Would the Magic retire Dwight Howard’s? How forgiving can sports fans be? How much resentment should an executive office of adults hold?
I don’t think they would.
It’s weird what offends sports fans. As a general rule, if I don’t think there’s ever a chance that we will someday be friends, I don’t care about your personal life. It’s the Tiger Woods Rule: I will never be friends with Tiger Woods, and because of that, I don’t really care that he had a whole bunch of extramarital affairs. What I care about is that he is no longer fun to watch play golf. His affairs didn’t affect me, so his personal life is not my priority. But not being fun to watch anymore affects my life. His affairs don’t offend me, his poor play does.
This is selfish of me. I recognize that. Tiger and his wife are people, and as a person, I should theoretically care about their personal problems. I don’t. It’s weird: after all the bad things from my favorite NBA player ever in his lifetime, the one that offends me the most is what happened last month.
I now realize that what happened is a culmination of a lifetime of bad behavior by Jason Kidd. He’s egotistical, and entitled, and he thinks that whatever he wants, he not only deserves, but deserves the fastest way possible.
Over the course of my life watching Jason Kidd, I’ve given him a pass on virtually everything, because what affected me was whether or not I’d get to see him play basketball. I overlooked his domestic abuse charge because it happened before he played for the Nets and he went to therapy. I was bummed at first out about his exit from New Jersey, but I eventually gave him a pass because I understood that the Nets needed to rebuild anyway. I rooted for him in Dallas, I cheered when he won his title because he was my favorite player ever. I gave him a pass when he faked out a Nets return and signed with the hated Knicks. I gave him a pass when he wrapped his SUV around a tree trunk, because he accepted his punishment and again went to therapy.
When he signed on to coach the Nets, I didn’t care that he had never coached, I didn’t care that there were other qualified candidates, I didn’t care that there were better people than him out there. I was thrilled because I got my favorite player back. So I gave him a pass when the team struggled. I gave him a pass when he sentenced Lawrence Frank, Mr. Not-My-Hero, to the basketball dungeons.
Again: it’s weird what offends sports fans (me). Treat your wife like garbage and drive drunk? Whatever, just don’t let it mess with your play. Offend my team and my city? See ya.
I think part of me saw Jason Kidd as a real human being for the first time last month. I’m nearly 24, and I make a living writing about sports, but there’s going to be a handful of athletes that I’ll never see as just regular guys. They’re not guys who walk their dog, eat dinner with their family, and watch Fallon every night at 11:30. They aren’t like me. It’s like we don’t even live on the same planet. Jason Kidd was definitely one of those guys.
Jason Kidd didn’t tarnish his Nets legacy despite a lifetime of bad behavior. He faked an illness to skip a game, and all was forgotten about six months later. We begged for his return, we counted down the days to put his number in the rafters, and we cheered when he appeared on the Jumbotron for the Nets last home game in Jersey, saying “I’ll see you guys soon,” even though it was his decision to leave. We didn’t care.
But this is different. The Nets put all their eggs in the Kidd basket, they took a risk and gave him a chance when the decision seemed insane. They stuck by him — sort of — when things started going south. They made a public commitment to him, and sent a message to the fans that Jason Kidd had “come home” and was “back where he belongs.” A message that I, the fan, took as: for good. My favorite player, my hero, the reason why I too made a lifetime commitment to the Nets, was back for good. And then he ruined it.
There were many reasons why I should have had the foresight to realize that Jason Kidd was a bad guy, but I didn’t truly see it until last month. Now, I wonder what kind of person is delusional enough to go to your boss’ boss and demand your boss’ job. I wonder what kind of person with a conscience can steal a someone else’s job a-third-of-a-country away. Forget the Coach Code, Jason Kidd needs to learn the Life Code.
As a Nets fan, I feel betrayed by my favorite player and it makes me feel very sad. I feel sad for 13-year-old Chris who doesn’t know what his hero is capable of, who spent a childhood in a Kidd jersey and a room full of Kidd posters. As a human being, I feel sad that there are people out there who do the things that Kidd has done, and as a Nets fan, I’m sad that that person is Jason Kidd.
On Zach Lowe’s appearance on the B.S. Report a little while back, he said that in sports, everything is forgiven. And if my own personal history with Kidd’s passes has taught me anything, he’s probably right. But I don’t know if he’s right about this. I think Kidd broke the one rule you can’t do as an athlete: you can’t openly spurn the team and the city who gave you a shot.
This is why I’ll never forgive Willis McGahee, but I’ll always respect Kevin Youkilis. And while the words: “I hate the Nets” never left Kidd’s mouth, I think we can agree in the old cliche that in this case, his actions speak louder than words.