He still has some hoops left in him, but he’ll never have a better chance to go out on top
By Jemele Hill
Jason Kidd Victorious
MIAMI — As things settle down and Jason Kidd comprehends the breadth of what he just accomplished, I hope he recognizes the grand opportunity he’s been presented.
The perfect ending to his 17-year career. The ultimate walk-off shot.
But will Kidd, the oldest point guard to ever win an NBA championship, take it?
I don’t want to make it seem as if I’m pushing him out the door, especially when he just got his hands on a title that seemed out of his grasp.
But surely Kidd must understand how much he’s beaten the odds here. You almost never see a player of his age and experience have such a successful stretch on the back end of a career. You almost never see a player of Kidd’s stature reinvent himself into a perfect role player, and relish doing it. When the Mavericks, who had suffered some heartbreaking playoff failures, traded a younger, talented point guard (Devin Harris), three other players and two first-round draft picks for two role players (Malik Allen and Antoine Wright) and an aging point guard — which Kidd already was when the deal was made in February 2008 — a disastrous result seemed almost unavoidable.
But in 2008, Kidd won his second Olympic gold medal (and immediately retired from international basketball), and now he’s finally earned an NBA championship after losing in two previous Finals with the New Jersey Nets. He deserves enormous credit for figuring out how to be a major contributor, despite not having the same end-to-end speed and dominance in the paint that made him a lock for the Hall of Fame well before this title.
But let’s look down the road a bit. Kidd has one year left on his contract and he’s already conceded that he’ll be playing diminished minutes if he returns next season. The natural order of things suggests he will be gently phased out to make way for Dallas’ younger guards, particularly J.J. Barea.
But is finishing his career as a reserve a fitting end for a player of Kidd’s caliber?
Understandably, the euphoria from Sunday night’s huge moment has Kidd thinking that just maybe he can do this again. Maybe he can be the same steady starter next year that he was this season, as Dallas defends the franchise’s first NBA title.
“I would love to continue to keep playing if I feel the way I do now,” Kidd said. “I feel great.”
Right before he turned 38 in March this year, Kidd indicated that a lengthy NBA lockout would likely push him into retirement, which makes the present seem like an even more perfect time for him to make an exit.
Because I’d rather see Kidd retire now than during the middle of a contentious labor battle.
I’d rather see him retire now, while people still want his presence, than when they don’t need it anymore.
Kidd won’t hurt his legacy by returning, but Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement earlier this month should serve as a sobering reminder for him.
After winning a title with the Heat in 2006, Shaq became increasingly irrelevant. He had one of the most memorable careers the NBA has ever seen, but Shaq left the game in such a sad way because he was unable to compete at his prior level any longer.
Michael Jordan had respectable numbers with the Wizards when he finally retired, but how many of us wish he would have called it quits after he hit that iconic jump shot over Bryon Russell to seal his sixth championship back in 1998? How much better would it have been for Brett Favre if he’d retired after he took the Vikings to within a game of the Super Bowl in the 2009 season?
Kidd, like Jordan and Shaq, has certainly earned the right to finish his career the way he wants. But don’t underestimate the importance of leaving when there’s a perfect caption.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.