I realized Saturday, as I was flipping through the latest Sports Illustrated, that I really should have written something about the retirements of Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. There aren’t many professional athletes still playing who were in college at the same time I was, and these were two of the very best to grace the game while I was a student.1
Grant Hill was the Duke player everyone secretly liked. While most of his teammates seemed like pampered pricks, he always seemed cool and calm and confident without being cocky. He handled himself perfectly on-and-off the court through his entire career. As much as I’ve hated seeing it rerun for the past 22 years, his impossible catch-and-dunk against KU in the 1991 title game was one of the signature moments of college hoops in the ‘90s.
But Jason Kidd was something else. He’s the first ultra-hyped high school recruit I remember. I’m sure there were others before him, but he was the first player I began reading about when he was just 16, when people were already saying he would change the game. I remember the excitement when he announced that he would take a trip to visit KU, and the legend that grew from how he chose a college2. There was his spectacular play in the 1992 tournament, leading Cal past Hill and Duke in the second round before they fell to KU in the Sweet 16.
My biggest J-Kidd memory, though, came the next fall. He returned to Cal for his sophomore year and brought the #6 Bears team to Lawrence for a preseason NIT game. I’m pretty sure it was a Saturday night, and it was a late start, so the crowd was extra pumped. He had fellow future pro Lamond Murray running with him while KU had a couple older role players (Steve Woodberry and Richard Scott notably) and a bunch of young pups (Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard, and Nick Proud, who would have his only big game in his very short KU career that night3). KU got up big early, but Cal cut the lead as Kidd began to take the KU defense apart.
On one sequence in the second half, Kidd took the ball in the backcourt and raced forward. Near half court, he did a 360 to spin around Jacque Vaughn who attempted to reach in for a steal. Kidd continued to the lane, did another 360 to avoid Scott, and dished to Murray for a dunk. It was a ridiculous, unbelievable, ‘who can do that?’ play. And he made it look easy.
Also significant was the hoops fashion trend Kidd launched that night. He began the game with a baggy t-shirt under his jersey that was apparently too baggy and bothered him. At halftime he cut only the right sleeve off to free his shooting arm and played the second half with one bare arm, one covered by the shirt. He continued that look in future games and soon kids all over the country were sporting the one bare arm, one covered arm look.
KU won that night, rather easily as I recall. Kidd scored 22 points and handed out six assists, balanced by seven turnovers. But he made an impression only a few visiting players ever made on me, right there with Anthony Peeler’s 43 points or Randy Rutherford’s 45.
Jason Kidd wasn’t as smooth with the media or as good-mannered off-the-court as Grant Hill was. But I will always remember him as one of the signature players in college basketball when I, too, was a college student.
- I realize with the length of my undergrad days that pulls in a lot of players. They still top the list. ↩
- Kidd shares his modern version of it here</a>. Back in the day, though, there were several versions floating around, each from the perspective of a school that came up short. ↩
- 12 points, four rebounds in five minutes. As I recall, they all came when Cal had cut the lead to less than ten and he helped re-extend it. He also tweaked his bad knee that night, only played more than ten minutes against a D1 opponent twice that season, and ended his college career in January after just 16 games. ↩