Mavericks’ Jason Kidd holds onto Bay Area roots

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd pauses on the sideline during the second half of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in the NBA basketball playoffs against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

In glass displays in the foyer outside the Saint Joseph Notre Dame’s gymnasium in Alameda stands a Jason Kidd time capsule. Framed photos of his state title teams, signed balls, hats, a blue-and-orange No. 32 jersey, plaques and a snapshot of Kidd’s then-signature two-handed dunk.

Kidd hasn’t lived in the Bay for years. But remnants of his legend remain.

His playing career took him from Oakland to Alameda to Berkeley to Dallas, Phoenix, New Jersey, back to Dallas and New York. He jumped right into coaching in Brooklyn, then Milwaukee, then Los Angeles and now Dallas. Traded. Anointed. Ashamed. Crowned. Retired, hired, fired. Enshrined.

Now he’s four wins away from an NBA championship, his first as a coach.

No matter where his NBA journey has brought him, Kidd has always kept some of the Bay Area in him. And the Bay hasn’t forgotten him, either. Given how much of a phenomenon he was as a preps superstar, it would be hard to. Even a shrine can’t capture his influence.

“He was kind of like the Michael Jordan of the Bay Area,” said longtime Bay Area basketball coach Don Lippi.

Growing up in Oakland, Kidd was a prodigy. Everyone knew he was going to be special — even his Catholic Youth Organization games would sell out.

Jason Kidd uses his coach's, Frank LaPorte of St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, phone for a media interview. (Matthew J. Lee/Oakland Tribune)
Jason Kidd uses his coach’s, Frank LaPorte of St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, phone for a media interview. (Matthew J. Lee/Oakland Tribune)

The prodigy’s prophecy came true at St. Joe’s. A two-time California Player of the Year, Kidd led the Pilots to back-to-back state championship wins in 1991 and 1992.

A man among boys, Kidd’s combination of size, speed, athleticism and vision overwhelmed the competition. He once jumped over a player for a layup, a teammate recalled. One time, he chased down a loose ball but, knowing the opponent on his tail was running too fast behind him, he left the ball with him so his defender’s momentum would carry the ball out of bounds.

Kidd once dove head-first for a 50/50 ball toward his own baseline, landed on his stomach, and launched a no-look pass over his head the other way for an assist.

It was before social media, but people noticed. Kidd Fever spread through the Bay Area, with so much demand to watch his games that St. Joe’s needed bigger gyms. The Pilots played rivalry games against Bishop O’Dowd at the Oakland Coliseum Arena — often selling out the Warriors’ former home court — and also used the gym at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay). One playoff game, the arena was so packed, the dean of students turned away MC Hammer and his entourage at the door.

“It felt like you were a part of the Beatles,” said Miles Tarver, Kidd’s Pilots teammate.

Today, Kidd’s No. 32 jersey still hangs from the St. Joe’s rafters. To many, it represents more than the point guard’s dominance on the court.

Jason Kidd's jersey hangs in the rafters at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda on May 17, 2022. (Cam Inman/Bay Area News Group)
Jason Kidd’s jersey hangs in the rafters at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda on May 17, 2022. (Cam Inman/Bay Area News Group)

In high school, Kidd would drive younger players he thought had potential to open-gym practices after school. Like Gary Payton and Brian Shaw did for him, Kidd took time for the next generation of East Bay hoopers.

“He had this Ford Bronco at the time, and he’d pick us up and we’d go play hoop,” said Frank Knight, a childhood friend of Kidd’s from the East Bay. “We were just so excited that we were playing with Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd was the man.”

Kidd would also help youth summer basketball camps as a varsity player, where Jon Musson first met him.

Musson, the current St. Joe’s head coach, fell in love with basketball as a 10-year-old watching Kidd’s Pilots from the front row.

“Thirty years is a long time,” Musson said. “You can get forgotten in 30 years. But he’s definitely somebody who’s unforgettable. For me, that’s kind of how it’s been the whole time. I was a kid when I first witnessed Kidd play. I got to watch the game from the front row in the gym here at St. Joe’s. Since then, I was hooked.”

As Kidd became a Hall of Famer, he could’ve left St. Joe’s, and the Bay, behind. Instead, he quietly returned to his roots.

In 1998, years after Kidd became the Pac-10 Player of the Year at Cal, after he was named NBA Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, Kidd returned to St. Joe’s. It was during the NBA lockout, so the point guard had more time on his hands, and he filled it by helping coach his old high school in the preseason.

He even played in the annual alumni game that year.

“He hit the game-winning shot, went to the middle of the court and kissed it,” Musson said. “I don’t think he’s ever lost on this court.”

On one trip back to the Bay, Don Lippi — the legendary coach who took over at St. Joe’s a few years after Kidd’s coach, Frank LaPorte, died — let a reminiscing Kidd into the school’s athletic director’s office to see a photo of Kidd and his mom when he got the scholarship to Cal. Lippi also recalled that around 2015, Kidd donated $30,000 for a new weight room.

Jason Kidd signs with Cal in the presence of, from left, his dad Steve Kidd, coach Frank LaPorte, mom Anne Kidd, and sister Kimberly Kidd, 7, on Nov. 13, 1991. (Wendy Lamm/Tribune Archives)
Jason Kidd signs with Cal in the presence of, from left, his dad Steve Kidd, coach Frank LaPorte, mom Anne Kidd, and sister Kimberly Kidd, 7, on Nov. 13, 1991. (Wendy Lamm/Tribune Archives)

Kidd also founded a women’s AAU program, Team Kidd, that operates out of Bishop O’Dowd’s facilities. He was inspired by Kobe Bryant’s efforts to popularize the women’s game and started the Bay Area-based program after Bryant and his daughter, Gigi, died.

“He does a lot of stuff that doesn’t even get the attention it probably deserves,” Tarver said. “Jason is still connected even though he’s not living in Oakland, or hasn’t for a while, but his presence is still felt throughout the city.”

As much as Kidd is a hometown hero to the East Bay basketball community, like anyone, Kidd is human — imperfect and complicated. He has had more than his fair share of indiscretions: character concerns in the draft for unsavory lawsuits he settled, domestic abuse of his first wife Joumama, charges after a late-night Berkeley crash in 1994 and a DWI arrest in 2012.

Through it all, Kidd has kept in touch with Gordie Johnson, one of his St. Joe’s assistant coaches under LaPorte. Johnson was almost like a second father for Kidd when he was growing up. He’d go to Stanford home games with Johnson, invite himself over to his house to play video games with his son, and spend weekends with the Johnsons.

When Kidd became the Nets’ head coach, and later with the Bucks, he invited Johnson to help out during training camp. Now, they exchange texts before every Mavericks game.

“I remember him telling me he would never, ever coach,” Johnson, 71, said. “Then he called me up the day he got the (Nets) job and said, ‘I want to coach.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’”

Kidd’s coaching career has been bumpy. He got fined for instructing his player to “accidentally” bump into him and spill his soda for a free timeout. The Bucks improved drastically after they fired Kidd. Even this year, Mavericks fans wanted him on the chopping block after Dallas followed up last season’s lottery campaign with a mediocre start.

But after the deadline, Kidd turned in his best coaching job yet. He assimilated the team’s key midseason acquisitions. He pushed the Mavs to play faster. He helped stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving fit together.

Kidd has given the Mavericks a chance at a miraculous run. If he can lead Dallas to a Finals upset over Boston, Kidd would become the 15th championship player to win again as a head coach.

There might not be a parade through downtown Alameda, but maybe some more memorabilia could be heading to St. Joe’s.

“Everyone’s posting stuff on Facebook, rooting for him,” Tarver said. “I mean, everyone out here are die-hard Warriors fans, but the fact that you see Oakland’s own — you know, Oakland is a prideful city. Any athlete or any person of stature that has an opportunity to take things to the next level, everyone from Oakland’s definitely rooting for them.”

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