He looks no less aerodynamic than he did when last we saw him in the blue and orange togs of the New York Knicks: the cue ball razor-shave from head to toe, the Tour de France build through the hips and haunches. Striding into a boardroom at the practice facility of his brand-new employers, the Brooklyn Nets, Jason Kidd could clearly run an NBA offense if the need arose or he were still inclined. But he's done with all that, as he convinced the Nets when they hired him in June to lead the team. Not every head coach can back his point guard down or beat him up the floor on a one-man break, but Kidd was no one's idea of usual when the Brooklyn Nets brought him aboard. He had never coached before at any level, was a few weeks removed from a post-season flop that brought his playing days to a whiplash halt, and, at 40, was barely older than the aging forwards the team would trade for a month later, betting the ranch on a win-now squad with a two-year shot at a title. Moreover, the Nets had moved to a billion-dollar building in a terminally jaded borough of New York City, competing for eyeballs with their Boss Hogg rivals, the moneybag New York Knicks. For a franchise whose history is littered with wagers that rarely, if ever, cashed, bringing Kidd aboard was the biggest risk of all. An epic fail could set them back a decade.
But if anyone is ready to do this and do it here – come flying out of the gate, make the Conference Finals, and win the hearts and minds of entitled fans in the most noxiously fickle sports town on the planet – it is Jason Frederick Kidd; he's like a post-racial, post-you-up James Bond. Put him on the line at the Boston Garden with chants of "wife beater" ringing in his ears, and he calmly drains two free throws for a playoff win. Trade him to Dallas, a floundering team with a me-first superstar, and he persuades Dirk Nowitzki to share the ball en route to the Mavs' first title. "The word pressure is not in my vocabulary," he says, walking into the Nets' grubby practice center off Route 17 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. "I use challenges, and I've won some and lost some of those. This job is really just another challenge."
He grabs a bottle of water and parks us at a table in his no-frills conference room. Though they've built one of the great new ballyards on the planet, the boogie-down spaceship that is the Barclays Center, at a busy intersection in downtown Brooklyn, with beautifully raked sight lines and concert-quality acoustics, the Nets are still quartered in this sad-sack facility in New Jersey's truck-stop wilds. Kidd's office is like something at a community college: colorless walls, an Office Depot desk, and a couch he could have bought for cheap on Craigslist.
Given the stakes in this break-in season – a jaw-dropping payroll of $100 million and another $87 million in luxury tax; the complex care and feeding of big-ticket graybeards Kevin Garnett (37) and Paul Pierce (36), who may both need walkers by midseason; and the improvement of the Eastern Conference, which boasts five teams with title hopes – it seems fair to ask if the challenge he speaks of allows for a learning curve. But Kidd shrugs and gives me the plate-glass stare that is his stock expression. "I'm not even thinking about a learning curve," he says. "I'm all about these 82 games. We've got one of the best owners, who's given us every resource to win. But the thing with winning it all is, you have to have some luck – that one play or call that goes your way."
It's a masterful answer, brash but hedged. Kidd is a born magician at knifing his way through life's traps and half-court presses, gliding head-up, the ball on a string, searching out the pass that brings the house down. But it's a different story when someone else has the ball and you're on the sideline. As Magic Johnson learned before him – and Larry Bird, and Bob Cousy – it's hard to win when your point guard doesn't see the floor as you do.