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For years, the New Jersey Nets have been the very model of consistency. Each season, they'd come out with their selection of talented and highly paid players. Every time, they'd end up among the also-rans of the National Basketball Association.
Failure was not an option, more a cancer which could not be eradicated no matter how many different coaches were lured on board to find a cure for the malaise.
No-one expected Jason Kidd to be the remedy. One of the best point guards in the sport, he had justly gained a reputation as one of its best passers, a man able to deftly thread a ball through the tightest of openings amid a cluster of seven-foot giants.
However since his arrival last summer, Kidd has revitalised a hitherto moribund franchise and
turned the Nets into a contender for the NBA Championship. Yet his greatest re-building effort has been accomplished, not on the court, but within the confines of his own home.
The choice facing Kidd in January 2001 was excruciating. He could run away and hide. Or come out, face the music and try to re-build. Arrested on a charge of beating his wife Joumana, Kidd ran the immediate gauntlet of taunts from the fans around the league and the very public criticism
from domestic violence campaigners across the United States.
Then with the Phoenix Suns, Kidd had been used to the pressures of living his life in the spotlight. But with his clean-cut image blackened overnight, there had to be a question whether his career would be permanently over-shadowed by his inexcusable actions. Kidd though held his hands up and chose to meet the situation head on, asking the public for forgiveness and his wife for a second chance.
"I promise you one thing," he promised. "That will never happen again."
Such contrition can mean little if unaccompanied by actions but since then, Kidd has completed counselling for his anger. More critically, he and his wife have re-established their trust, their second child a strong signal that both have put the troubles of the past behind them.
The only doubters were the Suns owners themselves. Fearful of their own reputation, they deemed Kidd surplus to requirements and shipped him eastward. Receiving the talented, if occasionally wayward Stephon Marbury in exchange, it may have seemed a sweet deal. But 12 months on,
it is Phoenix who are in the doldrums while New Jersey prepare to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, basking in their newly-enshrined status amid the league's elite.
"One thing I can't do is change the past," he stated upon his arrival. "One thing that I can control or try to help is the future and the present. The curse of the Swamp, who knows if that's real or if that's not or if that's just myth. I think with the talent that we have right now and the experience with the veterans mixed in with the youth, this is a fun team. This is a team that doesn't know any better."
Eight months on and it does. One individual has helped to sell the seats which previously filled only by dust, hauling a team which won 26 games last term to 52 in this. Not a renowned scorer, Kidd's trick is to make those around him better.
Before, the Nets had gifted young players who grossly under-achieved. Now, "everyone's different," Kidd says. "You have to learn to push the right buttons."
"What Jason has added this year - and it's something I've never seen from him before, on a consistent basis - is that he's made so many big shots for us down the stretch of games," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "He's made incredible shots all year long. When he was in Phoenix, he'd pass the ball off or not make those shots. Honestly, I didn't know he could do that."
As a child, he used to watch television to see how the best players contrived to excel. Now 28, like most growing up in that era, he admired the Showtime-era Lakers most, in particular the frenetic but selfless style catalysed by the incomparable Magic Johnson. It is no coincidence that these Nets are a carbon copy of that team, a side which included Byron Scott, now the head coach at the Meadowlands.
No-one gives New Jersey a prayer of unseating the two-time defending champions. Kidd though is determined to push the West's best all the way.
"I would love to win a championship," he said. "Maybe there won't be any critics or doubters. We're gonna see what happens."
He will be the Nets best weapon all over the court. Unusually for someone who stands just 6'4" tall, Kidd has been one of the leading rebounders in the series, typifying the overall tenacity of his play.
"It just shows you don't always have to be 7 feet to rebound," Kidd smiles. "A lot of times the little guys are overlooked and I present myself to the basket and sometimes the ball tends to find me or I find it. A lot of it is luck."
Fortune though favours the brave. Kidd, and the Nets, are merely reaping the rewards for confronting past failures head on. Retreading the past is not an option. If it were, Kidd will do what he does best.
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