Dan Rattiner's Stories

Jason and Me: My 12-Year Relationship with Jason Kidd

People ask me about certain celebrities who come out to the Hamptons. I know many of them. For example, there’s the basketball star Jason Kidd. This may surprise you, but I’ve known him for the past 12 years, from a time when I met him on a basketball court between my house and garage. We’re not particularly close, though. This is probably because Jason Kidd knows nothing about it.

Jason Kidd is one of the greatest men to ever play the game. At 6 foot 4 he’s not particularly tall, although he’s a head taller than me. He’s also not particularly fast. What he is, however, is incredibly smart. You can watch him on film footage from his playing career and you can see how he simply commands the entire court. He knows where everybody is at every moment and where they are headed. And he acts on it. A flick pass to someone unexpected and there’s a quick two-point layup. Or he will fake that flick pass and go in to make it himself. He sees. He acts. He’s a game changer. He’ll wind up in the Basketball Hall of Fame for his ability to do this.

Most of the first three years of his career were played with the Dallas Mavericks. With his assists, shots and rebounds—though not tall, he predicts where the ball is coming down, and there he is—he was Co–Rookie of the Year and an NBA All-Star. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1996, and they made the playoffs five years in a row. When he’d come to town, he’d decimate the lowly Knicks or the Nets. I had a friend who was part owner of the Nets and would invite me to watch them on their home court in the Meadowlands. What a sorry bunch the Nets were. But watching Jason was amazing.

All that time, I was shooting hoops at a half court out by my garage. I’d take 80 or 90 shots at a session, break a sweat and get a good workout. It wasn’t very imaginative. But working out is a good thing.

And then, remarkably, in 2001, Jason Kidd was traded to the lowly New Jersey Nets. I thought it was terrific. And now he was leading the Nets into the finals. He did this in 2002 and then again in 2003.

That year, in 2003, I decided Kidd ought to be playing with me in my backyard. It was spring. The season was over. How could he refuse?

So I set up a game. On one side would be the New Jersey Nets. On the other would be the New York Knicks. I’d play on both sides. First the Nets would shoot and either score two points or miss and I’d run for the rebound, and now it was the Knicks who’d get their shot. That way, alternating shots between the two teams with hook shots, jumpers, two handers and layups, one team would get ahead a bit, then the other. But then, late in the game, I’d bring in Jason. And almost always, he’d come in and when it was the Knicks ball, he’d steal it and then fire a pass down to an open man (me, running around) and the Nets would score. Slowly the Nets would pull away and, as my 80-shot game would approach its final moments, Marv Albert would scream into his microphone and the crowd would go wild. Then the buzzer would sound.

I did this for several years, winter and summer in those years, through 100° heat and ice and snow and it felt good. I was especially proud when Jason would come in to play.

In my third year doing this, however (this was about 2004), I slipped on some ice and got a badly sprained ankle. My wife said I’d have to quit basketball, and I did. I shook hands with Jason. He trotted off.

In 2008, the Nets traded Jason back to the Dallas Mavericks, now a really good team, and it was there in 2011 that he led them to the championship. I watched it all on TV. Go Jason, go!

In 2012, at the age of 38, Jason returned to New York to play for the Knicks. He lifted the team, but not to win anything that season. Only a few months before, Jason had driven out east and bought a house for his wife and two kids in Southampton. It was a big deal and a nice big McMansion, but he could afford the $6 million. He was now a Hamptonite.

I tried to contact him that summer because I wanted to interview him for Dan’s Papers. People were working on making this happen—I even invoked my old friend who used to own the Nets—but then in the middle of July of that year, 2012, he went out to a nightclub with his wife and had some drinks, his wife eventually left, and he then got behind the wheel of his car and drove it into a pole in Water Mill. I know all this because it was in all the papers. He was arrested and charged with DWI (he later pled guilty to misdemeanor driving while impaired).

I figured he’d want to lay low for a while. So I gave up trying to contact him.

In June 2013, it was announced he would be coaching the Nets, who were now playing in Brooklyn! Again I tried to get a hold of him, but this time the message came back that the suits at the Nets didn’t want him bothered while learning how to coach. So I backed off again.

Turns out Jason is a great coach. He got our Nets into the playoffs, where Miami beat them. After that, I again asked friends to try to set up an interview. I also tried to remind Jason of our happy days together in 2002–04 in my backyard. I’d written a story and published it in Dan’s Papers in 2013, about how terrific he was with his amazing passes and shots from downtown for three. He was leading the Nets to victory almost every day. I emailed that story to him. But he never replied.

Then it was announced that Jason would be leaving the Nets. He’d gotten a better job, coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, a team who might be able to win another championship. He’d start there in the fall of 2014. Turns out the Bucks had given Kidd the right to choose which players to hire for the squad and full control over basketball operations, something Brooklyn would not do.

What I have to say at this point is that I wish Jason luck out there in Milwaukee, and if he finally does decide to call me to give an interview after reading what I wrote, I’d just have to turn him down.

The time’s passed, is all, I’d tell him. Sorry about that. Come back to coach here, though, and, well, we could get it on.

Of course, you are always welcome to stop by our house and we’ll whomp you up a good dinner. Any time. Just call ahead.

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