NEW YORK -- Not long after becoming a New Jersey Net in a draft-night deal, Richard Jefferson was driving around his hometown of Phoenix when he heard breaking news on the radio.
Jason Kidd had been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the New Jersey Nets. Meanwhile, in another part of Phoenix that late June day in 2001, while ordering carryout at a Taco Bell drive-thru, Kidd and his family learned that he had been dealt for Stephon Marbury.
The shockwaves were felt throughout Phoenix, spanning all the way to New Jersey.
"I literally almost wrecked my car on the freeway," Jefferson remembered. "I think I knew it before everyone else -- 'Oh, we are going to be really, really good.'"
And just like that, the Nets went from perennial train wreck to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the flash of a Kidd-fueled fast break.
Two Eastern Conference championships and four Atlantic Division titles later, the Nets raised Kidd's No. 5 jersey to the rafters of Barclays Center alongside other franchise greats such as Julius Erving, Buck Williams and Drazen Petrovic before the Nets face the Miami Heat on Thursday.
ESPNNewYork.com caught up with former Nets general manager Rod Thorn and Kidd's two former alley-oop partners -- Kenyon Martin and Jefferson -- who shared some of their favorite Kidd memories with us.
NO KIDDING AROUND
It didn't take Kidd long to make an impression on his new teammates. During a team dinner before his first Nets camp, Kidd told the Nets they weren't just going to win, they were going to make the playoffs after winning a grand total of 26 games the season before.
"He said it and it was kind of like a quiet still over the room," Jefferson recalled after practice with the Utah Jazz on Monday. "[Guys were] like, 'Wow. Hey, we probably shouldn't say that to too many other people right?'"
In practice the next day, Kidd set the tone. The All-Star point guard started warp-speed fast breaks off rebounds, delivered head-turning passes and repeatedly dove for loose balls as if he were playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
It wasn't long before Kidd had thoroughbreds such as Martin, Jefferson and Kerry Kittles all racing downcourt trying to beat one another to catch a Kidd pass. Combined with Keith Van Horn, Todd MacCulloch, Jason Collins and Lucious Harris, the Nets were on their way to a stunning 52 victories and the franchise's first division and Eastern Conference crowns in the 2001-02 season.
"We have been getting our butts kicked here for a while," said Thorn, who is now the NBA's president of basketball operations. "He turned it around from a franchise that was faltering and a team that was nondescript and not going anywhere to a team that made the Finals two years in a row."
BLOOD AND GUTS
During the Kidd era, there were countless moments Thorn, Martin and Jefferson will never forget.
Thorn recalls two games that stood out in particular. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Charlotte, Kidd had a scary head-to-head collision with David Wesley. With blood gushing from a cut near his swollen-shut right eye, Kidd needed stitches at halftime.
"I went in the locker room at halftime and he was lying on the table and his eye was completely closed," Thorn said. "There was a question about not only could he play, but could he play later on [in the series]? They stitched it up and he went out and played. I remember we had a day off between the next game, and his eye was so swollen he could barely see. By the time game time came, he decided to play, played great and we won [Game 4 and went on to win the series]."
"The toughness that he showed is one thing that I'll never forget," Thorn added.
And who knows what would have happened to the Nets had they never escaped a do-or-die Game 5 against the Pacers in the first round earlier that postseason. Kidd collected 31 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 51 minutes to outduel Reggie Miller in double overtime.
"If we don't win that game," Thorn wondered, "we may never have been the same team."
'THERE WAS ONLY ONE TEAM IN TOWN'
Kidd saved some of his flashiest performances for the New York Knicks. After playing before mostly half-empty home crowds at the Meadowlands, Kidd and the Nets relished playing on the Madison Square Garden stage.
"This is when the Nets and Knicks rivalry was high, and not because the Knicks were good," Jefferson said. "It was mainly because the Knicks sucked."
It was during a game at the Garden when Kidd delivered one of his most memorable dimes. It ranks behind only the unforgettable bowling ball pass he once rolled around a defender at half court and somehow added enough backspin to slow the ball for Harris to scoop and score in another game against the Knicks in New Jersey.
But this was the most unbelievable pass Jefferson said he'd ever caught from the point guard. Kidd jumped to catch a high outlet pass at half court but somehow saw Jefferson sprinting toward the basket. Instead of catching the outlet, Kidd, with his back turned to Jefferson, tapped a no-look pass past his head to the streaking Jefferson, who caught it near the free throw line on his way for an easy dunk.
How great was the pass? Ask Jefferson, who began laughing as he caught the ball.
"I was like: Don't miss this, because this is going to be a 'SportsCenter' Top 10 play," he said. "Guys would see 'SportsCenter' and see his highlights and don't understand that was an everyday thing for seven years in practice. He would give you four or five passes that you never ever seen before. It was absurd."
"We were just putting on a show," Jefferson continued of that particular Knicks game. "We were clowning people. J-Kidd threw one off the glass to Kenyon and you heard a Nets chant in the Garden. That was the most disrespectful thing."
Jefferson's voice rises when he remembers how much the Nets loved playing their Hudson rivals.
"When the Knicks were done and they weren't in the playoffs, and the one year they did make the playoffs while we were there, we swept them out," Jefferson said. "As far as a dominance thing, there was only Nets basketball. I don't care if there is one Garden, when we were there, there was only one team in town, and that was the Nets."
'HE ISN'T ABOUT NO MESS'
At least the Knicks never felt Kidd's full wrath. Martin said he saw what happened when opponents tested Kidd's temperament, like during a particular game in the first-round series against Indiana in 2002.
"He has a mean streak," Martin said after finishing Knicks practice on Monday. "Don't nobody know it. He is as competitive as they come. I remember we played Indiana, and Jamaal Tinsley did something and J-Kidd tried to take his head off, man. It shocked me. I was like, 'Whoa! Where did that come from?'
"That let me know that he isn't about no mess out there."
Kidd rarely showed emotion on the court, but he never shied away from a challenge, whether it was shutting up thousands of hecklers in Boston during a playoff series or a chatty opponent in a regular season game. During a visit to Toronto, Jefferson remembers Mike James' talking trash. Kidd wasn't guarding James on the defensive end, but he apologized to the Raptors player he was guarding. Why? Because he was going to make James and the Raptors pay.
"[That Raptors point guard] had trouble getting the ball across half court," Jefferson said. "It was, like, watching a dude raise his level to a level I can never reach, most players can never reach."
"This is a point guard that averages 10 points a game, but you don't want to piss him off because you know life is going to be miserable across the board for everybody," Jefferson added. "I don't think in the history of the game there has ever been a guy to dominate more games without scoring."
In his 6½ seasons in New Jersey, Kidd averaged 14.6 points, 9.1 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. As a Net, he was a five-time NBA All-Star, was All-NBA three times and was All-Defensive team six times. He owns the franchise record for assists (4,620), steals (950), 3-point field goals made (813) and triple-doubles (61).
Besides a Nets championship, Martin and Jefferson feel there's only one other achievement missing during Kidd's Nets career -- an MVP award. Both felt Kidd was the best player on the planet in 2001-02 (apologies to Shaq), yet Kidd finished second to Tim Duncan in voting.
"He got cheated out of his MVP," Martin said. "They gave it to Tim Duncan. Come on, man. You turn the franchise around like that [from] 26 wins the year before, you double the win total and you don't give this man the MVP? That is a slap in the face to me."
But Martin and Jefferson know how valuable Kidd was. One unofficial measure of Kidd's value was how much money he made for his teammates. Kidd made Martin and Jefferson better players, and his assists assisted them in earning millions.
After three seasons with Kidd, Martin was dealt to Denver in a sign-and-trade for a seven-year deal worth more than $90 million in 2004. And later that summer, Jefferson signed a six-year extension worth $78 million.
"He made me a better pro," Martin said. "He helped me get to where I am. ... Those three years with Jason was great. He made me an All-Star. I worked at it, but without him probably wouldn't have been the turnaround and the numbers I had. I owe him a lot."
Jefferson knows how much he and the Nets owe Kidd.
"He showed me everything," Jefferson said. "My first year, there were no banners. Not one."
"When you talk about New Jersey Nets basketball, it's gone," Jefferson added of the Kidd era. "It can never be duplicated again."