Kidd grateful for latest shot at NBA title

Jason Kidd always figured he'd get another crack at the Larry O'Brien trophy.

He did what many thought was the impossible by taking the New Jersey Nets to not one but two consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. Surely Kidd had too many triple-doubles left in him not to get another crack.

"When you go back-to-back, you feel like you will be able to go back every other year," Kidd said in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. "I didn't think it would be a drought as long as it has been."

Eight seasons and 74 playoff games later, Kidd is finally back in the NBA Finals at age 38, which is Jurassic by NBA standards.

After all, Kidd's generation is virtually extinct. While most of his peers have retired to golf courses or to the television booth or the front office of some team, Kidd is still outsmarting younger point guards who were in Pampers when Kidd hit the scene as a teen prodigy from Oakland in the late '80s. The original LeBron James, you might say.

And now, over two decades later, Kidd faces James as the Dallas Mavericks play the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday night.

Kidd sure knows how to pick a Finals opponent. During his first trip, he and the upstart Nets were swept by Shaq and Kobe at their three-peat height. The following year, Kidd couldn't stop Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.

Now he gets another star-studded opponent with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"I'm always facing the best of the best at this time of the year," Kidd says of his Finals luck. "It wasn't easy the first two times around. Now you got two of the top players in the world, and Bosh is right there in the top 10. If you want to win a championship, you have to go against the best."

The first time Kidd reached the Finals, he and the Nets were thrilled to be there. He took a young group of Nets that included Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn and taught them how to win, which shocked everyone, including themselves.

"The first year with the Nets, everybody was surprised," Kidd said of that first Finals run, which ended in a Lakers sweep. "I think we were even more surprised that we got to the Finals."

The second time around, Kidd and the Nets felt they had a legitimate chance to win it all, even if most other observers did not. They won two Finals games but ultimately couldn't stop Duncan a year after Shaq flattened them. Kidd's obsession with finding an All-Star big man only intensified.

He turned down a chance to join Duncan in San Antonio in hopes of recruiting an All-Star big to play with him in New Jersey. But Nets ownership was more concerned with moving to Brooklyn.

After some early playoff exits, Kidd asked then-Nets president Rod Thorn for a trade. When a deal couldn't be made to join Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Kidd saw Dirk Nowitzki and ultra-competitive owner Mark Cuban as his ticket back.

"I wanted to get back to the Finals," Kidd said of his trade during the 2007-08 season in a deal for Devin Harris. "There was no guarantee. Just knowing the direction under Cuban, he wants to win and he would never sit pat. It is two different franchises in different moments in different directions."

Now Kidd has found his way back to the Finals, and this time he comes armed with one of the best offensive weapons of all time.

Kidd has spent a basketball lifetime searching for his 7-foot soul mate, a big man who could take him to the biggest stage, the one on which David Stern hands him the O'Brien trophy under a downpour of confetti.

Two times, Kidd has watched another team's confetti fall on him. This time, he hopes Dirk will change that outcome.

"Ooooh," Kidd says when asked about how Nowitzki is playing. "He is just now scratching the surface of getting the recognition of being one of the best in the world. He is in a groove right now, and this is what keeps you going."

The Mavericks are "the deepest and by far the most talented team" he has ever been a part of.

Like on any good Kidd team, he is surrounded by marksmen, from Nowitzki to Jason Terry to Peja Stojakovic. He has an athletic center to throw alley-oops to in Tyson Chandler, a forward to run the floor with in Shawn Marion and a speedy backup in J.J. Barea.

Kidd might not have the blazing speed that made him a one-man fast break for over a decade. But he's smarter, wiser and still possesses an uncanny knack for making a play in the clutch, whether it's a timely steal or a big 3.

The first two times he was here, he had to carry the Nets. Now he's a piece of the puzzle -- albeit a critical piece.

"I'm a totally different player in the sense of carrying the load in the first two," Kidd said of how much he has changed since the last time he was in the NBA Finals. "The first two Finals, it was 'Make things happen.' But here, it's 'Make things happen, but also be on the receiving end of somebody else making things happen.'"

Kidd has somehow defied time despite logging more miles on his sneakers than George Clooney's frequent-flier character did in the movie "Up in the Air." Still, Kidd feels young, even after averaging 34.7 minutes in this postseason.

"The window is a lot smaller," said Kidd, who is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. "You just think about all the first-round exits and losing in the second round and finally pushing through. Knowing you have done this twice and being on the other side losing twice, you hope you can find a way to win one."

And even if he wins his first championship and a lockout wipes out next season, Kidd still plans on playing as he nears 40.

"I can't pull a John Elway," Kidd said. "If we can win it, I would love to defend it."