Jason's lyric: singing title tune?
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Second of all, it's a question of who's on the ball.

It's funny, but the best guards to watch, collectively, are (or were, depending on when you read this) in the Dallas-Sacramento series.

Steve Nash and Nick Van Exel (Finley plays like a forward with a deep shot, and has handle like a forward with a deep shot so I don't count him) can go off at any time, and demand not just a cover, but a damn good cover. Bobby Jackson and Doug Christie are good enough to win with. Don't know what's wrong with Mike Bibby. It was like he had sonar last year against the Lakers, but that was against Fish; Fish is great, always bails guys out with interviews when Shaq and Kobe are overtaxed, shoots wide open threes as well as anybody, but he can't even guard Mr. "Stick 'em Up!" "Stick 'em Up! Up top!" from those funny Bud Light commercials.

Tony Parker should have taken Fish to the rack at will; trust me, that's what Bibby, Bobby, Nash and especially Nicky would have done. Parker could do it. His first step is like lightning, but he slows himself down, because of his relation to the game. He is new to these situations, he hasn't seen them; they had NBA broadcasts back in France, but there was no immediacy to them, especially in delay and translation.

Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd has the ability to make his teammates better -- and lead the Nets over the best of the West.

So. That's who's on the ball out West.

The West is best, in terms of total rosters, because they have the most and the biggest stars. No question about that. And the West is formerly the home of the best on the ball, Kidd Point, Jason Kidd.

The New Jersey Nets have Jason Kidd, and no one else does. Not the Lakers or Kings or Mavs or Spurs. None of them have one of those. It's like having Kobe, or Duncan, or KG. Only up top.

You laugh? It is like that. Jason Kidd was the unelected NBA MVP last year. This year, he's maybe More Important.

We'll soon see.

Jason can do everything related to the game -- running, passing out of the halfcourt set, passing on the run, extemporaneously jazz-passing, rebounding, 3-D drive capability, the deep shot, can face up on D, can come off and double, great hands, and, the Unseen Thing, his synapses fire in the currents of the game (in English, he sees the game as it's happening, and thus can dictate what happens next, making it seem as if he has precognition). Jason Kidd is the only NBA player who would be right at home in the "Matrix" trilogy. He'd make Morpheus, Neo and Trinity better. Especially chatty Morpheus. Jason would make him shut up and just play.

Look what he's done for the Nets' starters, and their win lineup.

Without Jason, Richard Jefferson is a high-jumping, high-flying, offensive foul waiting to happen with no certainty about his game; any good defender would be able to take him out of his package, just by forcing him off his spot, then congealing the defense, and forcing him to pass, his weak skill, or encouraging him to drive, right into the teeth of Danny Crawford's whistle. They'd compare his voice and his game to something like Michael Jackson's. Jeff defers to Vince Carter in a dunking commercial they have. There might be -- might be -- somebody I'd defer to, if I had the athletic ability of Richard Jefferson, but it wouldn't be Vince Carter.

Jason Kidd gives Jefferson's game confidence.

Think of Jason as Magic, and Jefferson as Greg Kelser.

Playing with Kidd jacks up Jefferson's projected average at championship level play to 16-18 points per game, and he gets nine rebounds, three off the example Jason Kidd sets. Jason projects to a championship average of nine rebounds per himself. And 10 or 11 assists. And 20-odd points. Jason's on the ball. Up top.

Kenyon Martin was Ron Artest before Ron Artest was a fool, only K-Mart is better. Much better. He combines the length of -- well, you have to go all the way to Garnett to find somebody who plays taller -- with lateral flexibility stunning for a 4. He tied up Antoine Walker, made Walker look much worse than he actually is. K-Mart is already the best 4-baller in the game; but without Jason, he's just a quick thug of a baller -- not as harsh a knock as it sounds ... you can't win without thugs, not beneath the NBA championship level backboard. There is that slight tic he has, which, to his credit, he's unashamed of. It may be a victory, that tic. It may control a stutter. It may be a nervous tic. It may be Tourette's. I don't know. I'm not going to pretend like it's not there. Tics never hurt Lester Hayes in football, or kept Ron Harper from calling Michael Jordan "Money" and following him, then Phil, Shaq and Kobe to the Promised Land.

Kenyon Martin is far better than Ron Harper. Way better. Different universe. And Ron Harper could play. Don't sleep on K-Mart. He is the tentpole that a ringmaster like Jason needs.

Recent incidents in Boston are only going to make Jason tougher to beat, or did you not notice that last little three-ball that Jason hit as the garnish on the Celtic sweep? It was like Jason was saying, "... and take that with you." I mean, if I were Jason, I'd couldn't wait to get out on the court these days, so I could just play, show how irrelevant video chatter, so-called controversies and hecklers are.

Jason Kidd
Duncan or Kidd? Don't be surprised if it's Kidd holding the trophy in June.

If somebody yelled, "wife beater!" at me, or suggested becoming wife beaters themselves, only by beating my wife, I'd just smile ferally at them and beat them all over the head with my best triple-doubles, which is what Jason did, give or take. The killer for the Boston fans who chanted, "wife beater!" at Jason is, surely they are aware that if he played for the Celtics, Jason would be the greatest Celtic of all time, except maybe for Larry Bird, even in their minds. Better than Bill Russell? That's what they'd think. Now they're reduced to heckling their own team, as if insane, or worse, lifetime second-division losers like the Washington Bullets/Wizards.

The NBA fan's worst nightmare: You go to sleep in the playoffs, you wake up realizing you've drawn Jason Kidd,, and then you look in the mirror and realize you've turned into Robin Ficker.

Getting swept by Jason Kidd can do that to you.

Yes, it's quite true, I picked the Nets to win the NBA title as the season started, and that's often the kiss of death, but this time Jason Kidd may even overcome the Fearless R-Dub Hex.

See, I've known Jase for a long time, since back when he was a boy playing on the playgrounds of Oak-town. He didn't look like a boy. Jason Kidd's been 6-4 as long as I've known him, and I think I first saw him play when he was about nine, or something. He looked then as he does right now, only now he wears a scraggly goatee. Draw that on him with a No. 2 pencil at the age of 13 and you basically have the same Kidd. He came advertised even then -- he was tall, and polite, played Oakland Babe Ruth baseball, called men he didn't know "Mister," had total game off the top. It was like somebody spliced Bingo Smith and Tiny Archibald with Phil Ford and Johnny Havlicek. I mean, Gary Payton was there too, on the playgrounds in Oak-town; GP could get a layup on anybody, but the thing about Jason was, he could get a layup on anybody too, and he could also get you a layup on anybody.

And that was the difference. Jason went to Cal, and even beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, almost by himself, by making the other guys better, strange guys, guys you haven't heard of, before or since, guys Jason made far better than they actually were.

Jason was repped by Aaron Goodwin before LeBron James was.

Jason isn't repped by Aaron Goodwin any more. Joumana came along, and they got married, and a lot of things changed. For one thing, Jason had more things to worry about at the games. He had to worry about the safety and the marks being hit by a wife and son, as well as nine other guys on the court. Jason could've walked after the Phoenix domestic meltdown; he didn't. You've got to give him credit for that -- well, I do, anyway -- he had to keep all this in order in his head. "Be a better man, be a better man; gotta get Kittles off, gotta get Kittles off; keep playing, just keep playing."

Jason Kidd has not missed a beat. How he does it, I don't know. He has the knack few have, the genius that Magic and Bird had, for conducting the game at such a level it seems like precognition.

Now, we could go on and on down the list of Nets vs. Spurs, Mavs and Kings of the more dominant Western conference, or of Detroit and Philly for that matter:

The 2 shooters, Kerry Kittles (the starter) and Lucious Harris (the finisher) of the Nets vs. the San Antonio Ginobilis; the three-headed defensive center of the Collins twin (an admitted liability against any Western starter), Red Williams (an admitted asset against any Western backup 4 or 5) and Dikembe Mutombo (world's most expensive insurance policy against natural disaster otherwise known as Tim Duncan) vs. the old Admiral.

What's so superior about the West? Take away Shaq and Kobe and Duncan and Parker, Dirk, what have you got? True, the Nets are a small but hardy band of ballers; and all that makes them work is Jason Kidd. But he does make them work on O and D so well.

This defense, the multiple defensive looks the Nets can give you, including a team that can face up and play man-to-man against any team in the league and have no weak link -- something no other team can do -- is what's in the first place of why they can win.

Bruce Bowen of the Spurs isn't the best defender on Kobe Bryant. Jason Kidd is. We saw this at the All-Star Game in Atlanta, when Kobe was trying to get a last-second short off, and Jason made it nearly impossible for him to even receive the inbounds pass. At the moment of truth, Jason gave Kobe all the game he wanted.

So, who are you taking, up top, on the ball today, right now, in the 2003 NBA championship level: Tony Parker, or Jason Kidd? Mike Bibby, or Jason Kidd? Steve Nash, or Jason Kidd. No question.

Kobe Bryant, or Jason Kidd ...?

See what I mean?

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



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