Cal’s greatest basketball player will take one final curtain call on Friday night.
Jason Kidd will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., part of the 2018 class, alongside the likes of Bay Area collegiate contemporary Steve Nash and Grant Hill, with whom he shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1995.
Kidd was a teenage superstar at St. Joseph Notre Dame High in Alameda and a 10-time NBA All-Star, who won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks. In the meantime, he claimed two Olympic gold medals.
But Kidd’s legacy also includes a significant two-year chapter at Cal. He was a magnetic player whose popularity prompted Cal to move games out of tiny Harmon Gym to the Oakland Coliseum, contributing to the momentum that eventually got Harmon transformed into Haas Pavilion.
Fans flocked to Cal games to watch his no-look passes, alley-oops and joyful ferocity.
Kidd orchestrated the Golden Bears’ biggest postseason victory in more than 30 years, won Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and was a first-team All-American. He led the nation in steals as a freshman, in assists as a sophomore, after which he was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.
I was the Oakland Tribune’s beat writer those years, and covered every game Kidd played at Cal, home and away. A magical passer and tenacious defender as a 6-foot-4 point guard, he played with a level of speed and aggression rarely seen.
He was the best college player I ever saw in the Bay Area, and I don’t expect to see a better one.
As he goes into the Hall of Fame — introduced Friday by his friend, rival and fellow Oakland native Gary Payton — here are my choices for the dozen best games Kidd played at Cal, presented chronologically:
The Debut: In front of 12,700 fans at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on Dec. 1, 1992, the Jason Kidd era began at Cal. Kidd had 11 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and 6 steals in 28 minutes to lead an 89-65 win over Sacramento State. “I have a lot to learn before I’m a good college player,” Kidd said in the postgame. Coach Lou Campanelli was thrilled by what he saw. “If that’s Jason Kidd’s typical kind of game, I’ll take that every night,” he said.
Wowing the Wizard: L.A. fans filled Pauley Pavilion (UCLA’s first sellout of the season) and Kidd filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals to lead the Bears’ 104-82 rout at UCLA on Jan. 24, 1993. “He had total control of the game,” Campanelli said. The Bruins suffered their worst home since Pauley opened in 1965-66. UCLA coaching legend John Wooden, sitting courtside in retirement, told me, “This is the best I’ve seen a Cal team play against UCLA since the days of Pete Newell. I’m surprised. I never thought we’d be behind by this margin at home to anybody.”
(Check out our ranking of the top 10 current NFL players who played their college football at Cal)
It Takes a Thief: Kidd set a Cal single-game record with 8 steals — to go with 14 points — as the Bears forced Washington into 30 turnovers in a 79-65 home victory on Jan. 29, 1993. “Not that many freshmen can do that,” UW coach Lynn Nance said afterward.
Transition Game: Kidd scored a college career-high 27 points, but the Bears lost 93-81 at Arizona on Feb. 7, 1993, their record dropping to 10-8 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-10. It was Campanelli’s final game. He was fired a couple days later after losing control of his young, talented team.
Worth the Price of Admission: Kidd had 25 points, 10 assists and 6 steals in the Bears’ 86-83 overtime defeat of USC on Feb. 18, 1993. “It was a game I would have paid to see,” USC coach George Raveling said. The win was part of a 9-1 finish to the regular-season that secured an NCAA tournament bid.
The Pretzel: Kidd scored the game-winning basket on a twisting layup to beat LSU 66-64 in the opening round of the 1993 NCAA tournament in suburban Chicago. “It was kind of a pretzel shot,” LSU coach Dale Brown said. “I don’t know how he did it.” Cal coach Todd Bozeman knew the answer: “He’s a big-time player and big-time players live for moments like that.” Kidd finished the game 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals.
Peak Moment: Two days later, Kidd landed himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated and into Cal lore by orchestrating an 82-77 upset of two-time defending national champ Duke in its second-round NCAA game. Kidd had 11 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 steals in a game where Cal built a huge lead, lost all of it, then finished strong to win. “You can’t write a chapter any better than this,” Kidd said, “but we’re not done yet.” Actually, they were. Cal lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16.
Hall of Fame Preview: Matched against fellow sophomore Steve Nash, Kidd had 14 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds and 7 steals, but Santa Clara pulled off the 80-67 upset in front of 14,100 at the Oakland Coliseum on Dec. 4, 1993. Nash scored 17 points for Santa Clara
Conquering McKale: In a 98-93 overtime triumph at No. 6 Arizona, Kidd delivered a triple-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while playing 44 of 45 minutes on Jan. 15, 1994. Cal trailed by double digits in each half, but Kidd’s pass set up Lamond Murray for a 3-point basket that forced overtime. The Bears went on to hand Arizona just its third loss at McKale Center in 103 games over seven seasons.
Wide-A-Wake: Kidd knifed 94 feet to the basket to score the apparent game-winning hoop against Wake Forest on Jan. 30, 1994 at Winston-Salem, N.C. But a foul was called and the basket was waved off, sending Kidd to the free throw line, where he made the front end of a 1-and-1 to tie the game with 5.4 seconds left. He missed the second shot, but read the carom, grabbed the rebound and was fouled again. He made the second of two shots and Cal won 73-72. Demon Deacons coach Dave Odom said no one could have stopped Kidd’s end-to-end sprint with the ball. “The determination of a kid like that, when you've seen him a number of times, you’re not surprised.”
Brilliant in Defeat: Kidd logs a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and a Pac-12 record 18 assists while playing all 40 minutes of an 88-79 loss at Stanford on Jan. 20, 1994. Stanford freshman Brevin Knight made the game’s biggest plays, a pair of late 3-pointers to trigger the Cardinal’s winning surge.
Dethroning No. 1: Kidd torched UCLA once more, registering 18 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists — another triple-double — in an 85-70 victory over the top-ranked Bruins before a sellout crowd of 15,039 at the Oakland Coliseum on Jan. 30, 1994. “When we were introduced, I had confidence we were going to win,” said Kidd, after leading Cal’s first win over a top-ranked opponent in 34 years, since a 77-69 conquest of Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati in the 1960 Final Four semifinals at the Cow Palace.