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A Clean Start While leading the Nets from perpetual futility to the best record in the East, Jason Kidd has also come to grips with the domestic abuse that nearly ended his marriage

Jan. 28, 2002
Jan. 28, 2002

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Jan. 28, 2002

A Clean Start While leading the Nets from perpetual futility to the best record in the East, Jason Kidd has also come to grips with the domestic abuse that nearly ended his marriage

The day has stretched into night, and still they're all here.
Everyone is tired. Everyone wants this finished. "Quiet!" shouts
the video crew's director. Then, realizing he may have gone too
far, he adds, "Not you, Jason."

This is an article from the Jan. 28, 2002 issue Original Layout

Jason Kidd shrugs. "I can be quiet," he says. He means it. He
can be. He will be. Anything you want: another take, another
minute, hour, evening? No problem. That take was perfect; do it
again standing this way? O.K. That way? O.K. It's past 8 p.m.,
and Kidd has been at the New Jersey Nets' practice facility in
East Rutherford for nearly 12 hours, enduring the demands of a
still photographer, the long stretches of waiting and now this
camera crew shooting an instructional video for Huffy home
basketball equipment. Over and over he dribbles, shoots,
rebounds and talks to the cameras. Again and again he recites
the phrase that sums up his success: "Everybody loves to play
with somebody who knows how to pass."

He is the star, of course. All the lights, the technicians, the
makeup woman, the three NBA officials and the TV monitors are
here because Jason Kidd is the All-Star point guard who has
transformed the Nets into this season's most surprising and
entertaining success. All are here for him, but somehow it seems
the other way around. "How was I?" Kidd asks softly after each
take. His face is a study in earnestness. "Did I cover
everything? Did I explain it?"

He's so cordial. He's so nice. He stands there on the empty
court, practicing his lines between takes. Everyone marvels at
his patience, how he can go on, hour after hour, without snapping.

Off to the side, out of the glare, Kidd's wife, Joumana, sits
minding their three-year-old son, T.J. The family seems very
content. No one from Huffy, the NBA, the Nets or the production
crew brings up the fact that a year ago Jason was arrested in
Paradise Valley, Ariz., for punching Joumana in the face. Still,
everyone is watching the couple, trying to reconcile that night
with this one. Joumana and T.J. have been here since
midafternoon. At each break Jason calls out to his wife or walks
over to her, and the two smile and look perfectly in sync. What
does that mean? Maybe plenty, maybe nothing. T.J. runs out to
his dad. Already he can imitate Jason's dribble and foul-line
stance with astonishing accuracy.

Now it is even later. Most of the gym lights are out. Joumana
tries to keep T.J. from interfering in the shoot, but he's the
handful that three-year old boys are. He wants to get out there
with his daddy, which would mean another blown take, another 10
minutes of everyone's precious time. "Shuush," Joumana says. She
holds T.J. back, tries to distract him. "Did you have a nice
time at school?" she asks. T.J. wants none of it. He turns and
hits her square in the cheek with his right hand. She grabs the
hand, her mouth sets, and she says, "Did you have a good time at
school today?"

He hits her again. Joumana holds her son's hand tight in hers,
stares into his eyes. No one who has seen this says a word. What
does it mean? Maybe plenty, maybe nothing. T.J. loses interest
and crawls away. Joumana rolls a ball at his butt, and T.J.
laughs, and then he stands and starts dribbling like Jason Kidd.
On the court his daddy is finishing his sixth and final sign-off
for the cameras: "With a little luck and practice--maybe I'll
see you in the pros."

Everyone whoops: It's over. Kidd spends the next few minutes as
the perfect host, making contact with all the people in the
room, asking what flights they're taking, their plans for the
night. One cameraman, a Nets fan, puts out his hand. "Thank you
for saving our franchise," he says. But Kidd turns that around
too.

"Thanks, guys," he says again and again. "Sorry you had to put up
with me."

It began the way it always begins. She was beautiful, and he had
to have her. He saw her, and it all became clear: They would get
together, and one thing would lead to another. Soon he lost his
head a bit and saw the two of them together forever, the
ballplayer and the Bud girl. That was what she was then,
something she calls a "promotional model," which meant she would
show up at Bay Area events wearing less than most other people
and push beer in that friendly-but-not-too-friendly way that
promotional models learn. He was a 19-year-old and thinking like
one, not getting much beyond the fact that, as his best friend,
Andre Cornwell, puts it, in the Bay Area in 1992 "she was just
it. She was known as the hot thing."

So was he, and that's what made it all so perfect. Jason Kidd
was only a freshman at Cal, but he'd been a legend for years. He
was the reason that tiny St. Joseph of Notre Dame had won two
straight California high school championships, and its crowds
had outgrown its gym, and the team had been forced to play in
the Oakland Coliseum. He was the reason that Cal basketball
suddenly had students camping out overnight for tickets. He'd
grown up worshiping Magic Johnson, sitting mesmerized before the
TV during Los Angeles Lakers games and then hitting the court to
make himself in Magic's image. Now his time was finally coming;
he'd be going pro soon, and then he could live what he'd been
watching all his life. He would be the game, and she'd be what
happened when the game stopped--the beer commercial come to
life--and that would be that, right?

She hated him. She hated the mention of his name, she hated
seeing posters of him in bars, she hated what he represented. At
23, Joumana Samaha had met her share of athletes and had no
interest in becoming a cliche. "I didn't want a husband who
sleeps around, who thinks the world revolves around him, who's
dumb, has no education--all the stereotypes in one," she says.
She hated that Jason sent Andre to talk to her for him, that he
invited her to a "party" that ended up being only three other
people; she lasted there about five minutes. He was arrogant. "I
couldn't get far enough from him," she says.

He won her over. Never was a verb more apt: Kidd, his old
friends will tell you, is the most competitive person they've
ever met. He made every walk to the street corner a race he had
to win. For four years he came at Joumana, even after her
suspicions were confirmed by the news, during his rookie year
with the Dallas Mavericks, that he had fathered a son out of
wedlock; by reports that he had fled the scene of an accident,
leaving behind two acquaintances and a wrecked car (he would
plead no contest to hit-and-run and speeding charges); by
allegations that he had drunkenly hit a woman at a party (due to
lack of evidence, no charges were filed). For four years Joumana
said no. Finally, in 1996, bored, she agreed to go out with
Jason and some friends.

This was his shot. Kidd fashioned himself a winning personality.
"He laid it on so thick, just so intelligent and sensitive and
meek," Joumana says. "We talked about marriage that night, and
he said, 'My goal in life is to be married and have a family.' I
ate it up like candy, and then I thought, 'He's laying it on.
There's no way.' Every time after, I thought, 'Today I'm going
to see his true colors.'"

She didn't. That's because there's no one sweeter than Kidd when
he wants to be. He's famous for his acquiescence to the barrage
of demands an NBA star faces from fans, autograph hounds,
reporters and charities--and it never comes off as fraudulent,
because at that moment of bestowing kindness, no one is more
sincere than Kidd. Joumana didn't stand a chance. For their
second date he picked the gooiest chick flick he could find, How
to Make an American Quilt, and even watched it a few days before
so that nothing would take him by surprise. He didn't just
notice her shoes; he bought her a pair of boots she liked. He
asked if he could hold her hand. "He even took me to Barnes &
Noble," she says.

Kidd hears this and laughs. "You don't like to read?" he asks.

"Have we been back since?"

What clinched it for her was meeting his parents, Steve and
Anne, middle-class and strong as steel. The father was black and
the mom white, but neither carried the bitter defensiveness
often seen in mixed-race couples. Steve, then a 32-year employee
of TWA, was quiet but strikingly solicitous. Anne, a computer
analyst at Bank of America, was firm and suspicious of her son's
growing fame. Joumana, convinced that she could read Jason's
character in his parents' solidity, allowed herself to fall.

What she didn't think about then, of course, was that neither
Steve nor Anne played NBA ball. Nor did Joumana know that being
one of the league's best players requires a meanness cultivated
like a cherished flower. All great athletes carry the seed of
cruelty; it's their job and their passion to beat the other guy,
undress his weaknesses, reveal him as a loser in public. How
could she know? Kidd's peers speak so lavishly about his
unselfishness, his need to put everyone else first, that it's
easy to perceive him as the rule's exception, easy to hear his
soft voice and see his placidity and miss the fact that, as Nets
coach Byron Scott says, "inside he wants to take your heart
out." It's not that Joumana didn't see Jason's true colors. He
was courting, so she saw only those colors he wanted her to see.

Then, too, there was the flaw that even he didn't know about.
How could he? Nearly everyone who matters in the game adores
him. Players love how good he makes them look, coaches love how
he makes passing contagious and teammates better, general
managers love how he instantly turns bad teams into good ones.
You've never heard so many macho men speak so openly of love.
Kidd is considered the NBA's best point guard, a talent on a par
with alltime assists leader John Stockton, as well as a
defensive jewel and a rebound hound who will likely end his
career trailing only Magic and Oscar Robertson in triple doubles.

"He plays with passion, he plays with love, he's a winner," says
Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins. "He's going to win games
for you. He transforms a whole team. If I couldn't vote for
Michael, I'd vote for Jason for MVP."

"He's one of my favorite players," says former Phoenix Suns
coach Danny Ainge. "You look at Jason's fundamentals, they're
not great. You look at his shooting, it's not great. The guy
just finds ways to win, defensively and offensively. And his
greatest asset to an organization, other than his will to win,
is that all the players love playing with him."

Yet somehow it all doesn't add up. Despite Kidd's Hall of Fame
trajectory, his touch has often been less than magic. As a
freshman at Cal he was the biggest name on a team that revolted
against coach Lou Campanelli and got him fired. Opinion in the
Bay Area is still divided on whether Kidd was a ringleader or a
bystander. In Dallas, where he played from 1994 through '96,
Kidd feuded with teammate Jimmy Jackson and was traded to
Phoenix. Last summer the underachieving Suns dealt him to the
Nets for point guard Stephon Marbury. Kidd is on his third NBA
team in eight years, too many for someone mentioned in the same
breath with Magic and Stockton. He has led a team into the
second round of the playoffs only one time, too few for someone
whom even Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo calls "a winner."
Though Kidd's hustle is unquestioned and his heroics abundant,
there's always been an instability about him, a crack in the
foundation that, over time and under pressure, has compromised
his stature.

At home it was no different. After Jason and Joumana married
nearly five years ago, he constantly credited her love with
keeping him sane and stable. Each time he took a free throw for
the Suns, the cameras zoomed in to show him blowing a kiss to
Joumana before the shot. She was a TV reporter and he was a
gentle star. Many in Phoenix referred to them as the city's
unofficial first couple. At home, though, the tension was so
thick, Jason's mother hesitated to visit. "When icicles are
around," Anne Kidd says, "it gets a little chilly."

Then the ice storm hit. After the couple spent most of Jan. 18,
2001, arguing, Jason erupted. Just after 5 p.m., Joumana told
him not to pick at T.J.'s food, and Jason spit a french fry at
her. T.J. stared. Jason then punched the beautiful face he'd
chased for so long, and after Joumana's head snapped back and
she tasted blood, she ran upstairs to the bedroom. Jason kicked
in the door. She locked herself in the bathroom. She had hated
him not so long before, and now she knew why.

He has done the unthinkable. Yes, Kidd has instantly transformed
the eternally fragile Nets into a tough, selfless, first-place
team. Yes, his play has nearly drained the Meadowlands of 25
years of misery. However, his most unexpected impact can be seen
on this December night at Madison Square Garden, where the New
York Knicks' management absurdly announces its 403rd sellout
despite great expanses of empty seats, where a Knicks team plays
without cohesion or pride and where, God forbid, the team
playing Red Holzman's elegant brand of New York ball hails from
across the river. A strange sound echoes through the arena at
game's end. "N-E-T-S!" the fans shout. "Nets! Nets! Nets!"

"There's not just one team here anymore," says Scott. "It's not
just the Knicks anymore."

It is a perfect rout. The Nets throw in 14 three-pointers, the
Nets stampede the Knicks 114-96, the Nets play fun 'n' gun
because Kidd makes it possible. His genius reveals itself best
on the move; he sees patterns where others see chaos. With New
Jersey up 69-64 in the third quarter, Kidd hits a three-pointer,
then grabs an outlet pass, takes two steps and finds the
streaking Kenyon Martin for an easy layup, leaving Knicks
forward Kurt Thomas shaking his head in envy. With New Jersey up
77-69 and only three seconds left on the shot clock, Kidd drives
to the basket. He must shoot--anyone else would shoot--but as he
jumps he sees Kerry Kittles standing alone at the top of the
key. At the last second Kidd flings the ball to Kittles, who
drops in the killing three. Under Kidd's watchful eye, there's
always an extra pass, and each teammate gets at least one moment
good enough for the 11 p.m. highlights. Late in the fourth
quarter Kidd hits Richard Jefferson with a ridiculous
half-court, underhand alley-oop pass, and the Knicks are broken.

"Jason deserves a lot of credit: They're playing together,"
Knicks guard Allen Houston says of the Nets. "Nobody cares who
scores; it's a total team. That's very rare."

Granted, Kidd's brief time in New Jersey has coincided with an
injury-free stretch unprecedented for the star-crossed Nets, not
to mention that rare moment for an NBA club when no one is
playing for a contract and everyone has plenty to prove.
Starters Kittles, Martin and Keith Van Horn have come back from
major injuries. Still, Kittles says, Kidd's "attitude, his
approach to the game, is what really turned things around. He
makes me a much better player."

Kidd set the tone on opening night, playing for a half-empty
house. Indiana's Jalen Rose erupted for 35 points in the first
three quarters, and the Pacers led by 13 in the fourth, but Kidd
didn't let the Nets panic. After Rose made two straight jumpers,
Kidd said quietly to Scott, "I'll take Rose." Rose scored only
one more field goal. Kidd finished with a team-high 10 rebounds,
four steals and nine assists, and New Jersey won.

Privately, Kidd had told teammates the night before training
camp opened that things would be different this season. After
being named one of the Nets' two captains, he stood and spoke as
he had never before spoken to a team. "We're going to
communicate," Kidd said. "No matter if what we say is good or
bad, we have to communicate. If we don't, we'll be in trouble."

A year ago, communicate wasn't even in his vocabulary. "Oh,
hell, no," he says. Over Kidd's four-plus years in Phoenix,
Ainge and his successor as coach, Scott Skiles, had great
success in sharpening Kidd's practice habits but less in making
him a great leader. He led by setting an example of energy and
tenacity, but as one Suns executive puts it, "Sometimes a team
needs direction." As Kidd himself puts it, forcefulness off the
court "is not in my blueprint." All his life, his response to
any clash with his mother was a stony silence, and while he and
his father were best friends, Steve was not one for talking
things out. To the moment Steve died, in May 1999, Jason had no
idea that his father had a heart problem.

"After I got the call, things began to hit me, like his not
being able to get his shoes on," Jason says. "Maybe his feet
were swollen. If I'd known that, I would've tried taking him to
the doctor right away, but he would've stopped me. He wouldn't
tell anybody if he was sick."

It's no shock, then, to hear that Kidd went two months in 1996
without speaking to his last coach in Dallas, Jim Cleamons, or
that, at the peak of his 1995-96 feud with Jackson, they played,
dressed and traveled together for six weeks without talking.
Just before Kidd was traded to Phoenix in December 1996, Jackson
says, he sat Kidd down and said, "Jason, I'm not mad at you; I
was disappointed because we were good friends. If you had a
problem with me, you could've talked to me about it."

A more impartial observer, Popeye Jones, then a Mavericks
forward, says of Kidd's tenure in Dallas, "He didn't understand
how to lead. He'd let a lot of stuff build up inside him, and
sometimes he would explode."

Since the police took him away a year ago, Kidd has been seeing
a sports psychologist, Gary Mack, and as he learns how to argue
and speak with his wife, he's applied those lessons to his
relationships with his friends, his mother, his team. Now he'll
pull the volcanic Martin aside to whisper encouragement or to
calm him; he'll talk to the rookies instead of ignoring them;
he'll call Richard Jefferson on his cell phone from two seats
away on the team bus to remind him to play under control. Kidd
passes along tips about working the refs in hotel lobbies, about
agents, about getting rest. He uses therapy buzzwords such as
trust and communication, and if his speech sounds canned at
times, there's no doubting that, at 28, Kidd is carrying himself
with a lightness that those close to him had never seen.

"He's comfortable with being Jason Kidd off the court," says
Jackson, now playing for the Miami Heat. The two spoke warmly
before a game in December, and, Jackson says, "I could see it in
his eyes. He's not putting the pressure on himself. He's at peace
with who he is as a man, and that's the first time I've seen
that, period."

This, Kidd says, is why he's playing so well. Although his
shooting still hovers at 37%, he has never felt more assertive,
more positive in games. "I've learned a lot at home and been
able to take what I've learned at home to the court," he says.
"My body feels better. My mind's a lot clearer. I feel loose.
I'm not aching. All the tension, it built up. I see things
better now."

There's a twisted logic at work here, but Kidd and his family
and friends all gingerly agree: The best thing that ever
happened to Kidd as a husband, to Kidd as a ballplayer, to Kidd
as a man, is the ugly fact that he got arrested, endured public
humiliation and got shipped out of Phoenix. "At the time I
thought there had to be an easier, better way," Joumana says,
"but now I look at it and think that's what had to happen. And
I'm glad it happened."

Unthinkable. The man hits his wife, and the man, his wife and
his new team are happier than they've been in years.

She didn't believe it. Joumana was like anyone else who hears a
celebrity apologizing for terrible deeds. She didn't trust him.
Here was Jason, calling from the Paradise Valley police station
on Jan. 18, 2001, and her first impulse was to go on the attack:
Screw you, I did what I had to do, I know you hate me, that's
life. But Jason said, "Hold on, slow down, I'm sorry." Then he
told Joumana that she was right to call the cops, that he was
going to change. Helicopters were hovering over the house; his
name would soon be bad news. She was sure this was spin control,
someone coaching Jason on what to say. "Who's sitting there with
you?" she demanded. "What'd they do in the cop car, drug you?"

She'd seen this act before. They'd been in counseling, off and
on, because Kidd's response to any kind of argument was to shut
down, go quiet, let Joumana's persistent complaints sink in
without response. She would ask him about practice, and he would
grunt, turn on the TV and drift away. "He wasn't consistent,"
Joumana says. "He'd put his mind to it and be this awesome
husband, and then all of a sudden he'd be the other extreme. The
next day he'd be Awesome Husband again: 'You're right. I'm sorry.
You're the priority.' It was a roller coaster where the good
times made up for the bad because they were so good. I wanted to
think, That's the guy. And this other guy? We can fix it."

It didn't help matters that Kidd is, with everyone, the ultimate
point guard. "He tries to please so many people that eventually
he starts drowning--and doesn't know how to deal with it," says
Anne Kidd. Before Jason and Joumana got someone to clean their
house, in December, he would drop his dirty clothes all over.
Now whenever the housekeeper is due, he starts picking up.

"He doesn't want her to think he's a slob," Joumana says. "He
tends to take for granted those closest to him. Say, Skiles would
poo on him and make him feel crappy. Instead of taking it out on
Skiles, he'd come home and take it out on me."

Kidd says he's sure Phoenix traded him not because of his arrest
or because the Suns were tired of first-round playoff exits, but
because the Phoenix coach "was intimidated by me. The team, in
an overall sense, didn't respect him. They respected a player
more than they respected a coach, and so there was a threat of,
'If you don't get Jason to believe in it, then the team won't
believe in it.' I think he felt threatened."

"I have no idea what that means," Skiles says. Both he and Bryan
Colangelo say that in the four years Skiles and Kidd overlapped
in Phoenix, they never heard a word of this from Kidd. "It's
disappointing," Skiles continues. "I felt we had a good
relationship. I was really fond of coaching him, and people in
the organization bent over backward to embrace Jason." No,
Skiles and Colangelo say, what persuaded them to unload Kidd for
Marbury was Marbury's youth (he's four years younger than Kidd)
and the fact that the Suns weren't much fun to watch anymore.

Whatever the reason, the ugly spousal-abuse publicity made Kidd
easier to cut loose. After Joumana stopped hiding in the
bathroom that night, she dialed 911, thought better of it and
hung up. The dispatcher called back, and Jason answered. Joumana
expected him to lie and say the call had been a mistake, but he
handed her the phone and sat down. For a second she thought he
was daring her to turn him in; for a second she hesitated. His
face showed no defiance. Maybe if T.J. hadn't seen him hit
her...but T.J. copies everything Jason does. He wants to sit how
Jason sits. He cries only when someone takes him away from Jason.

Joumana told the 911 operator, in a tape that was quickly made
public, "There's just a bad history here. I told him this would
be the last time, and he popped me right in the mouth." Asked
later if she needed medical attention, Joumana said, "Don't
worry about me. This is minor compared to what I usually go
through."

Jason and Joumana insist that the assault was an isolated event.
He says he's never asked her why she said what she did in the
911 call, but both claim it was her way of upping the ante in
their showdown--"her call card to see if I would play or walk,"
Jason says.

Joumana prides herself on her frankness, and only when asked
about the 911 call is she less than convincing. "That was not
intended as in, 'This is nothing compared to fights we've been
in in the past,'" she says. "That was not intended at all. This
was a sole incident. Yes, right. Yes."

Kathy Redmond, who since 1997 has headed the Colorado-based
Coalition Against Violent Athletes, says, "Many times the wife
backs down, but the things that come out the first time usually
are the truth. The 911 tape perks up my ears because it says
there might be a problem. But maybe this is what it took. That
could be why he decided to take these steps to get all this
help--the reason for his extraordinary response."

The moment Joumana made the 911 call, Jason says, "I knew she
did the right thing. I saw this as a way of getting help and
saving my family. Of understanding that I have a great wife and
a beautiful son and that they were next to the bottom of my
priorities."

Riding in the back of the police car, he says, "as soon as I
started thinking about it, and us, my mind was a lot clearer. It
was weird. I could see. I felt free. I felt better as a person.
I know I did something wrong, and it doesn't sound right, but
after everything was done, I knew what was important in life and
what came first."

Joumana heard him talking like this on the phone from the police
station, and she didn't buy it. It sounded almost too good, and
in the days after, she kept expecting him to change back to his
"Jekyll-and-Hyde thing," she says. "But he didn't change. That
night he remained the same, the next day he remained the same--I
had a restraining order, but he couldn't care less, he wanted to
see me. His attorney was begging him to stay in his hotel room,
so he had his attorney call me to make sure I didn't leave. I
thought, He's for real."

Jason took four games off to devote himself to his family. Suns
owner Jerry Colangelo publicly said Jason should take as much
time as he needed, although privately, Jason and Joumana say,
Bryan Colangelo pressured him to come back. (Bryan responds, "If
I was guilty of doing my job, which is monitoring a situation,
attempting to determine an outcome while maintaining a
competitive product, then I am guilty. But never was there the
intent to apply pressure.") Jason calls the Suns' position
"two-faced," and Joumana calls the organization "hypocrites."
Still, Jason sent a letter of apology to every Suns
season-ticket holder.

In his first game back, against the Celtics at the FleetCenter
in Boston, Joumana sat in the stands and cried as the boos
rained down on her husband. After his first home game she felt
both proud and humiliated when he took a microphone at
AmericaWest Arena and begged the fans' forgiveness. He was
ripped nightly on the news in Phoenix. A fan tossed something at
him in Portland. Joumana kept waiting for Jason to erupt, but,
he says, "I felt as good as I ever had. I felt like a ton of
bricks had been lifted off me, and I was doing the right thing,
proving to my wife that I loved her."

"It took me a while to catch up to him," Joumana says. "I'm
thinking, I did this, I'm such an idiot. It's almost like I
wanted him to hate me. But he stayed so humble."

This, in the end, may well be Kidd's greatest achievement. For
the first time in his life he stepped outside himself. Growing
up in Oakland, he had barely become a teenager before he was
living a teenager's most treasured fantasy: The world revolved
around him. Recruiters begged for his favors. Agents, women and
fans sacrificed all dignity to be near him. His family
sacrificed holidays to his basketball schedule. "I wouldn't want
to live through it again," Anne Kidd says. "You're never
prepared for that. You go to the game to see your child play,
and you hear people chanting and you can't even say hello to him
because he's so busy. You find he's not your son any longer. You
have to let him go. He's not yours."

Most parents learn to live with the loss, and many NBA wives put
up with it in a devil's bargain for security and a measure of
fame. However, in his pivotal moment--his marriage was
crumbling, he had hit a woman--Kidd had a flash of insight.
"It's not about me anymore," he says. "But when you've heard the
opposite for so long, the transition is so hard. You've got to
make sacrifices. Some people learn that faster than others, some
learn it the hard way."

The court ordered Kidd to undergo counseling for six months.
Even now, after that time has passed, he continues to talk to
Mack once a week. According to Redmond, it is "extremely rare"
for athletes to voluntarily continue counseling. "Usually they
don't even complete the six months," she says. Since 1997,
Redmond has worked on about 200 cases of violence by athletes,
and she says not one other abuser has responded as positively as
Kidd has.

"That's why I said it's extraordinary," Redmond says. "The steps
he's taken and the fact that he did not blame somebody else,
that he didn't say, 'It's nobody's business but ours,' that he
got counseling, that she did not suffer any repercussions
because of it--I've never seen that before. Part of me is
cynical, and I have to suppress it and say, 'No, no, he's really
trying.'"

Could it be so simple? Could Kidd, as he says, actually be
"free" of who he was, of who a sports-mad society encouraged him
to be? If he has learned to be consistent at home, consistent
with his teammates, open, trusting, communicative, will he
therefore become the player he always should've been? "Jason has
matured so much that he's ready to take on the full scope of
what a leader is," Jackson says. Kidd is surrounded by hunger
and talent, by teammates tired of losing and ready to sacrifice.
Can becoming a better man off the court make him a better man on
it?

He's trying. The clock is running out, and Kidd has spent the
last 10 minutes taking charge. It's overtime in New Jersey on a
night in December, and Kevin Garnett has almost single-handedly
dragged the Minnesota Timberwolves out of a deep hole to tie the
game at 110 and give the Nets every reason to buckle. As
Garnett--one of those vocal, in-your-face players that Kidd has
never been--wheels inside, Kidd gambles and rips the ball out of
his hands. Kidd takes off like a man on fire, dribbles
downcourt, jukes Wally Szczerbiak into downtown Newark and lays
the ball in. It's his last field goal of a 33-point night, but
Kidd has never been just about scoring.

Szczerbiak misses a jumper, and the 6'4" Kidd snakes his way
through a forest of taller men to snag the rebound. "How'd he
come up with the ball?" Nets general manager Rod Thorn will
still wonder a day later. Kidd turns and whips a pass to Martin
for the dunk and a four-point lead. Everyone in Continental
Airlines Arena, Nets included, is hopping with glee. Not Kidd.
The Timberwolves' Anthony Peeler misses a jumper, and Kidd again
slithers in for the rebound. Garnett grabs Kidd from behind for
the foul, knowing the game is lost, and as he wraps his arms
around Kidd, he shrieks in surrender, "S---!"

Kidd doesn't react. With 12 seconds left and a season to play,
it's too soon to get excited about anything.

Who could've seen it coming? Who could've read Jason's eyes and
delivered the hard words before the assault happened? Maybe his
high school coach, Frank Laporte, the man who got Jason ready
and wanted nothing in return. That's why it felt so pure, back
in 1996, for Jason to keep his longtime promise to the man,
pulling up in a big gold Cadillac and handing him the keys;
Laporte couldn't speak for crying. So maybe Coach Laporte
could've steered Jason straight, except that in '97 bone cancer
ate him alive.

Then there was Jason's godfather and his dad's running mate, Big
Jim Hadnot, a scout for the Sacramento Kings and, later, the
Nets. But prostate cancer got Hadnot in '98, and it was an ugly
chase. "I truly think that's what took my dad, seeing his best
friend deteriorate," Kidd says. "Mr. Hadnot used to tell Willis
Reed about me. He used to send out tape of me when I was in high
school. My dad watched him, a seven-foot giant, go down to bones
almost. That took the wind out of my dad. He knew my two sisters
were fine. I think he felt it was time to go."

Steve and Jason had this routine. Steve, thanks to his TWA job,
could fly anywhere for free, so he'd pop into towns where Jason
was playing, and they'd stay in the same room, lie on the same
bed and snore away the afternoons before games. Steve stayed
with Jason during the 1999 playoffs, such as they were; Phoenix
got swept by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, and
two days later Jason drove his dad to the airport. "I can still
see us driving down the street, and I can still see him talking
to me: 'Don't worry about this. You'll get them next year,'"
Jason says. "I told him we'd be home by the weekend, and he was
talking about going horseback riding. It's as clear as day: His
getting out of the car, my getting out of the car and giving him
a hug, then watching him walk away. It's very weird, like slow
motion. That was the last time I saw him alive."

Kidd is sitting on a couch in his family room in Saddle River,
N.J. Joumana sits at the kitchen table with her back to him.
Christmas is coming, and she's signing and addressing a stack of
cards adorned with the family picture. T.J. shoves his Buzz
Lightyear doll at Jason, asks him to open the wings so Buzz can
fly, then makes his daddy get on the floor to play Pig and
Flower. The Kidds' newborn twin girls, Miah and Jazelle, are in
bed. Yes, Jason says, he came too close to losing his family. He
wonders if things would have whirled so out of control had his
dad been alive. "He would've known," Jason says. "He would've
said, 'This isn't what you should be doing.' He was my closest
comrade. We did everything together. It hurt me that he was gone."

It hurts, too, that Steve never got to see T.J. grow and that
the only men Jason ever really cared about impressing won't see
him play this season, at his peak. But Christmas and its
consolations are coming to the Kidd household, and these
holidays will be unlike any others. Jason's sisters will fly in,
and for the first time the entire family will be in the same
room to open presents. Anne Kidd is coming, too, after a year in
which her son has reached out to her as never before. Often she
has arrived at work to find a message from Jason. "I'm
thrilled," Anne says. "I've never enjoyed my trips back to see
them as much as I have this year. I can't wait."

Jason and Joumana still argue. But, Joumana says, he is
communicating so well that the arguments never last long, and
the silences melt away. She doesn't want to jinx it, but she
thinks she might have finally grabbed the brass ring. "This is
how life is supposed to be," she says. "You're supposed to be
happy, communicate, be best friends, soul mates. I almost want
to go around saving marriages: 'Are you sure? Have you tried
everything?'"

Jason won't go that far. He's still "under construction," he
says. He's happy, the Nets are in first place, and when he's
home, T.J. can't go to sleep without Jason lying next to him.
T.J. hasn't started snoring yet, but that will come, the father
and son drifting off together. Jason knows: He did serious
damage, but some things remain. The boy still needs him by his
side to sleep. His eyes still shine with the certainty that
Daddy is the greatest man in the world.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHEN WILKES COVER jason kidd He's turned around the New Jersey Nets He says he's also turned around his lifeCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOAM, SWEET FOAM For Jason, T.J., Joumana and the infant twins, life has been positively bubbly in the New Jersey suburbs.COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II WHO'S KIDDIN' WHOM? Jason was smitten with Joumana, but he had to work hard to overcome her resistance to star athletes. COLOR PHOTO: AP/MESA TRIBUNE/IRWIN R. DAUGHERTY FACING THE MUSIC Two days after his arrest Jason and Joumana answered reporters' questions at the Suns' arena.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH DOUBLED After repeated first-round playoff exits Kidd's arrest made it easier for the Suns to part with him.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN ROCK ON WOOD Kidd's radar passes to streaking teammates have helped make the Nets one of the league's most exciting clubs.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS THE QUIET MAN Steve (here with his daughter Kim and Jason in 1996) was close to Jason but never told him about his serious heart condition.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN PASS THE TORCH Kidd is a gritty defender and a rebound hound, but it's his playmaking that often earns him comparisons to Stockton.COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II TASTY DISHES Jason puts food on the table for Joumana and the kids at home and feeds teammates the ball on the court.
The teenage Jason lost his head and saw himself with Joumana
forever.
"There's just a bad history here," Joumana told the Phoenix 911
operator.
Kidd's genius reveals itself best on the move; he sees patterns
where others see chaos.
Kidd wonders if things would have whirled out of control if his
dad had been alive.
"He plays with passion, he plays with love, he's a winner,"
Collins says of Kidd.
"He's at peace with who he is as a man," Jackson says. "Jason
has matured so much."