It was the opening day of training camp, a day the Dallas Mavericks were touting as the dawn of a new era—which was stirring, even epochal, until a reporter reminded guard Jimmy Jackson that he was playing for his fourth Mavericks coach in five seasons, and Jackson let out a gust of a sigh.
Across the court at the team's new training facility, new owners Ross Perot Jr. and David McDavid were seated on padded benches. New coach Jim Cleamons, a former Chicago Bulls assistant, had just conducted his first practice, a spirited session behind closed doors that barely muffled his shouts of enthusiasm. A few minutes earlier, when the doors were opened to the media and a small horde of reporters shuffled in, scrutiny was immediately brought to bear on Jackson and point guard Jason Kidd, in-house adversaries last season, as they participated in fast-break drills.
Their feud, over what Kidd perceived as Jackson's ball hogging, was a bitter sideshow—during one six-week stretch they didn't speak to each other—in a season gone awry. After a 5-1 start, Dallas finished 26-56 and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year, coach Dick Motta was fired, and owner Donald Carter unloaded most of his interest in the team. Then in late June, during Cleamons's first week in Dallas, Kidd met with the coach to get acquainted and talk about the Mavs. Cleamons thought they had an understanding as to what the coach expected of his young star. But the next day Kidd stunned the Mavs' new management team by issuing a public ultimatum: Either he or Jackson had to go. A few days after that, in an equally stunning pronouncement, Kidd backed off, saying, "We have to work through our differences." What was going on?
In late September, just days before training camp opened, Kidd sat in a San Jose restaurant with some friends and business associates and predicted, "Camp is going to be hot. It won't take long to tell if things are really going to work out or not."
Kidd was told that Jackson said he had left several phone messages for Kidd during the summer in an attempt to settle their differences. Kidd's voice suddenly broke like that of a boy still going through puberty. "I'd like to know what number he was calling," he shot back.
"Phone works when I call," Nike marketing executive Lynn Merritt cracked.
"If Jimmy says he tried to reach Jason," Kidd's agent, Aaron Goodwin, chimed in, "that's just crap."
On this first day of camp, though, after Kidd and Jackson had run a fast-break drill, there was Kidd loudly congratulating Jackson for a nice pass. Then, with practice over, the two guards jogged side by side. Was there a thaw after all, or was this a stunt for the minicams? "I said what I said," was Kidd's reply. "Now we have to move on."
Four weeks passed without incident, and last Friday in the Mavs' season-opening 92-91 victory over the Denver Nuggets, Kidd, who had a game-high nine assists, and Jackson, who led both teams with 28 points, worked to set up forward Chris Gatling for the game-winning hoop with 7.1 seconds to play. "Whatever the rift was," said Cleamons, "we have dealt with that, and there is no evidence of any [disagreement] between them." For the moment.
Granted, the sound of egos colliding like boxcars or an entourage circling its star is not a rare phenomenon in pro sports. And the Jackson-Kidd spat might be less noteworthy if it didn't threaten to bring down the Mavericks for a second straight season or lump Kidd with other mercurial basketball talents who have clashed with management and/or teammates and rocked entire NBA franchises.