In the last two decades only Magic Johnson (his boyhood idol), Scottie Pippen and John Stockton have rivaled Kidd's ability to control a game while shooting so seldom. It is this quality that has made countless coaches on every level hold him up as an example, but Kidd, despite his 38.9% shooting from the floor at week's end, believes he is sometimes unselfish to a fault. "Probably every coach I've had has told me to think about shooting more," he says. "They're right—it's the biggest problem in my game. But by the time the first quarter is up, I want the other four guys to have had enough touches to feel like they're into the game. You've got to get everybody going, because sooner or later, you're going to need them all."
Like other smart playmakers, Kidd makes sure he feeds the hot hand, but he goes further than that. To help a teammate snap out of a shooting slump, Kidd will find him on a fast break or get him the ball in a favorite spot. "I've even seen it when rookies are scrimmaging," says Skiles. "There might be one out there who you don't think is much of a player. Then Jason shows up, and suddenly the rookie is getting shots and looking pretty good."
It's obvious that Kidd has already done wonders for Marion, the ninth pick of the 1999 draft, who with each game looks like a bigger steal. Impressive as a rookie before missing 31 games with a left knee injury, Marion isn't totally dependent on Kidd; he has proven to be surprisingly tough on the boards despite his willowy, 215-pound frame. Through Sunday he was the second-leading re-bounder in the league, with 11.9 per game. But it is his fast-break work with Kidd that has turned heads. Kidd sometimes looks as if he's gauging Marion's limits by lobbing impossibly high passes, like a driver leaning harder and harder on the accelerator of his new sports car. "So far he hasn't put one up there that I couldn't get to," says Marion, who was averaging 19.4 points at week's end. "Sometimes he'll put the ball up there before I even know he's going to do it. I just figure if I can catch up to him on the break, it's usually going to mean a layup or a dunk for me."
Kidd can make his teammates look so good that his own virtuosity can go unnoticed. Although he will sometimes pull out a fancy playground pass from his days on the Oakland blacktop, he more often chooses the deceptively simple-looking delivery. If the flamboyance of the Sacramento Kings' Jason Williams is at one end of the point guard spectrum and the fundamentals of Stockton are at the other, Kidd is the happy medium. He is not plain vanilla, but he doesn't use the pass as a form of self-indulgence either. "I don't think I'm less flashy than I used to be," he says. "I look for the best way to deliver the ball, whether it's a bounce pass or a behind-the-back pass."
In addition to bridging that stylistic divide, Kidd is one of the links between two generations of stars. The league is in a transitional period in which most of its marquee players are either fading, like Pippen, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, or still maturing, like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. But Kidd has already dealt with all the issues—media scrutiny, ego clashes with teammates, the pull of the nightlife—that stars face in their youth. He has emerged as a mature professional, friendly and accessible with the press, quick with an autograph and a smile for fans, comfortable in the spotlight while not needing to seek it out. The friction between Kidd and teammates Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn when they were Mavericks seems like ancient history now, as does the reputation Kidd carried as an uninterested practice player.
"You heard things about Jason early in his career that weren't always flattering, things that might have had to do with maturity," says Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo. "But whatever problems there might have been in Dallas didn't follow him here. He's been a model player for this franchise on and off the court."
He has been a model for other players as well. Kidd has already reached the stage where younger point guards, like Bibby and Williams, name him as one of their influences. How does that make him feel? "Flattered," he says. "And old."
But Kidd isn't old, only experienced and wise. That's what a man becomes when he makes the most of his minutes.