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."
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."