Before Nets G.M. Billy King introduced Jason Kidd as Brooklyn’s new head coach in June, he made sure to run it by a mentor.
King turned to a man that both he and Kidd had played for, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"Before I make any decision, I call him,” King said at the press conference introducing Kidd as the head coach. “I just picked his brain. Any time I do something, I call him."
For this decision in particular, King knew that his former head coach would be a valuable confidant. As head coach of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, Krzyzewski had coached Kidd and the ‘redeem team’ to a gold medal and an undefeated record.
The Duke coach gave his former national team player a glowing review.
"I said, [Jason]'s been a coach on the court since he was probably about 15," Krzyzewski recalled in a September interview with ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo. "He's been as cerebral a player as there has been in college basketball and then obviously in professional and international basketball, and he has a remarkable way with people."
Because the 40-year old ex-Net had just retired, King’s selection was perceived as a big gamble. And for this choice, Brooklyn’s ownership gave their general manager full power to decide. Majority owner Mikhail Prokohov did not meet with Kidd at all before the hiring.
In asking Krzyzewski for advice, King not only was speaking with a trusted mentor or someone who knew Kidd as a player but also as someone who had first-hand experience with Kidd’s interest in coaching.
“[Having Krzyzewski’s support is] huge,” Kidd said Wednesday. “For me, I spent a little bit of time with Coach K in [Las] Vegas behind the scenes. When he was coaching, I wanted to see [how he watches] film, the coaches’ conversations about picking that team. So, I had a little head start, but it’s huge for Billy to have asked someone with that experience, and I’m just happy that Billy picked me.”
Kidd and Krzyzewski have history far beyond their national team tenure, however. More than 20 years ago, Kidd played a major part in snapping the Blue Devils’ streak of five consecutive Final Fours and two consecutive national championships and ending Duke legend Bobby Hurley's collegiate career.
Kidd, then a freshman playing for California, nearly recorded a triple double—notching 11 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds—as the Bears upset Duke in the second round of the 1993 NCAA tournament. The San Francisco native still ranks that game among the top in his playing career.
"That's right up there for me," Kidd said in an interview with the Mercury Sun last March when asked about the 20th anniversary of the game. "Winning those games—the state championships at St. Joe's, beating Duke, winning at the Olympics and winning the NBA championship—they're all 1A for me. Those are games you never forget."
Through their time together with the national team, however, Kidd and Krzyzewski have developed a strong relationship. Since taking the job, Kidd has exchanged texts with his national team coach, Krzyzewski said.
Since the Nets have arrived in Durham, Krzyzewski has had a chance to speak with Kidd, and the Blue Devil coach gave a talk to the Brooklyn squad before its first practice of the season Tuesday morning.
“Just listening to him and picking his brain, listening to him talk about his team… it’s always good to hear from someone who’s had a lot of success,” Kidd said.
Although Krzyzewski has far more experience than Kidd in the coaching business, he saw similarities between the two coaches’ situations, suggesting that Kidd will have to balance the talents and personalities of a number of big-name veterans just as Krzyzewski did with the national team.
“I think that’s a great comparison,” Kidd said. “But he’s been coaching for a little bit of time.”
As the season unfolds, Kidd may have a number of reasons to seek his mentor’s advice. Already, he has found himself at the center of a dilemma concerning the balance between playing time and rest for 37-year old Kevin Garnett, a 15-time all-star and former MVP.
For now, Kidd is thankful to have the opportunity begin his coaching career with Krzyzewski's watchful eye nearby.
“He opens his home to us, and it’s a beautiful place,” Kidd said. “And we’re very lucky to have the opportunity to be here.”