The best high school basketball player I ever covered regularly was a freshman. I knew it then and I still believe it.
He was better than Gary Payton
as a senior. Better than Brent Barry
anytime. Better than Leon Powe
, Todd Lichti
, Mark Madsen
, LaMond Murray
, Jeremy Lin
, Drew Gooden
, Dior Lowhorn
or Darnell Robinson
These were all guys I covered as a prep writer in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1984.
barely scored double figures that 1989 game – a nondescript nonleague contest against a suburban public-school squad at tiny St. Joseph Notre Dame
High School in Alameda (Calif.).
The place was packed, of course, largely to see Kidd's teammate Calvin Byrd, a McDonald's All-American that year. Byrd became a future Villanova star, overseas pro and current college assistant.
But the word was matriculating around the Bay that the best player on this perennial Northern California power was Kidd, a then 6-foot-2 point guard who was already as strong kids three years his senior.
He was the reason I made the special trip to the cracker-box gym — I wanted to see firsthand if all the hype was true.
It took a pair of defensive rebounds, coast-to-coast dribble drives and crisp assists to realize there was no hype at all.
He didn't secure a triple double that night – his trademark – largely because high school games are only 32 minutes. Otherwise I'm certain he would have secured one.
My Oprah "ah-ha" basketball moment came late in the fourth quarter of a competitive game when dribbling rather nonchalantly along the right wing, he zipped a no-look, one-handed pass through two sets of ears and two sets of hands to Bird, who put in a basket to ice it.
The fact none of his teammates or fans or his legendary coach Frank LaPorte barely raised a brow told me they were already used to his mini-Magic Johnson imitation.
The first time LaPorte saw Kidd play was the summer before he entered high school at a youth tournament.
''He did some things out there even that amazed (college) coaches,'' the late LaPorte told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1991. ''One approached me and wondered if he was a junior (in high school). I said, 'No he's a freshman.' Everybody knew. As an eighth-grader, Jason Kidd was the talk of the town.''
And now 22 years later, Kidd is the talk of the nation. He's two wins away from an elusive NBA title.
He's had a no-doubt, 16-year Hall of Fame career that has featured 11,578 assists (9.1 per game), 6,501 rebounds (6.5), 16,772 points (13.2) and 107 triple doubles, the third most in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson and Magic.
He's also played more playoff games than any active player without winning a championship. His teams lost twice in the finals as part of the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003, which is exactly opposite of his high school career.
Kidd led St. Joseph to back-to-back state titles starting in 1992 and pretty much did it all, averaging a gaudy 25 points, 10 assists aqnd seven rebounds per game his senior year when he was named national Player of the Year by Parade and USA Today.
He left as the state's leader in assists (1,155) and seventh-best scorer (2,661), something he was not when I first saw him.
Kidd was more like he is now – most valuable as a passer, rebounder and defender. If you didn't catch it in Game 4 on Tuesday, he went scoreless but when he was in the game, Dallas had a plus-12 advantage, which was better than Dirk Nowitzki or Jason Terry or anyone else in the game.
He played 39 minutes.
So, as far as I'm concerned, Kidd has come full circle. He's going end-to-end, making the smart, sometimes spectacular passes and controlling all the action.
I'm hoping that he gets that first ring, not to affirm that my game-radar is honed, but because, well, it would be nice that one of the game's true ambassadors, someone who has always played unselfishly for the good of the team, could finish out on top.
Win or lose, however, he'll always be at the top of my prep basketball book.