If Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd could go back in time to talk to himself when he was an NBA head coach, he believes he would have said: “Just relax.”
“Just relax and enjoy the growth of the team,” Kidd said. “The growth of the individual players. And not be so hard, and so wanting them to be perfect. …
“The biggest thing I would say in Milwaukee or Brooklyn is the way the message is delivered could have been different. Not so hard. Not so rough. A little bit more fun to it. As a competitor, you get lost into, ‘What can I do to help them win?’ And that’s all they can hear, is that, ‘He just wants to win.’ Where’s the fun? Let’s build this thing and enjoy it. You play as a player for a championship and you coach for a championship. But there’s also different parts of different environments that you are trying to build in a culture.”
Kidd is one of the NBA’s greatest point guards of all time. Over his 19-year playing career, he finished with 12,091 assists, was a 10-time All-Star and won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
After his playing career ended, Kidd coached the Brooklyn Nets, which featured Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He led them to a 44-38 record and the playoffs during the 2013-14 season. The following season, Kidd went to Milwaukee, where he coached Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to a 139-152 record and one playoff appearance from 2014 to 2018 before being relieved of his duties.
With the help of Kobe Bryant, Kidd was able to land an assistant coach job with the Lakers in 2019 under head coach Frank Vogel. Kidd was a part of the Lakers coaching staff that won an NBA championship with LeBron James and Anthony Davis during the 2019-20 season.
Kidd talked to about his hopes of becoming an NBA head coach again, his thoughts on the current Lakers squad, how Bryant inspired him to start an AAU girls basketball program and more.
What have you learned from Vogel and from your previous stints as a head coach that will make you a better head coach next time?
Learn from your mistakes. Nobody is perfect. Surround yourself with smarter people. Another thing I learned is to be able to be a good listener and filter the information that is given to you. Be able to use it or table it without saying, ‘No,’ or coming off defensive. You can give me a great idea and I can say, ‘I’m not ready to use that.’ It might come off to an assistant coach like, ‘Dang, he never takes any of my opinions.’ Now I would say, ‘I hear what you’re saying. I might want to do it, but just not right now.’ To you that goes, ‘He heard me, we are not going to use it right now but we will at some point.’
One of the biggest things I’ve learned from Frank is he is a great listener and a great communicator. He hears you. He will let you know, ‘Hey, not right now. I’m not comfortable doing that.’ And that goes a long way instead of saying no or that’s crazy.
What do you miss most about being an NBA head coach?
Moving the chess pieces. You see things, and being able to communicate that to your guys on the floor. And, seeing them take that and executing, and having success with that. The best thing is seeing them smile, or you could see them thinking, ‘How did he know?’ I think sometimes they forget that the coach did play.
The other thing is the development of players. Seeing them start at the beginning of the season. And seeing them, as they go through this journey, get better and then see them wanting more. That’s what I really miss.
How close do you think you are to getting another opportunity?
I hope I’m close. I would love to have another opportunity at it. Being here with Frank, understanding his strengths and watching him and how he handles different situations, is a big key that I’ve learned. Patience, communication is really key to understanding where everybody stands. Not just your top players, but the end of the bench.
How much would it mean for you to become a head coach again?
It would be great because I really believe I can help certain players who want to be stars. I’ve sat in every seat as a player. I’ve been an All-Star. I’ve been an MVP candidate. As I got older, I played off the bench. And I played at the end of my career, at the end of the bench when I had no gas left in the tank. When I told Woody [former New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson], ‘I can’t help you as much on the floor, but I can help you at the end of the bench.’ So my experience is not just helping the stars, but the role players, too. And so I really believe I can do that with an organization.
Former NBA center Jason Collins told me recently that he was being shunned by teams in free agency in 2013 presumably because he came out as gay until you helped him sign as a free agent with the Nets during the 2013-14 season when you were the head coach. Collins said he will never forget you getting him that opportunity. What do you remember about that?
As a teammate, always respected ‘Twin’ because he played his role. He actually helped me because he let me get the rebounds. But besides that, when I went to coaching, we had injuries, and we were trying to figure out a big that could help us. And I thought of Jason right off the bat, because I played with him, I knew his basketball IQ was high and he knew how to play and he’s going to play his role. He’s not going to do more or do less. He’s just going to do what he’s asked to do at a high level. …
And everybody was on board. No one, no one even thought about sexuality. It was more or less, can he help. And Kevin Garnett was like, ‘He’s going to use all his fouls.’ They all respected who he was. And it was never about anything else other than being a basketball player.
There are currently seven Black NBA head coaches, including Atlanta Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan. In a league that is 75% Black, how would you describe the state of Black head coaches in the NBA now?
The number will go up. Not just for Black males, but African American females. The number is low, but it will continue to grow. The league will always push the envelope for being a front-runner in that space.
Have you received any interest from colleges for head-coaching jobs? And if the right college came at you, would you listen?
Not right now. I wouldn’t say never. I’m getting my degree here in August, English major. So I graduated from the University of Phoenix. I get that in August, so that’s a box checked. If there was ever a college that had interest, I could never say never, but right now I’m focused.
Why was it important to get your degree?
One reason is I can’t tell my kids how important education is if they say, ‘Well, you didn’t graduate.’ So that checks that box. I talk about the importance of education not only for my kids, but also to the youth that I’m involved with. How important school is or getting a college education. And they go, ‘Well, do you have one?’ and I go, ‘No.’ I tried to avoid that question. I always say how important it is to go to school and no one’s ever asked me, ‘Did you graduate?’
So to be able to say that in August is a big accomplishment, for my kids, but also for the kids that I’m involved with. Now I can say with confidence that education is important. I got my degree. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. That’s got to be right there with the Olympic medals and the championship.
What inspired you to start a girls basketball AAU program in your native San Francisco Bay Area?
In tragedy, sometimes there can be light. And, unfortunately with Kobe Bryant’s passing, I thought about what he did for women, not just for his daughter, but he brought the light onto women’s sports and the importance. And I was just in awe. This is such a great thing that he was doing. And unfortunately with the passing, who’s going to continue to keep that light on there? I’m not saying I can bring a bigger light, but I want to make sure that light stays on there. And so the idea of having a young ladies basketball program was done. We got it in the Bay Area. It’s taken off.
Along with starting an AAU program, what other things would you like to do back home in Oakland?
One of the ideas I have is I’m going to talk with a couple of people in Oakland [California] about doing a school. I talked to LeBron about his I Promise School [in Akron, Ohio] and understanding the blueprint of someone doing it, and having success. ‘Walk me through it.’ The idea is to name it, and I haven’t talked to them yet … Bill Russell Academy. Keep it a public school, because I don’t think the story of Bill Russell has been told to our family in Oakland. That’s one of the ideas, is to be able to give some light to Bill Russell, and appreciation of what he’s done for all of us. If we can go to the city to get a street changed to his name, and then also dedicate his philosophy of life to the school, I think it’s a win-win. He’s an icon. He’s not just a basketball star, but his story has to be told.
I talked to [former NFL star and Oakland native] Marshawn Lynch and he would like to open an IMG Academy on the West Coast, which is a great idea.
What did you learn from Kobe Bryant and how did his passing impact you?
One, anything is possible with what he did after basketball in the movie industry. Whatever he did with his work ethic from being a basketball player to being in the business world, you know that was going to be the same.
As we get older, we start to understand the great ones die young for whatever reason. You look back at history, there were a lot of young people who were great at what they did that passed. Accidents, whatever it may be, and when you look at Kobe, he was too young to pass, but what he was doing with women’s basketball, a lot of us can pick that torch up. That’s a heavy torch. Not one person can do it. It’s got to be a team. We see that in women’s basketball, or women’s sports, that there is a bit of a light on. We’ve got to keep it shining.
What was it like to join the Lakers organization as a coach after competing against them for so long?
As a kid growing up, I was always a Lakers fan because I was a Magic [Johnson] fan. And now, to go against them and see them win championships, and then have the opportunity to beat them in ’11, and now be on the other side coaching here, it’s kind of cool. I’m back in California. I’m a California kid, and you’re talking about one of the most historic sports franchises, and so it’s been a lot of fun.
What have you learned from coaching LeBron James?
He’s a genius. His basketball IQ was off the charts. His work ethic matches his genius. His appetite, he’s still hungry. To be doing it for this long and to be one of the best to ever do it, he comes to work with his appetite and he’s still hungry to win.
What is it like coaching Anthony Davis?
So talented. Incredible person, on the floor and off the floor. AD as an opponent, you know how talented he is, but now, to see him as a person, just incredible dude. Fun. He learned how to play golf, competes at golf. He’s a good young man.
What is the key to the Lakers repeating as champions?
Our health and being understanding that everyone is going to have a hand in us winning, and that you might not get your average minutes, or your average points, but just understanding that you did your part for that time you were on the floor, and I think that shows the sign of a true team. … If we can sacrifice, I think we’ll win.
You won an NBA championship as a player with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and as a coach with the Lakers last season. What’s the difference between getting a ring as a player and a ring as a coach?
Oh, I view them the same. It’s funny. As a player, you look at the coach and go, well, ‘Coach didn’t shoot. Didn’t sweat.’ The sweating part is not true. The coaches are always sweating. You are part of the team. The beauty of a player-coach relationship is that the player trusts that the game plan is right, and that you’re going to make all the right decisions.