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Ball Don't Lie

Both Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are curious about Jason Kidd’s coaching hire

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Patrick Ewing battle it out in 1986 (Getty Images)

With Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd off to what could be charitably described as an inauspicious debut, just about every longtime NBA coaching candidate will be asked to comment on the remarkable jump Kidd made from playing uncharacteristically poor basketball for the New York Knicks on May 18 to being hired by the Nets less than a month later. Though Jason has no prior coaching experience, he clicks off on all the player-to-coach checkmarks that NBA general managers usually lust after – a point guard, a coach on the floor, heady and respected in his active career, and already chummy with modern NBA players.

By contrast, NBA big men usually aren’t treated with the same sort of starry-eyed respect, for various reasons that may or not make any sense. On top of that, Basketball Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were regarded as, say it with me, moody and aloof during their playing careers. For years Kareem attempted to secure an NBA or NCAA head coaching gig, and denied despite his legendary credentials and time spent assisting both the Clippers and Lakers, while Ewing has bounced around the assistant’s ranks for a decade.

Abdul-Jabbar cops to giving up on ever finding a head coaching job, while Ewing (currently the Charlotte Bobcats’ associate head coach) still has the bug, and is still looking to take what he sees as rightfully his after long stints assisting in Washington, Houston, and Orlando. From the New York Daily News:

“I was surprised that Jason got it that quickly, coming right from playing,” Ewing said after the morning practice. “But he played a long, long time, and all it takes is for someone to believe in you, and someone believed in him. The ownership and the people with the Nets believe in him, so he got an opportunity. He got a good job, he gets to coach a veteran team in a great city, and the atmosphere in Brooklyn is tremendous. So I wish him the best.”

[…]

“Unfortunately,” he said, “they don’t feel like I’m ready to be moved up to the front of the bench. But every year I work, I count it as another year that I am improving at my craft.”

Ewing sat out all of 2012-13, preferring to take a year off instead of (as he probably saw it) slumming in the NBA’s Developmental League as head coach of the Erie Bayhawks. That was an unfortunate move, as it would have given NBA executives a direct line to see how Ewing worked (as he puts it) at “the front of the bench.” Luckily, old pal Michael Jordan came calling over the summer with the Charlotte job, though Ewing still might consider the “associate head coach” tag a lateral move.

Patrick Ewing’s son, former NBA contributor Patrick Ewing Jr., certainly sees it as such – recently lashing out when the Nets reached out to Kidd.

Kareem received no such social media support from his brood, thankfully, which makes sense because he claims to be pulling his name out of the candidates’ list for consideration. He discussed as much with the Daily News last week:

“I’m not going to ram my head against the wall. It’s time to move on. I’m not actively pursuing that,” Abdul-Jabbar said of looking for future coaching jobs. “Writing has been a nice thing for me. I’ve been pursuing that more so than anything else.”

Kareem, because he has to, was also asked about Kidd’s shot to the top in Brooklyn:

“That’s great for Jason,” he said. “I don’t exactly know how that situation evolved but obviously they thought he had some talent, so I’m happy for him, but I couldn’t explain to you what it’s all about. It’s impossible.”

It’s not “impossible,” because as mentioned above, Jason Kidd is your typical NBA head coaching candidate – a heady former point guard with prior leadership credentials. It’s also not an unprecedented move, technically, as Doc Rivers, Kevin McHale, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson have all recently been given head coaching jobs despite no prior coaching experience – though both Rivers and Jackson spent extensive time working NBA broadcasts, while Del Negro and McHale spent time in NBA front offices.

It was the quickness of Kidd’s move – again, less than a month after his final game – that probably rubs these big men the wrong way. Both Ewing and Abdul-Jabbar are being tactful right now, but even if the politeness sustains, dozens of frustrated potential coaches will be watching Kidd’s Nets with a furrowed brow this season. As well they should.

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