EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the locker room, the New Jersey Nets used to roar with laughter when one former Net would mumble his nickname for the wife of franchise star Jason Kidd. "Five-oh," the player called Joumana, a reference to her husband's jersey number and her perceived penchant for finding ways to clandestinely monitor Kidd and his teammates.
"He'd say, 'Five-oh was out in the club with us last night,' " another player said.
Across his six years with the Nets, Jason Kidd has been the face of the franchise, raising out of the rubble one of sports' historic losers. Beside him, Joumana Kidd, an ex-Budweiser model turned NBA TV gadfly, pushed for her own platform of power. She had front-row seats across from the visitor's bench at the Meadowlands, several rows in front of the rest of the players' families.
The cameras loved her. After her husband, she was one of the Nets' most famous figures in Metropolitan New York. And to get Jason to re-sign with the team in 2003 over San Antonio's offer, to keep him happy, there included an understanding that it meant meeting the demands of his wife.
The Nets had to bow to her whims and wishes, and as one official sighed, "We usually did."
As much influence as Jason had with ownership and management, as much power he wielded with coaching and personnel matters, Joumana carried considerable clout. Now, Joumana has this franchise bracing for a firestorm of tabloid front pages and trash television coverage over what are expected to be blistering charges and allegations in her imminent divorce petition.
She's retained pit bull divorce lawyer Raoul Felder. All in all, the Nets are treating Joumana like a storm about to hit shore.
Around the organization, they believe Joumana plans to deliver damaging information on Jason and possibly his teammates. This could test the limits of locker room peace and the rush of a resurgent Nets season. This is going to get messier and nastier and ultimately test the staying power of this franchise.
Wherever the blame rests in this marriage – and that's something between them – they've struggled to keep it from affecting Jason's workplace with New Jersey. In some ways, the Nets have survived the disruptions the couple has brought, but it's come with an escalating price within the team. The sports page is no place for sordid details of a divorce, but the Kidds have decided to let it all play out in public. The Nets will be left to sift through the wreckage.
"Jason is our guy, and we're going to get dragged right through the mud with him," one Nets official said.
After a sluggish start, the Nets have found a rhythm to an uneven season. They've won six of eight games and reclaimed a share of first place in the Atlantic Division. Mostly, they've been the beneficiaries of Jason's best basketball since knee surgery two years ago.
"He has a mental toughness to just put everything else out of his mind and play at an elite level," team president Rod Thorn said.
After missing a triple double by a rebound on Monday, Jason said, "My personal life does not come out onto the court. I try to keep (personal and private) separate."
Along the way, there's been a blurring of the personal and professional with the Kidds. Once he let loose on her in his divorce petition last week, Jason lost the right to declare it a private matter. He went to great lengths to portray Joumana as a volatile, jealous and mentally unstable mother and wife.
Once Joumana allegedly used their young son to rummage through Jason's locker at the Meadowlands on Dec. 27, retrieving the names and numbers of his conversations, he was moved to unleash on her in the public document.
"Once she had used his own son against him like that, he just lost it," one league source close to Jason said.
As the Kidd marriage dissolved in recent months, there was one Net who told people that he believed Joumana was responsible for spreading falsehood stories about his lifestyle. The players told management and friends that they believed she blamed him partly for problems within her marriage. In the end, he didn't have proof – just sharp suspicions. Yes, it sounds like a soap opera. And that's what it's been with New Jersey.
It had gotten so bad with the Nets that, just two weeks ago, Thorn called every team in the league and inquired about whom they might be willing to trade for one of his stars, including Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd. As one Eastern Conference executive says, "Kidd is virtually untradeable," because of his advanced age (33), and contract ($41 million in the next two years of his contract). Nevertheless, Thorn understood how deep of a division that had been drilled into his locker room.
At one point, Thorn believed the chemistry could be beyond repair. Now, he has come to believe that if the Nets can just survive the barrage of the divorce complaint and tabloid fervor, there may be a chance of salvaging the season.
For now, Joumana Kidd has been banned from Continental Arena and the Nets' practice facility, and husband and wife have taken out his and her restraining orders. If nothing else, it completely changes the dynamic surrounding the franchise. In the past, she was constantly calling for meetings with Nets management, from past CEO Lou Lamoriello to Thorn, railing on everything from her husband's past coaches and teammates to the fact that the players had to clean snow off their own cars upon returning from road trips.
At one time, she was a regular in the Nets' marketing meetings. Everyone had to sit and listen to her ideas. She never did get the carport constructed for players' cars at the practice facility, but she did score the players' families a lounge to use on game-days.
Her front-row seat led her to tell employees that she was a great benefit to the Nets on game nights, that she served, in her own words, to "distract" other teams. How she managed to do that was cause for much conjecture in the team's offices, but now it's just down to this in Jersey:
When does Hurricane Joumana hit land and what will be the damage?