THE FIRST HORN SOUNDS, AND FOUR MAVERICKS HOP out of their folding chairs and rush over to the scorer's table. Tyson Chandler turns to the crowd and flexes like a cage fighter. Jason Terry waves his arms as if he's forming snow angels. Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion find a spot on the court and fidget. Fifteen seconds pass. The second horn sounds. Only then does Jason Kidd slowly rise from his seat and join his Dallas teammates.
Over 17 years a man can learn every nuance of his workplace, and this is just one quirk that Kidd has uncovered about the NBA: A full timeout lasts 100 seconds, but play does not actually resume for 115 seconds. The differential might seem insignificant, but it adds up. Each team gets six full timeouts per game, plus breaks before the second and fourth quarters. By consistently spending every possible second on the bench, Kidd accrues an extra three-plus minutes of rest per game, which is more than four hours extra per season. "That's four hours of energy you haven't wasted standing around and waiting," says Kidd. "Four hours of energy you may need coming down the stretch."
At 38 Kidd was the oldest starting point guard in NBA Finals history and will soon be approaching the final turn of his career. Terry, 33, marvels that Kidd can even tie his shoes anymore. Nowitzki, 32, refers to Kidd as a fossil and begs him to shave his head before every playoff series so the team is not demoralized by seeing gray hair. "You look too rough," Nowitzki tells him. But unlike some Finals ancients, hanging around just to earn their first ring, Kidd was still scrapping for his: Going into the series against the Heat, he led all playoff participants in steals, ranked second in assists and was tied for third in three-pointers made. In the Finals he was the key to Dallas's exquisite ball movement and offensive unpredictability. As opponents became increasingly familiar with the Mavericks' sets this postseason, coach Rick Carlisle entrusted Kidd to call most of their plays on the fly, and Carlisle said the team was more dynamic as a result.
Early in the Finals, Kidd was Dallas's main reinforcement, feeding Nowitzki and using his defensive wiles to wear down Miami. The Mavericks were overmatched at times against the Heat, but they enjoyed an obvious edge in experience and guile, with a floor leader who sits in front of his locker after every game tapping notes about what he learned from that day's opponent into his cellphone while teammates assume he is texting. The Mavs didn't produce as many highlights as Miami during the season, but in the final minutes of games they could be flawless.
"That's Jason Kidd," says Chandler. "He's the one who keeps us under control, who makes sure we keep our head." The center points to his right temple, the gesture Kidd is constantly making to him whenever he sees Chandler flexing a bit too emphatically.
THE YEAR OF THE POINT GUARD, RULED BY THOSE ballhandling contortionists with their devious crossovers and whirlybird leaps, was hijacked by a middle-aged facilitator who averaged a mere 7.9 points during the regular season, who barely left the ground and whose drives to the hoop looked more like power walks. Kidd used to be about as athletic as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, but even then, shots were last resorts. The pass-first point, an endangered species today, is apparently still valuable.
Kidd recognizes that the 7-foot Nowitzki likes the ball delivered high, around the letters, and Terry wants it fast because he often fires before feeling the seams. Kidd leads active players with 46,689 regular-season minutes—not including 15 straight playoff runs and 56 international wins—and all that time has sapped his speed. But his peripheral vision remains so keen that a teammate can stand behind one of Kidd's shoulders and he can tell who it is. "Sometimes Jason hits you in a place where you don't think you can make a play," Chandler says, "but he knows you can."
Players have been saying this kind of thing about Kidd for nearly two decades, since Dallas drafted him out of Cal with the second pick in 1994, back when Don Carter was the team owner. After a quintessential performance from Kidd—two points, 10 assists, one turnover—in the Game 5 clincher over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, he sought out Carter, who still sits courtside, in the celebration on the floor and told him, "I thought we'd be doing this 17 years ago."
The Heat had been slotted in the Finals for 11 months. The Mavericks were an unexpected entry, there mainly because Nowitzki forgot how to miss but also because Kidd smothered Lakers star Kobe Bryant for crucial stretches of the second round and stripped the Thunder's 6' 9" Kevin Durant, the league's leading scorer, repeatedly in the third. "I didn't think he could do that," says Chandler. For all of Nowitzki's one-legged fadeaways, Kidd even made the pivotal shot in that conference final, a sideline three at Oklahoma City in Game 4 that broke an overtime tie and capped an epic 15-point comeback. Kidd, who had played 41 frantic minutes in the game, relived that shot with Nowitzki on the bus ride to the airport—then fell asleep during the conversation.