Book: Jason Kidd held Christmas Eve practice with Bucks that left Larry Sanders hospitalized

Jason Kidd coaches Bucks-Hornets on Dec. 23, 2014
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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The Mavericks hiring Jason Kidd as coach drew backlash due to his guilty plea for spousal abuse in 2001.

More recent and more-directly relevant to his new job, Kidd coached the Bucks with a brutal style before they fired him in 2018.

A particularly troubling example involved Larry Sanders. Milwaukee lost to the Hornets on Dec. 23, 2014. As usual at the time, the Bucks didn’t play on Christmas.

Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP” by Mirin Fader (via @FakeTJHawke):

Players returned to the locker room dejected, silent. Everyone was ready for the next two days off with their families.

Kidd wasn’t satisfied. “See you guys tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” players said. “What do you mean?”

“We’re going to have practice tomorrow.”

“We booked flights to different places!”

“I don’t care. You guys get paid to do a job, so you’re doing your job  tomorrow. Things change.”

Practice the next morning was ugly. Kidd went at Sanders. Called him a “piece of [s***],” a “terrible player.” The team ran and ran and ran and ran,  like a college team would. “I don’t think I’ve done that since I left J-Kidd,” [Brandon] Knight says. “It was not normal.”

Players had to finish a fast-break drill in twenty-two seconds, but  twenty-seven was the team’s best record. They did it over and over until they made it. Some were bent over, panting, cramping. Practice lasted three hours, and then Kidd made players lift weights and do pool exercises. Half the team didn’t know how to swim, but Kidd made everyone run in the pool.

“Everybody was so tired that nobody was thinking about Christmas,” [Zaza] Pachulia says. “We didn’t have energy left to open gifts.”

Kidd continued to berate Sanders, though, calling him “pathetic.” Sanders couldn’t handle it. Where he was in his life, his career, this practice, all his mistakes, all his frustrations, he felt his entire body turn to jelly as he cramped from head to toe. “I had a full-body convulsion,” Sanders says. “My body broke down. Physically I couldn’t take it, and mentally I really couldn’t take it.”

Sanders asked to be excused to go to the bathroom. “Oh, don’t worry,” Kidd said as Sanders walked away. “We’ll wait, then run some more.” Sanders left the facility and took himself to the hospital, spending the night there. Few knew what happened in the aftermath, and he didn’t have  the energy then to talk about it.

“I don’t think he’s a bad person,” Sanders says about Kidd, “but mentally, he kinda, like, brain [f***ed] me a little. It was a lot of, I love you, kiss you  on the cheek, now it’s all about money, who cares about your mental health, your body breaking down.

“I’m happy. I’m in a much better place now,” he says. “I’m sorry it had to go out the way it did.”

Sanders’ issues predated Kidd, who was in his first season as Bucks coach.

But Kidd’s tactics certainly didn’t help. Sanders got suspended for drugs while away from the team then never played for Milwaukee again, taking a buyout. He entered a program for anxiety, depression and mood disorders and spent a couple of years outside the NBA, returning only for a brief stint with the Cavaliers in 2017.

There can be a fine line between tough coaching that strengthens a team and abusive coaching. For what it’s worth, Giannis Antetokounmpo said he embraced Kidd’s methods – though added he was the only Bucks player to do so.

Kidd’s coaching style also bothered Kevin Garnett with the Nets to the point Paul Pierce thought Garnett would fight Kidd (perhaps, coincidentally, also on Christmas).

Kidd brings desirable qualities to Dallas. He’s a basketball genius. Perhaps, he has learned from his prior misdeeds.

But it’s reasonable to be concerned about how Kidd, who’d been a Lakers assistant, regaining power will affect those around him.