Playing Loose

Behind every triumph and heartbreak in the NCAA tournament, there’s a story. The Players’ Tribune presents Tales of Madness, a series of first-person accounts from iconic basketball players recalling their most memorable tournament experiences. In this installment, Jason Kidd remembers Cal’s unlikely 1993 upset over two-time defending national champion Duke.


We were just happy to be there.

My freshman year at Cal, we were a team full of underclassmen still very much learning how to play the game of basketball. Talented, yes, but we didn’t have much of an expectation to make a lot of noise in the NCAA tournament. We finished second in the Pac-10 that year, which earned us a 6-seed. We were only the second team from Cal since 1960 to make the field, so really, just making it to that point was an achievement for us.

We beat LSU in a very close game during the first round to set up a matchup with Duke, the two-time defending national champions. I remember after the game, LSU’s coach said of our chances against the Blue Devils, “I don’t think they have a prayer.”

He wasn’t alone in his thinking — more or less nobody gave us a chance against Duke. This turned out to work in our favor because it kept us pretty loose. The pressure was on them to beat us, and not the other way around. We had already made it further than most people expected us to, so we played like a team with nothing to lose. Those are the squads that can be really dangerous in March. Honestly, it’s pretty fun to be the underdog.

If we did have a fear, it was getting blown out, which is what a lot of people figured would happen. Before we took the floor for that game, there were definitely some nerves in the locker room because nobody wants to be embarrassed on national television.

Once the game tipped off, we calmed down. Not only could we play with Duke, we even built a 10-point lead heading into halftime.

We did a good job of containing most of their players, except Bobby Hurley. I got to see firsthand why he’s considered one of the greatest college basketball players ever. He killed us that game — death by high pick-and-roll. Even when we were in control, we never felt like the lead was safe because of Hurley’s ability to find a way to win basketball games.

With about a minute and a half left, we were down by a point and had possession after rebounding a miss by Duke. I started running it down to the other end of the floor, trying to do everything by myself. I took a bad shot at the same time as Grant Hill tried to take a charge. The ref didn’t blow the whistle, and we ended up getting the ball back because it deflected off of Grant before going out of bounds.

If I were a better passer at that point in my career, I would have found the right guy. This play is also a perfect example of the importance of slowing down and playing under control.

We inbounded the ball and that’s when I made a play that I can only describe as lucky. I was trying to pass it to one of my teammates in a tight window and the ball got deflected back to me for an and-one layup.

Just complete luck.

I sank the free throw to put us up two points with a minute left. That was when I actually started thinking we could win this game. There was a whole lot of time left, but we were one stop and one score away from pretty much putting it away. And that’s when the somewhat unthinkable happened: Grant Hill got called for a traveling violation with 49 seconds left in the game. I was right there to make the call.

At that point, it became a game of free throws, and I wanted the ball in my hands. After I was fouled, I even told the TV announcers that I was going to sink both of them. Somehow, we ended up with an even more positive result than that. I made the first free throw, and the second one hit back iron and then ricocheted off one of our players’ hands and onto the leg of a Duke player, who kicked it out of bounds, giving us possession.

Also, take a moment to admire the do I was rocking back in ’93.

We had the ball and a three-point lead.

Want to see how loose we were playing in this game? Check out the inbounds pass I made to Alfred Grigsby. Duke was looking for a steal, and I lofted a pass over Chris Collins’s shoulder right to Alfred on a cut.

That play was about trust and understanding your teammates. I liked inbounding the ball back then because it allowed me the opportunity to take chances like this sometimes. When you’re the underdog, you should use the lack of expectations to your benefit by remembering that basketball is fun. If you play with that attitude, good things can happen.

We missed the free throw that would have given us a two-possession lead, and then Duke had one more shot at tying the game. Bobby Hurley got a great look.

Lamond Murray had to get up there to grab the rebound. He had a monster game for us. And then he sank free throws, and it really dawned on us what we had done. We took a two-possession lead and never let go of it. We did what nobody thought we could do. We beat Duke.

A lot of basketball fans said that we pulled off a miracle that day. I’m not going to argue with them.

For more Tales of Madness, visit our . Tales of Madness page.