By Lenny Moon
The year was 1975 when a gentleman named Richard Milhouse Nixon was president of the United States. The unpopular Viet Nam War was still on the landscape, Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” were MLB kingpins, the Pittsburgh Steelers led by a cadre of HBCU performers were the reigning Super Bowl champs and the NBA was creating their own history with two Black coaches facing off to determine who would lead their contingent to the top of the throne on the hardwood. Golden State’s Al Alttles and the Washington’s K.C. Jones earned this distinction when the Warriors would go on to shut out the Bullets 4-0. Fast forward the clock to the third decade of the 21st Century and we’re witnessing the Boston Celtics (coached by rookie Ime Udoka) and the Dallas Mavericks (led by veteran Jason Kidd) in the NBA’s Final Four.
Let’s begin with Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Frederick Kidd. At press time, it would be a daunting task for his Mavs to come back from a series deficit vs the vaunted Golden State Warriors but he’s led his contingent to the Western Conference Finals. A native of Oakland, Ca, the 49 yr old Kidd is a highly accomplished roundball aficionado on every conceivable level, having rose to the top high school player in the nation as a 6-4 point guard, an All-American in college and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist (2000 Sydney & 2008 Beijing). He was the 2nd player selected in the First Round of the 1994 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. From there, Kidd would go on to enjoy a sparkling 20-yr NBA career (1994-2013) that resulted in him being a member of the 2011 Dallas squad that won the NBA Finals and ultimately the 10-time NBA All-Star would be named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. As a player, Kidd was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. As a head coach in the NBA, Brooklyn came calling immediately following his retirement where Kidd led the Nets to the Conference Semifinals in 2014. He would go on to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a pair of playoff appearances (2015 & 2017) as a prelude to arriving in the “Big D”. His Mavs 52-30 record is his best regular season mark so far in his 6-yr NBA head coaching career.
Boston Celtics rookie head coach Ime Udoka has been one of the most refreshing stories that hit the NBA in quite awhile. Unlike Kidd who landed an NBA head coaching job fresh from hanging up his sneakers as an active player, Udoka’s trek was much more complex. The American-Nigerian whose phonetics are (EE-may, oo-DOH-ke) was born in Portland, Oregon and played collegiately for three universities. His last stop was his most efficient at Portland State where he earned All-Big Sky Conference and Big Sky Newcomer of the Year his senior campaign. Although not drafted by the NBA, he bounced around the pro basketball circuit in the USA and overseas while toiling for the Knicks, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Kings of the NBA along the way.
Udoka’s coaching career began in 2012, being hired as an assistant for future hall of fame head coach Greg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. He was on staff when the Spurs defeated LeBron James and the Miami Heat 4-1 to win the 2014 NBA Finals. Ime would serve eight seasons in San Antonio prior to migrating to stops with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets (all three jobs as an assistant coach). On June 28, 2021 Udoka was hired to become the head coach of the Boston Celtics representing his first opportunity to serve as a head coach. Certainly one of his biggest challenges early on was to merge the talents of two of the brightest young stars in the league in forwards Jason “JT” Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Udoka’s no nonsense approach along with his ability to communicate with his players are traits that resemble his mentor Popovich from his San Antonio days. His exposure to professional basketball overseas as well as the states seemingly has been packaged and allowing roundball fans to witness one of the most impressive “rookie” coaching performances the league has ever seen.