NEW YORK – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist decided to turn the tables after his roundtable session with the media as part of a wear test of the Jordan B.Fly last week. With everyone preparing to leave, he shot me a sideways glance and said, “Now I’ve got a question for you.”
MKG then asked for my take on the state of New Jersey prep hoops, but it was frankly less about what he asked than the fact he did so at all. Flanked by his entire family in Jordan Brand’s Terminal 23, it was clear he was completely in his element.
I’ve been an MKG fan since 2009, when he was the top junior in the country and teamed with Kyrie Irving on a loaded St. Patrick squad. As a basketball blogger/fanatic living in North Jersey, I became a regular at Kean University for St. Pat’s games, which had a following that rivaled the local college teams.
MKG wasn’t comfortable speaking to the media back then, but then he didn’t have to be. Kyrie talked enough for both of them.
It was much the same on court, where Kyrie’s talent practically leaped into the stands and grabbed you. In particular, Irving had a penchant for dribbling through people’s legs on the break.
For his part, MKG busied himself anchoring the defense, running the floor and grinding at the rim. His game was brilliant in his subtlety; you came away thinking he’d been solid but unspectacular, and then you’d learn he had something like 28 points and 15 rebounds with four blocks.
Over time, I came to learn about the personal tragedy MKG has dealt with, how he’d added the Kidd to his name to honor his late uncle, and subsequently took his cousin under his wing. There was also his grueling daily routine, including the 77 miles he’d travel north from Somerdale to St. Pat’s every morning to lay the groundwork for a better life for his family.
His hallmark defensive intensity? That came from a very real place.
“I’m from Jersey,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, putting emphasis on his home state. “I don’t know. I just have a chip on my shoulder.”
At Kentucky, MKG found his voice, won a championship with Anthony Davis, and then followed Davis as the No. 2 pick. Fittingly, the Draft was in Newark, so his whole family could attend. He carved out a definitive niche with the Hornets, for whom he’s become a fan favorite.
“We were so bad for so long in the Bobcats days, that what we’ve always been thirsty for are players who care,” said MLB.com Cut4 writer and editor Dakota Gardner, a lifelong Hornets fan. “Gerald Wallace was like that. Kemba Walker is like that. The guy on the roster most like that right now is MKG.”
The Hornets haven’t been able to put together any sort of consistent run since a beginning of the season that saw them looking like a tough out in the playoffs. The team still has the DNA of a group that can make some noise. Walker was named to his first All-Star game. Nic Batum can do it all, averaging nearly 15 points, six assists, and more than seven rebounds a game. And Kidd-Gilchrist brings the sort of stopper ability every franchise craves.
“He’s been injured time and again, but he doesn’t seem discouraged or to care any less,” Gardner added. “That’s all we want from our players: for them to care, because we’ve had so many who didn’t. Do that, and you’ll be loved in Charlotte forever.”
For a player whose high school team was sponsored by the Jordan Brand and who plays for the team Michael Jordan owns, Kidd-Gilchrist was a perfect choice to rep the Jumpman. MKG was starstruck like anyone else when he first met MJ after being drafted, but that quickly wore off when he began to see him all the time. Does Jordan give him advice?
“Not really,” MKG said. “He always has my back. That’s all I need.”
As the invited media warmed up to play some pickup games, MKG stepped in to direct a couple of exercises. From the grin on his face, it was clear he was enjoying calling the shots for a change.
“For this one, act like you’re dancing,” he said as we prepared to high-step through a ladder.
I joked that I’m a lousy dancer.
“Then you can’t do what I do,” he said with a chuckle.
That was an understatement. Sure enough, I stumbled all over the gym.
DIME has made no secret that we’re fans of Jordan’s performance sneakers, which are generally durable, relatively affordable and good on court. The lightweight B.Fly ($110 at NikeStore) boasts an Air Jordan XX9-esque woven upper and asymmetrical lacing for an optimal fit. The rubber outsole has little pods for enhanced traction, and forefoot Zoom Air hearkens to early-model KD sneakers and the Kyrie 1.
The B.Fly would be a perfect choice for an active defender who spends a lot of time on the balls of his feet, needing to make quick lateral cuts. It naturally goes to follow that Kidd-Gilchrist is Jordan Brand’s flagship athlete for the sneaker.
My favorite part of the night was seeing MKG share the spotlight with his family, even if he insisted with a laugh that he “doesn’t have time” to learn how to make his mom’s famous spaghetti sauce.
“Ain’t nobody been through what I been through,” Kidd-Gilchrist said, before pausing. “Or has the family I have.”
Ultimately, as much as I liked playing in the B.Fly, there’s a definitive case to be made that the best thing about the shoe is the guy representing it.