Jason Kidd Once Asked Dirk Nowitzki About the Secret to His Shooting Touch and Received an Unforgettable Answer: ‘Breathe Through Your Eyes’

Before jump-shooting became a non-negotiable part of every big man’s repertoire, Dirk Nowitzki captivated NBA fans with his unique skillset. While the German was more than capable of finishing at the rim, the Dallas Mavericks man could also knock down a long-range jumper with incredible ease. Jason Kidd, it seems, was well aware of that reality.

When the guard returned to Dallas in 2008, he approached Dirk and asked about the secret to his shooting success. While Nowitzki was happy to share his technique, the answer didn’t exactly make sense to Kidd.

Jason Kidd returned to Dallas in 2008 and teamed up with Dirk Nowitzki

Over the course of his NBA career, Kidd donned a variety of different uniforms. On two separate occasions, though, he headed to Dallas and suited up for the Mavericks.

After leaving Cal and entering into the 1994 NBA draft, the guard joined the Mavs as the second overall pick. While Kidd got off to a promising start, he only lasted two full seasons in Dallas before being traded to the Phoenix Suns.

More than a decade later, history repeated itself. After lifting the New Jersey Nets to relevance, Kidd had worn out his welcome in the Garden State. In February 2008, a trade brought the guard back to Dallas where, in theory, he was tasked with supporting Dirk Nowitzki and helping the franchise make it over the hump.

Even though he was an established veteran by that point in his career, Kidd wasn’t above asking for advice. Upon returning to Texas, he sought out Dirk and tried to pick the German’s brain.

Dirk Nowitzki had some bizarre shooting advice for his new teammate

Dirk Nowitzki (L) congratulates Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd (R).
Jason Kidd (R) and Dirk Nowitzki (L) during their time as Dallas Mavericks teammates. | Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

Despite being one of the larger men on the court at any given time, Nowitzki still had a smooth shooting stroke. That reality, it seems, wasn’t lost on Jason Kidd.

“I returned to Dallas in 2008, to the team that drafted me. By then, it was Dirk’s team, without question. I was entering my fifteenth season, and one of the biggest lessons I’d learned along the way was to stay asking other guys for advice. To always try to keep learning and evolving your game,” Kidd wrote in a Players’ Tribune piece. “That season, coming into Dallas, I knew I wanted to improve my outside shot. Dirk was a three-point machine.”

One day after practice, Kidd approached Nowitzki and asked for some shooting pointers. Rather than just providing a quick response and going about his business, the German launched into a step-by-step explanation of his form:

Spacing your fingers just like this. Tuck your arm. Spread your feet like this. Release the ball like this. 

It was all making sense. I was following along. That’s when he got this serious look on his face and said, “The key to shooting is, you have to breathe.”

“O.K., Dirk. Got it.”

“No. Through your eyes. Breathe through your eyes.”

Jason Kidd writing in The Players’ Tribune

Needless to say, Kidd was baffled by that final step. As of 2018, he still hadn’t pieced everything together.

“I didn’t know how to respond,” the guard explained. “We kept shooting, and Dirk was just kind of shaking his head at me. Maybe he was punking me? To this day, your guess is as good as mine.”

Jason Kidd did see a spike in his three-point shooting numbers shortly after returning to Dallas

In isolation, “breathe through your eyes” isn’t the greatest piece of coaching anyone has ever received. For Kidd, though, it does seem like Dirk’s tip might have helped.

While it’s unclear exactly when he asked for advice, the guard’s three-point shooting numbers did improve after he returned to Dallas. Through the first 29 games after the trade, Kidd shot a career-high 46.1% from three-point range. Although that number could be skewed by a small sample size, he still performed well across two larger windows.

The California native shot 40.6% from downtown across the 2009-10 campaign and improved to 42.5% for 2010-11 season. After winning the 2011 NBA title, though, his long-range accuracy slumped back down into the 35% neighborhood.

Was Dirk Nowitzki onto something? Was it just the power of the placebo effect at work? At this point, it’s impossible to tell. The next time you find yourself staring down a game of HORSE, though, it can’t hurt to try breathing through your eyes.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

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