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Three minutes and 20 seconds into this season, Hornets small forward Michael Kidd‑Gilchrist caught a pass in the right corner at Time Warner Cable Arena and took a pronounced jab step toward the baseline. He prepared to drive, as he had been instructed, and kick, as he had been conditioned. Bucks forward Jared Dudley, assigned to Kidd-Gilchrist, reflexively sagged in anticipation of the inevitable bull rush. No, Kidd-Gilchrist told himself. I’m going to shoot the ball this time. He dribbled once back to his left, pulled up in front of the three-point line and buried a smooth 19-footer over a startled Dudley. On the bench, point guard Jannero Pargo raised his fist. On the court, center Al Jefferson nodded his head. And in the stands, Cindy Richardson hurried up the aisle to the restroom. After the game, Kidd-Gilchrist stood at his locker in a brown blazer over a white dress shirt, assessing his performance. “I was just being Mike,” he calmly told a camera crew. “I didn’t do anything special.”

In a sense he was correct. There is nothing inherently exceptional about an NBA player sinking a long first-quarter jump shot and nothing at all unusual about that player giving a postgame interview. Dozens of similar scenes unfold across the league every night. But the effort that Kidd-Gilchrist poured into hoisting the shot, and doing the interview, was far more significant than he let on.

AAU programs recruited Kidd-Gilchrist when he was seven. Jay Z befriended him when he was 12. His middle school team was sponsored by Reebok. His high school team was the subject of a documentary on HBO. He was considered by many the best prep prospect in the country -- when he was still a junior. He played in high school with Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 draft pick in 2011, and in college with Anthony Davis, the No. 1 selection in ’12, and Kidd-Gilchrist was more acclaimed than either. Charlotte chose him with the second pick in ’12 after he won a national championship in his lone season at Kentucky. Getting buckets and addressing reporters was as much a part of his routine as his morning Bible study.

But if the events of opening night were so customary, why did his mother break down in that arena restroom? Why did one of the most accurate shooters in basketball history embrace her on the court following the game? And why did an acclaimed speech pathologist in Lexington, Ky., call up the Hornets’ website and listen to the postgame sound bites?

“MKG is just about everything you’d want in a player,” Jefferson says of the 6' 7" slasher who can cut and finish, run the floor and defend the perimeter, create shots and contest them. Kidd-Gilchrist remains the rare prodigy who scraps like a 12th man. But the modern NBA requires that its wings fire jumpers and its stars command microphones, and those happen to be the two areas in which he is not preposterously talented. Those happen to be the two subjects of his life’s work.
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