Kenyon Martin might not be mentioned often as one of the NBA’s greatest players but the freakishly athletic power forward was an at-times hot-headed competitor but beloved teammate who was part of the one of the most exciting teams in league history.
Martin didn’t have an easy childhood as the younger child of a single mother of two, who moved from Michigan to Texas and worked two jobs to feed the family.
Kenyon’s light skin and stuttering did not make things any easier in Dallas, which eventually would lead Martin to use his fists to solve problems – a mean streak would accompany him to the NBA.
Martin lacked high level basketball skills but ended up at the University of Cincinnati. He struggled with homesickness as a freshman but worked out the entire summer and went from 2.8 points a game to 9.9 points plus 8.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. His junior and senior years were even better.
Martin played his way to the top of the NBA Draft boards, averaging 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in 1999-2000. But Martin broke his leg just before the NCAA Tournament. The injury did not worry the Nets, who still took Martin with the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NBA Draft – leaving Martin as the last number one pick to attend college for four years.
Martin’s 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds earned him a spot on the All-Rookie First Team but he and point guard Stephon Marbury did not click. In the summer, Marbury was traded to Phoenix for Jason Kidd. Martin was willing to go anywhere his new leader sent him – most-often to the basket for a Top 10 Kidd-to K-Mart highlight alley-oop dunk.
With Kidd and Martin anchoring the defense, the Nets doubled their win total to 52 and reached the 2002 NBA Finals, where New Jersey were swept by the Lakers despite Martin’s 22.0 points a game.
The next season, Kidd pushed the Nets fastbreak even more, and the result was a return to the NBA Finals, where the Nets were deadlocked 2-2 after four games against the San Antonio Spurs. Martin was averaging 22.4 points but then before Game 5 came down with the flu and could not play at his top level. The Nets lost Games 5 and 6 and Martin apologized to Kidd, even saying later he knew the Nets would not get back to the Finals.
The Nets finished second in the East the following season and swept the New York Knicks in the first round of the 2004 playoffs but then were bounced by the Detroit Pistons in seven games.
Martin averaged 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds to become an All-Star for the first time. In the summer he was a free agent and new Nets owner Bruce Ratner’s front office refused to match the Denver Nuggets’ seven-year 92-million dollar offer and Martin headed out west.
Martin’s body betrayed him as he underwent microfracture surgery on both knees in less than two years, missing all but two games of the 2006-07 season. He came back for the following season and helped the Nuggets to 50 wins, which was only good enough for eighth place in the Western Conference and Denver was swept by the Lakers 4-0 in the first round.
Denver brought in Chauncey Billups for the 2008-09 season and finished second in the West but then lost again to the Lakers – this time 4-2 in the Conference Finals. Two more seasons of 50-plus wins would follow but also first round playoffs exits. During the 2011 NBA lockout, Martin played in China before playing out four seasons with the Clippers, Knicks and Bucks, mainly as a mentor to younger players before retiring in 2015.
In addition to starting the Kenyon Martin Foundation to provide for families in need, Martin’s post-playing days have seen him regularly appear on basketball talk shows. His name could be back in the NBA soon as his son Kenyon Martin Jr. has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft. But the son definitely has big shoes to fill.
by FIVE Magazine #167 – Kenyon Martin – Text: Toni Lukic