Stephen Jackson is returning to the Oracle with the Charlotte Bobcats. No doubt the Warriors faithful will be letting him have it. But I would not boo him myself if I were at this game. I have a very strong admiration for Jackson as a basketball player, that was not diminished by the actions he took to separate himself from the Warriors.
Stephen Jackson is a winner. He was a World Champion with the San Antonio Spurs. He was instrumental in one of the greatest playoff upsets in history, completely humiliating the league MVP with his suffocating defense as the We Believe Warriors sent Mark Cuban, The Squeaky General and the number one seed in the league back to Dallas with sore bottoms. And now, as exactly ONE NBA blogger predicted, he has single-handedly grabbed the Charlotte Bobcats by the scruff of their necks and dragged them into the playoffs.
A winner. That is the single best word you can use to describe Stephen Jackson as a basketball player. Why? Because his game defies statistical analysis. That shooting percentage! Those turnovers! Stat freaks across the NBA have delighted in deriding Jackson’s game. Prominent snake-oil salesman John Hollinger predicted that the Bobcats would miss the playoffs, and net one less win by trading for Jackson. Before, of course, it became evident to all of his readers that the opposite was true, causing him to abruptly install the Bobcats as his five seed in the East.
Jackson is a winner. He will give you 45 minutes of defense against the other team’s best player, whether that player is Dirk Nowitzki, Lebron James or Chris Paul. He will get his teammates involved on the offensive end. He will take and make the big shot at the end of the game. He will light a fire in his teammates, as Anthony Morrow noted:
He’s a matchup problem. He’s going to defend the best player. He’s a fiery player. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. That kind of attitude rubs off on other guys, and I think it’s rubbing off on those guys.
He is, in the words of Tim Duncan “the ultimate teammate.” He was, in the words of Mike Brown, “the most talented player” on that Spurs championship team. He was, according to Baron Davis, “the leader” of the We Believe team, and its “heart and soul.” He is, according to Larry Bird, the toughest player he’s ever seen when it comes to playing through injuries. He is, in the words of Don Nelson, a “heck of a basketball player,” a player who “makes everyone around him better.” He is, in the words of Larry Brown, “an elite player. He’s as bright as anyone I’ve coached.”
Try sticking that in your pipe and smoking it, stat freaks. Try drawing up a stat that can measure Stephen Jackson’s heart. Stephen Jackson is a winner. And if you can’t see that every minute that he’s on a basketball court, then there is something very wrong with the way you watch basketball.
Should Jackson’s actions in separating himself from the Warriors change a Warriors fan’s perception of him? I can’t answer that for everyone. But for myself, the answer is not one bit. I am very disappointed he’s no longer a Warrior, but I don’t blame him.
Stephen Jackson is a winner. He doesn’t want to just play me-first basketball and earn a check like so many others in the league. He wants to win. He was tremendously disappointed by the breakup of the We Believe team, and in particular by the loss of Baron Davis. But he continued to give everything he had to the team, while relying on the promises of the franchise that help was on the way. Before last year’s draft, he was promised by Don Nelson and Larry Riley that the Warriors would add a veteran big man to solidify the front line. When Stephen Curry unexpectedly fell to the Warriors in the draft, those plans fell through. And Stephen Jackson, who wanted to win, went ballistic.
I don’t blame Don Nelson for taking the best player in the draft. But I also don’t blame Jackson for going ballistic. The Stephen Curry draft represented the final straw in what he viewed as a betrayal of the veterans of We Believe. Jackson didn’t want to spend the most productive years of his career mentoring kids for a losing basketball team. He wanted to win, and he didn’t believe the Warriors could win by relying on Brandon Wright and Anthony Randolph at power forward. And you know what?
He was 100% right.
Good luck, Stephen Jackson. I look forward to watching you play tonight, against a player no one expects you to be able to guard, your friend Monta Ellis. I look forward to watching you play in a hornet’s nest of hostility.
I look forward to watching you lead the Charlotte Bobcats in the playoffs. And I will not be at all surprised should another great upset occur in the first round.
The Bobcats are -1.5 road favorites against the Warriors in this game. I’m betting that Stephen Jackson, World Champion, gives his friend Don Nelson a hug before tip-off, and then proceeds to play his heart out. Just as he’s done in every game he’s played since he entered the league.