The Golden State Warriors in game entertainment crew shines the spotlight on San Francisco Giants center fielder Randy Winn. Seated a few rows off the north end of the court, the Santa Clara native is asked which player he would like to see a highlight reel for. Accepting the remote from the peppy hype man, Randy settles on a name and presses select. With that, heads direct to the video board to the mean mugging, tattooed arms crossing, Stephen Jackson.
Stephen Jackson, acquired mid-year last season from the Pacers in a deal that involved eight players, has given the Warriors, and their faithful following, hope. It started last year when the Warriors snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season, breaking a 13 year absence from the post season. It continued when the small ball “midgets,” as TNT commentator Charles Barkley called them during halftime of Game 2, pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NBA playoff history by knocking off the 67 win Mavericks in 6 games. Hope has come out to play Monday when the Phoenix Suns pulled into Oakland.
In the first half, Stephen has drained threes, grabbed boards, stood at half court and flapped his albatross like arms to fire up the crowd. His 20 points blend in nicely with the Warriors 72 first half
points, and are a big reason why Golden State has played out of their minds to lead by 11.
The Warriors are 5-7 this year, but the record is deceiving. And there’s a reason for that. Stephen Jackson shot a gun five times in the air outside a strip club after being hit by a car, landing him 100 hours of community service for felony criminal wrecklessness and a seven game suspension from the NBA front office. The Warriors lost six of the seven games without their captain. This incident, coupled by the forgettable fight Stephen had as a Pacer which landed him a thirty game suspension, landed Jackson a reputation as a gangster. A bad boy. Uncontrollable, considering that he came in a
fifth for most technical fouls last year.
Knowing damn well what people think of him, Stephen vowed that this will be the first year people know him for how he is on the court. “I’m going to be smarter about what I say. I’m not just going to get tech fouls for the hell of it. When I’m focused and not screamin’ at the refs and taking all the energy to the negative, I play better.”
So far, he has been a changed man. He has been a different player. Don Nelson, who definitely isn’t in his first rodeo with his 29th NBA season as a head coach, called Stephen Jackson, not franchise player Baron Davis, the emotional leader of the Warriors team.
The Warriors are making a run without All-Stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire on the floor, who are resting on the bench.. The Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni, who could easily pass as a used car salesman, calls a timeout in an attempt to stymie the up-tempo game. A sweaty Stephen Jackson trots back to the bench like a jubilant little leaguer that has appeased his parents. A teenage towel boy greets him a white cloth to wipe his permanently solemn game face. Before heading back to the huddle, where coach Don Nelson begins to draw up plays, Jack, as the wildly enthusiastic team dentist seated next me likes to call him, throws up a fist pound to the towel boy. Hesitantly, the boy throws the pound back and locks closed fists with Jackson.
Everyone is a part of the team around Oracle Arena, and it’s Stephen who has taken on the extra duty to make it feel that way. He joins the huddle with his mean mugging, NBA sweatband adored face.
Lips naturally pursed, the immediate impression is that he’s too cool for school.
In fact, Stephen was too cool for school. He originally prepped at Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas before transferring to high school basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. The high school All-American was ruled academically ineligible following graduation, preventing him from fulfilling his commitment to the University of Arizona Wildcats, and instead led Stephen to the NBA draft. He was selected 43rd overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by tonight’s opponent, the Phoenix Suns, but was released before seeing any NBA action. It would be three years until he would return to the league. In those three years, Stephen traveled all over the world in pursuit of a basketball dream. He would play in Canada, Australia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic before landing a chance to join the New Jersey Nets in 2000. A successful rookie campaign landed him a spot with the Spurs, where he helped win a NBA championship as the team’s third leading scorer. He signed a 6 year, 38.3 million dollar contract as a free agent in the summer of 2003, joining the atrocious Atlanta Hawks, before being traded to the Indiana Pacers for Sixth Man runner-up Al Harrington. Of course, this wouldn’t be the last trade involving these two names. Monta Ellis, the Warriors soft-spoken, Mississippi native shooting guard is taking over. He has just scored the last 15 points for the Warriors, all of them coming on two-time MVP Steve Nash. Again D’Antoni tries to derail the run with a timeout, but it is all a party in the Warriors huddle. Monta, who is 22 and in his third year after earning the NBA’s most improved player award in his second season, giggles as Stephen Jackson comes over for some inspirational, testosterone induced yelling. Monta looks at Stephen like he’s the cool uncle that comes around on Christmas.
Stephen is somewhat of an unorthodox player. His shot looks like the makings of a pump fake that continues into a stationary jumper, where the soles of his shoes look like goo is making them stick to the hardwood. In the times that Don Nelson has him bring the ball up the court, he dribbles like he will bounce it off his foot at any moment. The way he runs is more like a north to south shuffle. But, he makes it all work, pulling off 21.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game with the grace of a giraffe, and the smarts of a squeaky wheel.
A group of six year old boys adorned in Warriors garb outstretch their arms and scream from the third row. They are competing to be the winners of the Stephen Jackson’s sweatband giveaway, a post game ritual of his that goes undocumented. One orange, sweaty headband is flung towards one of the boys, followed by two NBA wrists bands as the buzzer sounds. Fox Sports Net nabs him for an interview and the PA announcer switches the stadium sound system to the FSN microphone, turning
what Jackson has to say into a public speech for the thousands that stick around after the game.
Shawn Marion walks into the tunnel leading to the locker room, looking up at the jumbo-tron, shaking his head in disbelief at the 129-112 final score. Mid-shake, Shawn’s side to side movement of his head turns from disbelief to indifference. “It’s November, it’s early,” you could almost see Shawn reassuring himself about getting waxed from start to finish by the Warriors. “It doesn’t matter.”
After posing for a picture with the fan of the game- in which he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek- Stephen gives his swooping signature on a few leather basketballs and puts his hands up to his ears to the hundreds of appreciative fans that clamor for a picture as he enters the tunnel. The cheering continues for hero of the night Monta Ellis, who trails Stephen like a faithful golden retriever into the locker room with a career high 31 points.
In Captain Jack, and his band of 6-7 Warriors, I trust.