No ordinary ballplayer (cont.)
Posted: Monday May 7, 2007 3:41PM; Updated: Monday May 7, 2007 3:45PM
In the past few weeks, America has seen a lot of Jackson. Some people already knew about his troubles. Now they've also seen his successes. He was ejected from two of the six games the Warriors played against the Mavs. He also carried the Warriors to their series-clinching Game 6 win. People saw Jackson's immutable intensity. Hopefully they saw Jackson poke fun at the endless Charles Barkley/Dwayne Wade commercials where Wade whines about not being able to make Barkley's five. ("[Barkley's five is] probably full," Jackson said. "Here's who's in it: McDonald's, Domino's, Burger King, it was Subway but he pushed them out for Cinnabon, and Krispy Kreme. Maybe if Dwyane Wade opens a restaurant, he may have a chance.")
In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby writes about how sports fans tend to ascribe some vague greater value to athletes who are revealed to be different than the typical meathead jock. Hornby writes: "Pat Nevin, particularly in his Chelsea days, became a much better player when it was discovered that he knew about art and books and politics."
This theory seems particularly true with the NBA. So many of the NBA's best players have positioned themselves almost solely as personality-free corporate entities that when we hear someone such as Nash reads Kant and Marx or that Shaquille O'Neal enjoys dressing up like a cop and tackling criminals, we perceive those guys as better basketball players than they might actually be. Conversely, the players we have learned little about become interchangeable cogs in the NBA machine.
But Stephen Jackson is more than that; he always plays with heart and verve, even if he doesn't speak about the war in Iraq or post-modern feminist fiction. He took a career that was nearly derailed before it even started and has turned himself into one of the top swingmen in the NBA. Now, he finds himself a key player for the most exciting team in the league, with a very real chance to be playing in the Western Conference Finals in a few weeks.
Is he some sort of thug who happens to be really good at basketball? I don't think so. But I do find it telling that in both instances where Jackson found himself in legal trouble, his problems stemmed from, he says, an instinct to protect his teammates.
Completely defining Stephen Jackson is a task too complex for me to undertake in 1,000 words or less. But would I want him as a teammate? You better believe it.
He is one of my favorite players, after all.
Game Of The Week
Beer and golf. It Might take you a while to get the power gauged, but it's pretty addictive. Should burn at least an hour or two of your work week, easy.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.