Long, strange trip for JacksonPosted: Sunday June 01, 2003 8:31 PM
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- One thing Stephen Jackson can do as well as shoot a basketball is tell tales about a career that took him around the globe before he landed in both New Jersey and San Antonio.
Stories about patrons checking their bullets at a restaurant in Santo Domingo, rain falling inside a partially covered arena in Caracas, a teammate walking onto the court in Brisbane with both middle fingers extended toward the crowd. Jackson is the only player in the NBA Finals who spent time with both the Nets and Spurs. He maintains a friendship with Kenyon Martin after spending their rookie season together, but also has a damaged relationship with his former coach, Byron Scott.
The saga surrounding Jackson, the Spurs' starting shooting guard, will provide a colorful subplot when the best-of-seven finals begin Wednesday night.
"I'm kind of glad they didn't re-sign me," Jackson said Sunday. "I have a lot of respect for that team, but when someone says something about me I never forget."
Jackson was miffed when he traveled to New Jersey with the Spurs last season and was told that Scott said he wouldn't even be in the rotation if he had stayed with the Nets. Told Sunday that Scott had said he was happy for him to have made it to the finals, Jackson was disbelieving.
"Byron, I don't know if he sincerely means that," Jackson said.
A one-season stint with the Nets was one of many stops the 25-year-old made after becoming a professional vagabond at an early age.
After low SAT scores made him ineligible to play at the University of Arizona, where he was part of the same recruiting class with Sacramento's Mike Bibby, Jackson spanned the globe before finally toning down his lifestyle and throttling down his game.
"He had a lot of knocks on him," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We told him if he didn't accept coaching we'd get rid of him immediately. We were very blunt with him." That was in the summer of 2001, when Jackson was a free agent after starting 40 games and averaging 8.2 points for the Nets, who never called him after the season ended.
"You catch hints," Jackson said.
Enter Popovich, who sat Jackson down, asked about his bad rap and told him the Spurs would only sign him if he was willing to play in their summer league and possibly spend the entire 2001-02 season on the injured list.
Jackson answered their questions and agreed to their demands, and Popovich now has nothing but praise for him.
"Maybe he was ready to listen to somebody who was willing to spend the time," Popovich said. "He's maturing. Last year, he was a 3.5 on a 10 scale. Now he's a 7.5 or 8."
Jackson acknowledges that he needed to be humbled in order to properly harness his talent.
"I was doing a lot of partying my first year, wasn't acting like a professional," Jackson said. "Being around the guys in this organization has helped me become a man."
His odyssey began when he transferred from a high school in Port Arthur, Texas, to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia for his senior season and was named a McDonald's All-American.
A low score on the college entrance exam derailed his plans.
"I wasn't a good test taker, couldn't sit still for that long," he said.
Jackson tried out for the Phoenix Suns but was cut during training camp, then spent a short time with Fort Wayne of the CBA before beginning his global trek.
First stop: Australia, where he played for the Sydney Kings and developed a firsthand appreciation for the scoring prowess of Andrew Gaze, who was an inactive member of the Spurs in 1999 when they won the NBA title.
Jackson recalled how Shane Heal, who once played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, would make an obscene gesture at fans in Brisbane, who chanted the same derogatory term at Heal as they did at Vince Carter in Melbourne when he arrived there with the U.S. Olympic team in 2000.
A broken foot sidelined Jackson for a year before he headed to Venezuela and played for Pueblo Nuevo.
"The rain would come in sideways and get on the court. If you went baseline too hard, you were going to fall," said Jackson, fondly recalling Venezuela as his favorite former home because of its many beautiful women.
At 21, Jackson played in the Dominican Republic, where many of the locals carried guns.
At restaurants, he said, patrons would unload their guns, wrap masking tape around their bullets and write their name on the tape.
"You're waiting on line and everyone's checking their guns. Like we check coats, they check bullets," he said.
Jackson finally made it to the NBA with the Nets, then went to San Antonio and appeared in 23 games last season. He became a starter this season after Steve Smith went down with an injury in the season opener.
Jackson's five 3-pointers against Dallas in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals helped San Antonio reach the title series, where he will get the opportunity -- a highly unlikely one in his case -- to face one of his former teams.
"I left (New Jersey) with a bitter taste in my mouth because I though I did enough to get re-signed," Jackson said. "To be playing these guys is extra special."