Late in the second quarter of last Saturday's Warriors game at New Jersey, Golden State rookie center Marc Jackson dropped in a feathery 19-footer from the top of the key. Moments later he nailed a shot from the same spot—en route to a game-high 29 points—causing an exasperated fan behind the Nets' bench to throw up his hands and yell, "Who the hell is this Jackson guy?"
It's a good question, and one that has plagued the rest of the league since Dec. 8, when the 26-year-old Jackson entered the Warriors' lineup after injuries had sidelined Erick Dampier, Adonal Foyle and Danny Fortson. At week's end, Jackson had averaged 18.9 points and 9.4 rebounds as a starter while shooting 55.9% from the field and 83.3% from the line, numbers that make him the clear Rookie of the Year favorite. For a franchise that has been cursed with pivotitis for two decades-remember Chris Washburn, Uwe Blab, Les Jepsen and Todd Fuller?—Jackson is providing the best center play since Robert Parish in 1979-80. "It'd be nice to say we knew all along that he would play like this," general manager Garry St. Jean says, "but why fib? We knew he was good, but this good? No way."
Jackson, 6'10" and 270 pounds, has shooting range almost out to the three-point arc. Initially, teams were giving him looks from the outside, but now "there's no more test phase," he says, and opposing centers come out on him immediately. This has freed up the low block for forward Antawn Jamison and created passing lanes for Jackson from the high post. "Marc's got great hands and he makes good reads," says coach Dave Cowens. "He keeps teams from fronting Antawn and giving him a hard time."
Jackson hasn't come out of nowhere, just Spain. He declared for the draft as a junior at Temple in 1997 to make money to help out his family. Golden State chose him 38th, but without a first-round pick's guaranteed contract, he went overseas. "I had to take the best offer," says Jackson, "so as soon as that last pick of the first round went, my agent was on the phone to Europe."
Armed with a $700,000 contract, Jackson headed for Turkey and, a year later, to Spain. In addition to polishing his moves, which had been restricted by John Chaney's regimented, back-to-the-basket Temple offense, he shed 20 pounds and lowered his body fat to 9%. "In Spain, I would practice from 9:30 to noon with my team," says Jackson. "Then in the evenings, from six to 8:30, I would practice with a second-division team in the same city whose coach allowed me to guard twos and threes." In addition, Jackson would go one-on-one full-court against his team's point guard, sometimes hiding the poor man's car keys so he couldn't leave without chasing Jackson end-to-end.
Before finally choosing to attend Warriors training camp in October, Jackson had studied the game as well. As a sophomore at Temple he used the school's editing room to make a two-hour tape of the offensive moves of top college players, and he would watch it daily. After graduating, he began his Karl Malone collection, an 800-tape library of Jazz games that he keeps at his house in Mount Laurel, N.J., and uses to help imitate the Mailman's position-based, ground-bound moves.
Will the team be able to re-sign its overnight sensation? Unless the Warriors use their mid-level cap exception—approximately $44 million—they can give him only a 20% raise on his rookie minimum salary of $317,000, to $380,000, because Jackson hasn't been in the league long enough to earn his Larry Bird rights. St. Jean has indicated he will make Jackson the exception, even though the team has $49.5 million tied up in Dampier and Foyle. Jackson, though, will likely be offered far more in the free-agent market.
Nevertheless, he seems inclined to stay by the Bay. "I really like the Warriors, the front-office staff and the coaches," says Jackson. "And I will remember they gave me a shot."
Nick Anderson, 12th Man
A Class Vanishing Act
How can a healthy 6'6" swingman who had averaged double figures in each of his 11 NBA seasons suddenly find himself on the end of the bench? That's been the spot recently for Nick Anderson, who started 72 games for the Kings a season ago but at week's end was last on the team in scoring with 1.9 points in only 8.1 minutes per game. "It's O.K.," says Anderson, 32, whose shooting from both the field and the line has deteriorated in recent years. "I've got a song playing in my head, by Toni Braxton: 'Just be a man about it.' "