Whatever it was, it tortured him. If he had been outside for two hours in the broiling sun and he wanted to get off the court for an hour, the Tourette's wouldn't let him. A car might be waiting. Friends would be mad. He might be in tears, yet he would still shoot. The ritual must be served. "It's a weird feeling," he says. "I want to leave. But it won't let me. It keeps me there." It. To Jackson, the Tourette's must have felt like a demon.
It's funny what turns some people into stars. Some are driven to stardom by obsessive parents. Some are driven to it by a competitive will. Chris Jackson was driven to it by a chemical disorder of the brain.
In the same way Tourette's makes him open and close the refrigerator door over and over until it feels perfect, in the same way it makes him set a water glass down on a restaurant table repeatedly until it feels perfect, Tourette's made him shoot and shoot and shoot until his shot felt perfect. And before long, it nearly was.
At Gulfport High he was Mississippi Player of the Year for two seasons straight. At LSU he was an instant legend. He led the SEC in scoring as a freshman and rang up an NCAA freshman-record 55 points in one game. He was stove-burner hot. LSU coach Dale Brown said he had been touched by God. Alonzo Mourning, then of Georgetown, called him "the best shooter in the nation." When Jackson left school after two seasons, the Denver Nuggets snatched him up with the third pick in the 1990 NBA draft, after which ex-Nugget coach Doug Moe said the 6'1" Jackson looked like a mini Michael Jordan.
That is why it was such a shock when Jackson turned out to be such a complete and utter disaster.
One: He was out of shape. Friends and coaches had told him he needed to bulk up to play guard in the pros. So he ate a lot and worked out little. He left LSU at 169 pounds, but he came to Denver a flabby 185. Big mistake. He was so slow and fat that then Nugget coach Paul West-head got out a tape of LSU's game with Westhead's old Loyola Marymount team. "I swear," says Westhead, "it didn't look like the same guy."
Two: His feet were killing him. Born with an extra bone near each ankle, Jackson frequently nursed sprains. Doctors told him he needed to have the bones removed, but he chose to suffer until the end of the season.
Three: Nobody in the NBA was quite sure how to deal with the bundle of exposed ganglia that he was. The NBA had never had an acknowledged Tourette's sufferer. In fact, there was only one other athlete in all of U.S. pro sports who had openly discussed his Tourette's—Jim Eisenreich, currently of the Philadelphia Phillies.
There are reasons that their numbers are few in pro sports. For instance, being around a person even moderately affected with Tourette's can wear you out. Jackson cries "Whoops!" all the time. The more excited he is, the more he involuntarily "Whoops!" Often, when out and about, he will whoop a large whoop and some woman will turn and look at him, and he will have to say politely, "No, no, sister. I don't want you." The disorder can make him do things that are outrageously, if involuntarily, inappropriate. At LSU, in the first week that he knew his wife-to-be, Kim House, his elbow snapped involuntarily, and he touched her breast. "That was a mistake," he said.
"Some nights I'd sit next to him," says Nugget teammate Reggie Williams, "and he'd hit me. He doesn't even know he's doing it, but he'd just keep hitting me. I had to ice my arm."