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NBA Has No Heart? Tell Bobby Jackson

Mar 31, 2009 – 10:37 AM
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Tom Ziller

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In an NBC Philadelphia piece, one Timothy Parker lays out a case that the NBA stinks because guaranteed contracts and cavernous arenas have erased the presence of heart, hustle and excitement.

Instead of a point-by-point refutation of Parker's points (which would just bore everyone), I'd like to provide a counter-example to the writer's thesis. I'd like to tell you about Bobby Jackson and ask how he fits in this pessimistic view of the crushed NBA spirit.

Bobby Jackson is 36 years old. He has made $36 million over his often illustrious NBA career -- not a mint in pro sports terms, but more cash than you or I shall ever see. He's rich. He's at the end of his career. He's got a host of young children with his wife, Dona. He is possibly the most beloved Sacramento King, earning massive ovations every time he checks into the game. His local popularity is rivaled only by that of Vlade Divac (who will incidentally have his jersey retired by the Kings tonight).

Jackson may play a couple more years at minimum salary, or he may retire this summer to pursue a second career in coaching. (It has been intimated that Jackson will have a job in Sacramento so long as he wants one.) His team, the Kings, are by record and by anecdote the worst team in the NBA. Sacramento was swept by the Washington Wizards this season, and nearly swept by the entire Eastern Conference. The team is rebuilding, much like the University of Kentucky, or Indiana University. Once proud, now picking up the pieces.

Jackson's cheekbone was fractured by an errant Spencer Hawes elbow several weeks ago. The injury so altered Jackson's vision that he had a very uncharacteristic turnover on the next play. Even more uncharacteristically, he pulled himself from the (close) game and went to the locker room. The diagnosis? Fractured cheekbone, surgery required, season over.

Again, Jackson is 36 with no prospect of a wallet-busting contract from here on out. His team is the worst in the league. He is the second-string point guard for said team, and plays about 15-20 minutes a game. There is literally nothing at stake -- not for Sacramento, not for Jackson.

A week after the fracture, Jackson decided not to have surgery. No one understood why. He said he wanted to play. No one understood why. He got fitted for a mask and rejoined the team. No one understood why. He played Friday (less than two weeks after the initial injury) ... in a game against similarly terrible Memphis. No one understood why.

His second game back, inexplicably playing with a BROKEN FACE for no discernible reason, the mask began to bother Jackson. Did he take himself out of the game? Did he try to adjust the mask so it wouldn't impair his vision?

No. He took off the mask, laid it on the scorer's table and continued playing. In a meaningless game. With his vision hanging in the balance. Rational thought process? No. Heart? Try to argue otherwise.

Bobby ended up pushing and shoving with Phoenix back-up Goran Dragic for a few possessions in the second quarter, hit a shot, yanked a few rebounds. For no apparent reason. Bobby Jackson stood out there and gave it his all -- every inch of himself, just as he has his entire career and just as hundreds of NBA players do.

You can prefer the NCAA for whatever reason you want. But in the process of explaining yourself, don't tell me -- or Bobby Jackson -- the NBA doesn't have heart.
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