Stephen Jackson's Swagger, Loyalty Give Bobcats Hope
He would do it again.
It's why the Charlotte Bobcats are making their first playoff appearance in franchise history. It's why they believe they can beat the heavily-favored Magic in Orlando Wednesday night to even the first-round series.
It's his attitude. It's Captain Jack.
"He walks with a swagger. He's brought aggressiveness and toughness to this team,'' said Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace after practice Tuesday. "He made us better. Everyone here knows we can count on him.''
Jackson remains forever scarred, by the brawl that cost him a 30-game suspension and millions of dollars for punching a fan in the stands, by the gun-shooting, parking lot incident two years later that prompted the Pacers to dump him, and by the reputation that continues to haunt him.
Yet it's also the reason there is a trail of former teammates, coaches, and even executives today who admire his intensity, his passion, his ability to lift a team. It's a combination of blind loyalty, a fearlessness, and a dogged determination that might be unmatched in the league today.
The Bobcats have tapped into it.
"My intention was not to go up there (in the stands) and start punching guys and turn the thing into a brawl,'' Jackson said Monday in recalling the event in 2004 that has come to define him. "I honestly regret that. I regret punching that guy. But I'll never, ever regret being there for a teammate. I do not regret going into the stands behind Ron.''
It's the same kind of blind teammate loyalty that caused trouble again in an Indianapolis strip club parking lot when he pulled a gun he was registered to carry, out of his car, and shot it up in the air, trying to break up a fight involving teammate Jamaal Tinsley. He then got hit in the parking lot by another car speeding away.
"When you're with teammates for six months, there is a bond that forms. It's like family. Teammates are like brothers. And it's about being there for them, all the time,'' he said. "Some people still see me as Stephen Jackson from the brawl, from the incident at the club. And that bothers me because I'm past that. I want to be seen as someone who respects the game, who plays the right way, who is the ultimate teammate.''
Jackson has earned his reputation as a high-maintenance player -- technical fouls are common with him -- yet he also has earned his rep as a fierce, unselfish teammate. His scoring has improved each season since leaving Indiana. There have been no serious problems since.
"For a long time, I didn't care what people thought, but it bothers me now. People don't see me as a good basketball player. They still see me for the mistakes I made five, six years ago,'' he said. "People move on. I've done well for myself. I'm human. I made mistakes, but look at what I've done since. I wish people could see that.''
Jackson came to the Bobcats shortly after the season began, in a trade from the Golden State, shortly after clashing openly with coach Don Nelson. He knew how dreadful the Warriors had become, and he needed a fresh start.
The Bobcats had won only three of their first 10 games before he arrived, but he embraced the trade. By midseason, they were worrying even the best teams in the league. He fit perfectly into the system coach Larry Brown wanted to play, helping turn the Bobcats into the No. 1 ranked defense (points allowed) in the league. He averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Brown, who had won big with troubled players like Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace, welcomed the chance to coach Jackson, knowing he could greatly improve the team.
There is a reason Tim Duncan, who played alongside him in San Antonio, still talks about Jackson as one of his favorite teammates. Larry Bird, who traded him from Indiana, still talks about the toughness and versatility to his game.
Jackson will be playing Wednesday with a bone bruise on his left knee. He hurt it Monday in Game 1, had to be helped off the court, and was unhappy when Brown had removed him in the fourth quarter because he was playing with a limp.
"I lead by example. I'll play hurt. I'll practice every day. A lot of times in this league, guys who are supposed to be key guys take days off, like they it's their right,'' he said. "I'm not one of those guys. I don't want anyone to ever say I didn't give it my all for my teammates. Not too many guys play the game the way I do.''
He struggled to get into the league as a second-round draft pick, playing first in the Dominican Republic and then various minor leagues, hardening his attitude along the way. He bounced from New Jersey to San Antonio to Atlanta before getting his first big contract in Indiana, which he partially threw away with his brand of blind loyalty.
Jackson played a key role for the No. 8-seeded Warriors in their stunning upset of the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in 2007. It might have been his finest moment, fueling his belief that anything can happen.
"I play with a chip on my shoulder, and that comes from a lot things. I play with a passion, and with more energy than a lot of guys,'' he said. "I wish people sometimes understood that. I know my teammates do.''
Jackson will be at the heart of Bobcats effort Wednesday night, knowing he must set the tone as they attack the basket against Magic center Dwight Howard -- named Tuesday the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
"We have a chance to be the better team in this series,'' he said. "I don't think one series, though, will change the way people think about me. But we do know we can beat these guys.''