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Max Power
11-12-2003, 11:57 PM
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
By Ric Bucher
ESPN the Magazine

Jim Jackson's bad reputation hasn't followed him to Houston.

There's a perpetual hint of wariness in Jim Jackson's face. If a mug could silently exclaim, "Let me see what's in the other hand," this is it.

Perhaps with good reason. The NBA record book doesn't have a category for Lottery Picks, Most Teams Played For, but Jackson would have to be at the top of it. He was the fourth pick in the 1992 draft and he's now with his 10th team in 12 seasons. That's an amazing testament to his desire to keep playing and searching for the right fit. When you look at the way he played for the Heat two seasons ago and the Kings last year and how he already has established himself as a stabilizing anchor in the Houston Rockets' starting lineup, what's even more amazing is that he's still looking.

"I've always been behind the eight ball," he says. "I always keep a bag packed."

Of course, then there are the rumors and the points of controversy that encircled him like a foul wind from the moment he entered the league. If you know of those, then the amazing part is that such esteemed coaches as Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman and Pat Riley invited Jackson onto their teams.

"Oh, yeah, I heard all about him," Van Gundy said. " 'Coach Killer.' 'Lockeroom lawyer.' But I go by what I see, not what I hear. I look at the way he played last year in a tough situation coming off the bench. And I knew he'd played in a similar system to ours in Miami. From what I could see, he was tough, smart and could shoot, all things we needed. And he's been terrific."

Jackson got tagged as a malcontent right from the start. Before the league instituted a rookie salary scale, the unofficial means of determining value was to weigh the contract given to the previous year's pick and/or the deal signed by the pick above and below you in your draft class. When the Mavs refused to pay him the going rate for a No. 4 pick, he held out, playing only 28 games. Even before the holdout, he was accused of waving a gun at another driver in a road-rage incident. The charge was eventually thrown out of court, but the label had been affixed: Jackson was bad news. Then, when the trio of Jackson, Jason Kidd and Jamal Mashburn didn't live up to expectations and there was talk that a squabble over Toni Braxton between Kidd and Jackson contributed to their bad chemistry, the label turned into a tattoo.

Even when he wasn't moving, his circumstances weren't exactly stable. Jackson spent 4 seasons in Dallas under four different head coaches before being shipped to New Jersey as part of a nine-player deal. That began an odyssey of playing for seven different teams in five seasons. Even if you're not speaking up when a neophyte head coach like Lon Kruger says something that doesn't jive with your experience, that kind of track record is enough to raise innuendo.

"He's done a lot of losing," says Van Gundy, "but what Jim has is he goes about things in a winning fashion. He works hard. He prepares. He's unselfish. When a guy does that, I'm going to bet on his basketball character."

It also would be a lot easier to believe he's a roundball Slim Shady if he hadn't proved himself the quintessential pro and team player the last three seasons for coaches or teams that demanded it. That role, as it turns out, always suited him more than being a straight-forward scoring two guard. But that was another label he acquired and, hey, what player is going to turn down the chance to take 20 to 25 shots a game?

"I was a freshman in high school when the coach made me the point guard on a team full of seniors," Jackson said. "He saw something I didn't see in myself at the time. But he thought I could distribute the ball and play the right way. That got lost somewhere in the league, but I never stopped trying to play the right way. A couple of times I was in a situation where they asked me to sacrifice my game and then I got dealt."

The biggest blow so far may have been last summer when the Kings said they couldn't afford to re-sign him. "That's probably been the most surprising so far," he said. "I thought last summer I'd finally be able to take a deep breath."

He had joined the Kings a month into the season and immediately established himself as part of the core eight-man rotation. His 7.7 points and 4.2 rebounds don't capture the defensive intensity or sound decision-making that made him so valuable. What stung is that they didn't want to make him a low-ball offer but turned around and worked a deal that brought in Brad Miller and a sign-and-trade $68 million deal.

"I talked to my boy, Damon Jones, who knew Jim in Sac," Rockets guard Steve Francis said. "He said we'd love playing with him. Getting to know him, I can't see how he ever could have been a cancer."

Well, there are lots of reasons he could've been called one, including that ever-present wary look of his that wards off interviews without a word. There are any number of players who are friendly with the media who have been propped up as great guys when in truth they're pure locker-room poison. Conversely, there are players who are surly to the media and never get their due as terrific teammates or locker-room leaders.

Bottom line? Red Auerbach once said, "Guys don't change." That means if a guy, at heart, is a selfish player or isn't a hard worker, he's not going to become unselfish or go all out. Conversely, if his heart and his head are in the right place, a bad situation -- or four -- can make it hard to see a player's true measure.

"We've been changing that small-forward spot for five years now," Francis said. "But it looks like we might've found the answer, finally. He fits."

Jackson isn't about to unpack that bag just yet. "I wish I could've been with one or two teams my whole career," he said. "My son said the other day, 'Dad, how come you didn't stay in Sacramento? You played great there.' His innocence really stopped me. I thought, 'You're right.' Then he said, 'I mean, wow, you've been with all these teams.' I'm like, 'Well, yeah.' I tried to explain it as best I could. I know there's a reason behind it all and I've built some great relationships as a result of all my travels. The plan now is just to play the hand all the way out. That's all I can do."

ItalianMobbstah187
11-13-2003, 09:42 AM
great article max power, thanks man...

rakesh.s
11-14-2003, 06:24 PM
unbelievable that the heat and the kings both let him go..this guy deserves at least a MLE type contract

dallas should've picked him up instead of all the mumbo jumbo with walker,delk and jamison and he would've filled the SF spot nicely

Simon2
11-15-2003, 06:07 PM
Originally posted by: rakesh.s
unbelievable that the heat and the kings both let him go..this guy deserves at least a MLE type contract

dallas should've picked him up instead of all the mumbo jumbo with walker,delk and jamison and he would've filled the SF spot nicely

He's not worth it. He can take his missed layups and travelling some other place.

arsenalth9
11-16-2003, 04:00 PM
lol, very well said simon. I was really questioning if he should even be in the NBA last year in the playoffs.

MavsFanatik33
11-16-2003, 04:04 PM
Jim Jackson, poor guy... he moves around more than Pamela Anderson.