Jackson's volatile style gives him his edge
May 11, 2005
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- He knows about his temper. Sometimes, it's not even necessary to ask Stephen Jackson about his occasional outbursts; he will bring up the subject himself, and laugh at his own excesses.
See, with Jackson, that volatility is both an ally and a foe. That edge is the thing that got him through a rough childhood in Port Arthur, Texas, and a pro career that took him through Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Fort Wayne, Ind., and La Crosse, Wis., before he finally made it in the NBA with New Jersey in 2000-01.
As the Pacers prepare for Game 2 tonight against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Jackson knows he needs to find that elusive middle ground, that place where anger can be used in a healthy way and not be a destructive force.
Why is he this way?
"If you've been in my shoes all my life, you'll want to keep going for it and taking steps to prove people wrong," Jackson said after Tuesday's practice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "I'm not supposed to be here right now. I could have easily been in jail. I lost family members, and I could have easily gone down the same road they went. I got cut by almost every team in the NBA. I broke both my feet. So I shouldn't be here."
In Jackson's mind, the only way he endured was to be hungrier than everybody else, to practice and play with a chip on his shoulder, to process that anger into something positive.
Now, though, it sometimes takes him places he shouldn't go, like up into the Palace stands. Notice, whenever there's a Pacers-related confrontation, Jackson is front and center, fists ready to fly. Some of that is the bad anger, the temperamental, hair-trigger side of the personality. Some of that, too, is the side that tells him he must protect his teammates, at all costs.
Even in the months after the brawl, Jackson refused to give the same rote mea culpa the other participants offered. Yes, he was sorry about what happened. But if it happened again, if his teammates were in peril, then damn it, he would protect his guys exactly the same way. That may not be what NBA commissioner David Stern wants to hear, but it's what Jackson's teammates want to hear, and it's admirable in its own unique way.
"Yeah, yeah," Jackson said, acknowledging his impetuous ways. "Sometimes my emotions hurt the team, like when I get technicals or when I get too excited and move too fast on the court. But sometimes it's more of a positive than a negative. (Monday) I said something (to an official) that I shouldn't have said (and got a technical), but if you watched it, I was calm; I wasn't outrageous as I normally am.
"I'm trying to take steps to ignore the refs and just play, because they're human and they're going to make mistakes. At the same time . . . "
The thought trailed off.
At the same time, there are moments when he just can't hide that side of his personality.
Ultimately, it's a matter of curbing the excesses, taming the demons. While Ron Artest went well over the line, Jackson has not quite gone as far. Not yet, anyway. Although the case can still be made that he got off fairly easily in the wake of Nov. 19.
In this series, though, it's clear Jackson has to keep his head on straight. When he was traded to the Pacers, he was viewed as a third scoring option. With Artest out, he's the second option, and when Jermaine O'Neal is being surrounded by guys named Wallace, Jackson is the first option.
He's been the team's leading scorer so far this postseason, and did as good a job as a human can do against Boston's remarkable Paul Pierce. The question now is, will Jackson be put on Richard Hamilton duty instead of covering Tayshaun Prince?
Don't be surprised if that happens before this series is done. Although he's not going to ask for the assignment. That, he said, is up to the coaches.
"Like last year," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We'll have a number of guys run around with him."
It's interesting to go from group to group, following reporters from one player to another.
With Reggie Miller, it's all straight-line professionalism, no messing around, lots of politically correct answers to maybe five, six questions before he gets up and says, "Thanks, guys."
With Jermaine O'Neal, it's all about honesty and thoughtfulness, even if his words ruffle some feathers along the way.
With Jackson, though, it's all emotional, visceral, unfiltered thoughts making their way from his head to his lips, with no stops for editing. Witness his recent statement about how he'll continue playing even if bombs are going off at the Palace. Or how about a week earlier, when he ranted in the Pacers locker room about having been perceived as the reason for the team's loss.
He's the veritable box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. Except it will be the Truth According To Jack.
Sadly, though, there will not be any Rasheed-esque Game 2 guarantees.
"No, no way," he said, laughing. "I don't do guarantees."
Maybe he's learning.