Walsh, Bird Address Jackson’s Status
Oct. 11, 2006 Pacers guard Stephen Jackson was charged with felony criminal recklessness and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct by the Marion County prosecutor for his role in an incident outside an Indianapolis nightclub last week. None of the other players involved in the incident (Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Jimmie "Snap" Hunter, were charged. In response to the filing of the charges, Pacers CEO and President Donnie Walsh and President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird conducted a question-and-answer session with the media.
Q. How disappointed are you by this incident?
A. I'm very disappointed. I think we all spent a lot of time during the summer understanding that we came through two years where we had problems, the Detroit brawl and then the way our team performed last year. We went out and tried to change the team in a very dramatic way, the best way that we could and I think we felt really optimistic that we had a lot of good guys coming in here and the combination of those players and the players we had would change the atmosphere in the locker room. I think, going through the first week of practice before this incident, both Larry and I were overjoyed because it looked like we had that. This came as a jolt to us that this incident occurred. We know our players were wrong for being out late at night in a nightclub. Past that, we really didn't know what took place after that. We've been kind of trying to hear and read exactly what took place. I can't say we're caught by surprise that charges were brought because there was enough in what I heard that they could've been. That's kind of where we are right now.
Q. What is Jackson's status with the team?
A. In situations like this where there have been charges brought, as our statement said there's a presumption of innocence and the normal course in the NBA has been to let the player play until it's resolved. And then, if there's any punishment or action that's going to be taken, it will be taken after that time.
Q. Did the players lie to you in recounting their original stories of what happened?
A.I don't know what happened at the club and I didn't really talk to the players about what happened at the club. I was piecing it together from newspaper articles and a little bit from lawyers and people like that. So I really didn't know what the story was but no they never lied to me.
Q. How damaging is this to the fan base?
A.I think it's hurt quite a lot because I think during the summer we got out and tried to change the team and we communicated that and I was very optimistic they were going to like this team a lot and I still am in that regard. But I think this incident has kind of tarnished everything and so we're going to have to overcome that. The only way to overcome that is by our behavior as a team and also by our play on the court. That's the only thing left for us to do. That's what we have to do.
Q. Have you said anything to the players about maintaining their focus on basketball?
A. I think they've been doing that and at least in my case I've been trying to follow what's been going on with this so much that I haven't been as attentive to that. I've gone to practice and I really like what I see. The team is playing very hard. The day after this occurred we had a practice and I was wondering if there would be a downturn and there wasn't. They went out and played really hard, were focused on what they were doing so I was really pleased with how they were reacting because I wasn't reacting like that at that point. We'll continue to do that. I do like the attitude this team has shown. I think Jermaine O'Neal has provided a lot of leadership in the way he's come into the season and the way he's conducted himself during this, the work that he's put in and the fact he's working harder than anyone. That is always a great sign for your team because if he's doing it, the other players will do it.
Q. Can you win back the fans with Jackson on the roster?
A.I hope so because I think we're in a position now that American fair play dictates that we go forward like this. There has been precedent in the league, which I'm not going to mention to embarrass other franchises, you all know. We're going to have to try to do that. It'll come back to what we thought before this incident, that Stephen was coming in focused, ready to play, he understood some of the things we talked about as far as people that felt negatively about and he was going to try to change those things. Those things will have to be done now.
Q. Given the strong reputation built by the franchise over the previous two decades, how disappointing is it to be in this position?
A. It's been heartbreaking to be honest with you because I always thought we had a good franchise and I was proud of that. And that's taken quite a hit in the last three years. And so, yeah, I feel very, very bad about that.
Q. When the court case is adjudicated, do you expect Jackson to be subject to punishment by the NBA?
A. I don't know that. When I talked to the league they told me what happens in the majority of cases. But there was no hard, fast, 'This is the way it's going to be dealt with.' We'll be in touch with the league to find out what their feelings are about this.
Q. Do you have the ability to require the players involved to take a drug test?
A. I don't know if we do. I'm not sure. These things are dealt with by the league and we don't even know they're taking place.
Q. How concerned are you that drugs were involved in the incident?
A.Again, I don't have the facts of the case but our understanding is none of our players had anything to do with any drugs that were found in this case. That's exactly what I've heard. Again, I'm hearing it third-party. I'm not hearing it directly from anybody.
Q. Before the season began, did you believe Jackson could turn the corner this year?
A. I felt confident that he could because we talked during the summer and I didn't get into anything like what's happened but I talked to him about some of the things I thought were negative and why he was being perceived in a negative way. He basically told me at a certain point that, 'Hey, I've sat down, looked at myself, I'm not going to let myself get emotional' – we're talking about during the games and all – 'and that I'm not going to be doing some of the things I did before.' It isn't like I bought it 100 percent but I thought, 'OK, let's see how this goes' and I felt better that he realizes there are issues here.
Q. Is there a point where, for lack of a better phrase, you "cut bait" with Stephen?
A. Once this legal process takes place, I don't think you cut bait if you're talking about termination of a contract or something like that. I don't think that'd be available to us. I'm not going to imply we would do that. Right now I'm focused on the fact there've been charges made, there's a presumption of innocence and we'll honor that and do pretty much what other teams have done in our situation.
Q. Have you been given any indication how long the legal process will last?
A. No, I really haven't. I'm not sure at all. I don't think it's going to happen in the next couple of weeks but I don't know what the time frame is.
Q. In the meantime, is Jackson a member of the team and can play as long as he's healthy?
A. Yes. In other words, he's on the team, he's presumed innocent until adjudged otherwise so, yes, he'll be practicing and playing.
Q. From what you know of the incident, were team rules violated and if not should stricter rules be put in place?
A. As far as team rules, yes, being out late in a nightclub at the hours they were in, that would've become an internal thing. If that's all that would've happened, we would've done something internally as far as fines or at the most a suspension. When you add this other stuff, no. We never anticipated anything like that. And that's more of a legal situation than what you would cover in team rules.
Q. So the team hasn't done anything in terms of punishing players, or is that still being decided?
A. As you know, we didn't really know what took place. We didn't know how this would be resolved. We were waiting to see what's going to happen here before we went in and said, 'OK, this is what you get.' I'm sure we'll do that.
Q. Does the conventional NBA contract have morals clause and what are options once this is adjudicated?
A. There are options then, yeah. It goes all the way from suspension to termination if there's a conviction, but not based on charges.
Q. If there is a conviction, would you have the option of terminating his contract?
A. Yeah, I think that's in the contract.
Q. What affect do you think this will have on the younger players?
A. Obviously we're in a position right now where we've got to regroup. I think the younger guys look up to some of the older guys. I know that's the way it was when I played. I don't think they understand it but after we talk about it and go forward, I think they'll understand there's places you don't want to be. You don't want to be out late at night because you are a target. And I think they'll learn from this.
Q. Does this hurt more, knowing you have stood behind Jackson?
A. When we bring these players in we're around them a lot and we really see the real person. It's an unfortunate incident but the one thing about Stephen is he's been working very hard. He came in in the right frame of mind. We made some changes here that made us a better team in our view and it's disappointing any time your players get into some trouble. But the one thing about is we'll let it run its course, we'll take a hard look at it and after that we'll make a decision on what we have to do. I know the question is going to come up, 'Will you trade Stephen Jackson?' We've said this before: we'll trade anybody if we know it's going to make us a better team.
Q. Having been through the distractions of the last two years, what impact do you think this will have on the team?
A. This is a big impact, there's no question about it. I'm sure our season ticket holders are very frustrated with us right now. But they've got to believe in us. They've got to believe we're going to do the right things, and we will do that. It's just going to take some time. We've just got to concentrate on getting this team better and putting a product out on the court they'll be proud of.
Q. Have you talked with Stephen since the charges were filed and what was his reaction?
A. We talked to him very briefly when his lawyer was present. He was very upset. He knows it's a major embarrassment for the franchise. He's taking it very hard. We hope we can all overcome this, which we will, and get Stephen back out on the court soon. But this is a big blow for Stephen. He didn't expect this.
Q. Has the team heard from the NBA about potential punishments?
A. We've been in contact with them. Commissioner Stern's over in Europe and we're staying in close contact but we haven't heard anything as of today.
Q. If Jackson is unable to play, how can he be replaced?
A. Marquis Daniels is fighting a little injury now and he's trying to get in shape but we brought him in here for a reason and that's to come in with the second unit and score points. And I think James White will be able to come in and do some things, and we've got Rawle Marshall. We've got players that can come in and score points. Obviously, Jack (scores) 18 a game so you'll need the other guys to make up for that. Jack's valuable to our team but we think we can get by without him for the short term.