On the heels of the nice Grantland feature on one of my favorite Hawks of all-time, the incomparable Stephen Jackson, I decided to dig up two features from the archives of my old Hawks Front Office on RealGM (via Wayback Machine since RealGM shredded those pages long ago) to show how Jackson could make such an impact on a long time Bird Watcher like myself, given that he played only a single season for a woeful, Terry Stotts-coached, lottery team as the Hawks were mid-aughts.
First up, the farewell I wrote after Jackson was dealt to the Indiana Pacers in a sign and trade that netted Al Harrington for the Hawks. The second part, coming tomorrow, will be the interview mentioned towards the end of the piece.
I hope you enjoy a trip back to a time where it was less fun to be an Atlanta Hawk fan that today, much less, to visit with one of the more interesting personalities, who could ball mind you, that passed through during my time there.
Hit the Road, Jack....and Thanks
Million dollar bargain yielded so much more
Today was the day for the bleary eyed, press conference addled minds of the Atlanta media to get a look at the newest Atlanta Hawk, Al Harrington. Harrington's persona leapt off the podium at everyone, engaging the media in a laughfest sprinkled with youthful optimism.
But there will be time for us to break down our first look at Young Mr. Harrington (hint: look out for the piece, coming soon!), but first we want to take a look at the man who made it all possible. (Not so fast, Billy Knight)
OK, maybe it was Knight, who got such a late start in the free agent market last season that he had to look through the bargain bin for players who wanted to take advantage of the Hawks playing time guarantee, which found Stephen Jackson in the free agent wreckage, dusted him off and gave him his chance to shine.
And shine he did.
On the court Jack was an endless stream of energy, always running the floor full speed, finishing very strong and getting tough defensively. Yes there were times when the three point shot and he got a little too friendly, but throughout the year Jackson displayed a surprising offensive arsenal. The jump shot could be streaky but deadly, but he also showed the aggressive moves to the basket that showed he wasn't a one trick offensive pony.
Many games Jackson scored early and often, only to see Terry Stotts completely ignore Jack late in games, when the team needed to score the most. But Jackson didn't complain, he just kept scoring.
There were nights when the Hawks were a sleepwalking band of zombies, trudging their way to another lottery season and Jack would be the loud town crier, ringing his bell of positive emotions in an attempt to motivate his teammates to get in the game. Jason Terry was a beneficiary of Jackson's upbeat playing style, often being summoned from a deep basketball sleep by a defensive steal by Jackson, or a series of three pointers that would stimulate Terry's desire to do more.
Of course with such strong emotion comes the occasional (OK, maybe more than occasional) technical foul, but never in inopportune moments of the game and usually when Jackson has correctly identified himself as being wronged by an opponent or official. There was also an incident with Stotts during a team meeting, when Jackson thought the losing was too much and let it vent towards his head coach. But to both player and coach's credit, that early season incident was the only of its kind and Stotts felt that Jackson was one of the team's greatest assets.
Off the court, Jackson was a gregarious, fun loving funny man who told it like it is. A reporter's best friend, Jackson would never let the scribes down with his comments on the evening's events. But even as Jackson would be entertaining the beat writers, his comments were never aimed at teammates and anything said was good natured at worst. And though he likes to have a lot of fun, especially at the expense of others, Jackson seemed mature beyond his 25 years in his approach to the game, likely due to the hard road he had taken to get here.
He is a winner who likes crunch time the most, which is why his most sullen times as a Hawk was when Stotts wouldn't go to him late in the game, choosing the less heroic Shareef Abdur-Rahim instead. He says his claim to fame is hitting big shots late, as he did so well for San Antonio two seasons ago, which may be a good thing considering who Indiana is paying him for six years and 44 million dollars to replace.
We offer up this story as insight into the character of Mr. Jackson:
Jackson offered us here at Hawks Front Office a deal at the end of the season: Hang around and wait for him to sign autographs for an hour after the last home game of the year, and Jackson would answer any question we had about his pending free agency, the Hawks, anything.
We waited as players came and left the locker room and as Terry Stotts said what would be his final words to his charges in Philips Arena. We waited as team officials wondered what we were still doing there so long after the game. When we stated that Jackson had asked to wait for him to do a final interview for the season, each man said that "OK, if Jack said that, he'll be here."
As Jackson finally emerged from the longer than expected autograph session, he didn't even bat an eye about his commitment. He sat for another 30 minutes and answered on and off the record questions about himself, his free agency, and the team. After a full game (which were high scoring, up and down the floor doozies towards the end for the Hawks) and an extra long autograph session, Jackson was still as witty, warm, and engaging as ever. He didn't care that we weren't ESPN, the AJC, or anyone that might help his career more. We had been there all year, and he honored his commitment to us in every way.
He was a guy that was supposed to use the Hawks for playing time, a selfish player who was only after the big payday at the expense of everyone else on the Hawks.
He got his payday, but did so by being exactly the opposite of everything he was supposed to be. In fact, with the sign and trade, the Hawks procured the services of his funnyman replacement Harrington for the bargain basement cost of the million dollars it cost to sign Jackson for last season. Sounds like the Hawksmade the most of his opportunity, too.
As did we.