Stephen Jackson has seen and done a lot in his 10 years in the NBA. He’s been with six teams, from Oakland to New Jersey. He’s won a championship (Spurs in ’03). He played an integral role in the brawl (Detroit in ’04) that in some ways changed the League. He’s played for the winningest coach of all-time (Don Nelson), and now plays for perhaps the greatest player of all-time (Michael Jordan). He’s been involved in historic playoff upsets (Warriors in ’07), and played on teams both amazing and awful. He’s enjoyed the fruits of success (approx. $40 million in career earnings) and experienced the pitfalls (his Charlotte home was targeted in a home invasion robbery this offseason).
On the court, last season was something of a rebirth for Captain Jack. Following a November trade from the Golden State Warriors to the Charlotte Bobcats, the 32-year-old put up All-Star caliber numbers (21.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 spg) and helped lead the ‘Cats to their first-ever playoff appearance. While Jack is still emotional and fiery between the lines, he appears to be settling down and maturing into a leader, and this season find himself in position alongside Gerald Wallace and coach Larry Brown to make Charlotte a steady threat in the East.
The other day I got a few minutes with Jackson to talk about his team, his offseason, and the lessons learned:
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Dime: What have you been up to this summer as far as getting ready for next season?
Stephen Jackson: I mean, a lot of things. I’ve been working on my weight. I picked up a lot of weight over the last couple years, so my main thing is trying to get down to 230, 235. If I’m playing the two-guard position I need to keep my strength intact but pick up some speed.
Dime: When you say you picked up a lot of weight, how much are you talking?
SJ: Not a lot. The last two or three years in Golden State I played a lot of (power forward) and (center) so I picked up weight to bang around with the big guys, like 10 or 15 pounds. I wasn’t fat at all; I still got like 4-5 percent body fat. I’m still strong. I just wanna tone down, but keep my strength.
Dime: Is that something you took upon yourself, or did Larry Brown bring it up?
SJ: Coach Brown brought it to my attention. He wants me to be the best player I can be. His input his important, so if he says dropping 5-10 pounds will make me a better player, I respect that coming from him and I’ll do it. That’s a Hall of Fame coach.
Dime: Now that the Bobcats have made the playoffs, how do the expectations change from now on?
SJ: Anything else but making the playoffs is unacceptable. We made a big stride by making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Now it’s important for us to build on that. We’ve got that experience, so the mindset coming into camp should be getting prepared to make yourself better than you were last year. Getting farther than the first round should be everybody’s goal, if not winning a championship.
Dime: Because you guys got swept, does that take some shine off the accomplishment?
SJ: I mean, we made progress. We made it to the playoffs. That’s something that hadn’t been done before for the franchise. We played a real talented team in Orlando. So we didn’t have a disappointing season. We made progress and got better, so now we’re trying to have a better season. We’ll see what the basketball gods have to say about it.
Dime: What’s different now that Ray Felton and Tyson Chandler are gone?
SJ: I love Ray to death. He’s like a little brother to me. I miss Tyson, too. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. I’m glad Ray was able to get his contract and get his security for himself and his family, but at the end of the day I’m on the Charlotte Bobcats, and I respect and ride with our decisions. My main focus is being an elite team, a championship team here in Charlotte, so whatever decisions MJ and (GM) Rod Higgins make, I respect that and ride with it.
Dime: What do you think of the Kwame Brown signing?
SJ: I’ve never played with him. I’ve heard a lot of good things and bad things about him, but I don’t judge people based on what newspapers and magazines say. I expect him to come in and be a good asset to this team. If we’re all on the same page we’ll be good.
Dime: You mentioned Ray Felton, and we’ve talked to some other younger guys who have played with you who see you as a mentor, big-brother type. Do you make a point to approach guys on your team like that, or do those relationships just naturally happen?
SJ: Well, any guy on the team who’s considered one of the leaders, that’s part of their job. Part of your job as a leader is to make sure all 14 of your teammates have a successful season. That’s definitely mandatory, so that never stops with me. I want everybody to feel welcome and wanted.
Dime: What has to happen for the Bobcats to get back to the playoffs and maybe advance a round?
SJ: Just follow our coach’s lead. We have a Hall of Fame coach — not a lot of teams can say that — so we just have to follow his lead, take heed to what he says and prepare. Be prepared, focused, and make sure you do your job.