Most of the words that came out of Mark Jackson’s mouth Friday night after the Golden State Warriors win against the San Antonio Spurs weren’t new. After any given win this season the word “battle” has been a go-to staple in the “Action” Jackson school of basketball evaluation. It’s something he’s highlighted since arriving in Oakland last year, and he makes sure to keep bringing it up. For some, his lack of creative vocabulary has become a drain. Watching him speak, I understand why. There is little change game-to-game in the Warriors Head Coach. His demeanor is the same, his tone is the same, and for the most part, depending on the game’s outcome, the words are the same. He’s not the kind of guy that is going to keep your attention by being new and creative. But something I feel like I’ve grown to know about Jackson is that he can be counted on.
If the Warriors win, he can be counted on to talk about how hard the fought, how much they “battled,” and how they play so hard to get the win. If they lose, he can be counted on to question that fire. He can be counted on to stay calm on the sideline; to not lose his composure or control of his temper, always looking to guide rather than scream. There are many things we as fans can count on Mark Jackson for. Chief among them, though, is that we can count on him to be unwavering in whatever it is he chooses to do.
Jackson, from what I can tell, does not go halfway. So many things to him are black or white, all or nothing. He doesn’t question himself, or his players when thing are going bad anymore than he does when they’re going good, and it’s here that we may have learned something new about Mark Jackson Friday night. Post-game, Jarrett Jack offered up this gem, almost unprompted, when asked where this win ranked in a season full of impressive ones:
“Coach I thought said something really profound the other day in the locker room. You know, when we were going through that six game stretch losing streak, he said ‘you know, I relish these moments more than we are winning four in a row, five in a row, seven in a row, because these are the times when you find out who’s really with you. When things aren’t going great and you have to fight.’ All 13 guys, our coaching staff, everyone was locked in. We’re going to make this thing turn around and we did it tonight.”
On a night that was perhaps Jack’s best of his career (30 points, 10 assists), a night where the Warriors came back from 13 down in the 4th quarter to beat the NBA’s best team, it’s these words that were ringing in Jack’s head post-game, so much so that he felt compelled to share it with everyone.
For a guy who entered this profession amidst some of the lowest expectations in recent memory, Jackson sure has had a “heckuva” effect on his players. If you don’t remember, Jackson was an unpopular hire, even among Warrior fans. Because of his patented broadcast style he was the butt of endless jokes. Worse, he had no previous coaching experience whatsoever. A risky move for the Warriors given the multitude of choices with experience. But even, then, though I wasn’t thrilled with the hiring, I knew Jackson’s background.
He’s a proud individual. A strong individual. A guy, who despite not a lot of size or athleticism, ranks 3rd on the all-time list in total assists. He made a career off of being a true “floor general,” averaging less than 10 points per game while never shooting particularly well, either. But he was tough, intelligent, and relentless and spent time playing for numerous great coaches. That list, in fact, may be one of the longest that any NBA player can claim: Rick Pitino, Pat Riley, Larry Brown, Larry Bird, Lenny Wilkins, Jeff Van Gundy and Jerry Sloan. Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s University could be added to that list as well.
But as much as Jackson likely learned from many of these greats, so much of his success as a coach has to do with him as a personality, rather than knowledge of the game. It’s something most of us have grown accustomed to, having heard him speak the past year and a half. First and foremost is his steadfast trust and belief in every single on of his players. Whether it Stephen Curry or Andris Biedrins, Jackson’s confidence never wanes. He often sticks his neck out further than the situation demands, as has he’s with Curry, Jack, and Klay Thompson and their respective belonging in All-Star, Sixth Man, and Rising Stars discussions.
In my last post, I wrote about the fight the Warriors have shown this season. The amazing combination of toughness, confidence, and team chemistry that has propelled them to an unexpected record WITHOUT Andrew Bogut. I have no reservations attributing that directly to Mark Jackson. He is not the only person responsible, as Jack himself has played a large hand, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the Warriors are the rare case in the NBA where it’s the coach that drives the team, rather than it’s players.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not taking credit away from any of the players on this squad. Even if Mark Jackson were not a part of this franchise anymore starting today, some of what he’s been instilling into Warrior players would remain. His confidence, his trust, in unflappable loyalty, for as much as it’s worth, cannot make them play well by itself. But the everyday, repetitive, 100% sure nature of Jackson’s coaching is certainly something that keeps Golden State grounded and coming back for me every time the going gets tough.
He’s a different kind of coach. He doesn’t yell. He doesn’t scream. He teaches. He interacts. In his own way, he leads. There is no one way to coach a basketball team well. Teams will respond differently to one method or another. But in Mark Jackson, the Warriors have found the perfect coach for their “little engine that could” roster. David Lee has been steamrolled by fans and media in recent seasons for his lack of defense and massive contract. Jack and Carl Landry are “backups.” Curry and Bogut were written off with injuries. Even with so many things going well for the Warriors this season, adversity has been unavoidable, and perhaps ultimately their driving force this season.
No Brandon Rush? No problem. Andrew Bogut in and out of the lineup? Whatever. Six game losing streak? Beat the Spurs for the 1st time in 17 tries. There are so many factors that have culminated in Warrior success this season, but I’d be hard-pressed to find that has played as big a role as this team taking on the characteristics of its coach. His toughness and confidence have set in with this team’s leaders, and it’s young players. He urges Thompson and Harrison Barnes to push their games further, pushes for Jack to take over late, and commends Biedrins for “stepping up” with Bogut hurt yet again.
Like him, this Warrior team is prideful. It is together. It is sure. It’s not the most talented or athletic squad, but it sure has been intelligent, just like Jackson in his playing days. They make up for their shortcomings mentally and have used smart play to get by bigger, faster, stronger, and more skilled opponents all-season.
Finally, what this team really has become, is relentless. We’ve covered this with Jackson. It’s in the repetition of everything he says. The steadfastness of his belief that his team will “battle” ’til the end. The unwavering confidence and, undoubtedly, love he has shown the many young men he’s coached this year and last. There is no quit in Mark Jackson. No “maybe.” No “We’re just not good enough.” There isn’t any in his team, either.
Jackson is a leader of men. Quickly, he’s seeing those men become leaders themselves. And all of it is through faith that everything is going to be okay. He doesn’t worry. He doesn’t fret. He just keeps going. It goes back to his Christian values and beliefs, but for those who are not religious, it’s still something that resonates. Mark Jackson, for all his faults, is a strong man. He’s a man who cares about what he does, and how he does it. Every time I hear a Warrior player speak about something Jackson said to them, or just about the man himself, that much is clear. He won’t ever take the credit, but it’s his vision, passion, care, and yes, basketball understanding, that have led this team to where it is now. I don’t know where it will go from here, but to quote Jackson on one of his other favorite lines, “the sky is the limit,” as long as he’s around.