Reminiscing with Sacramento royalty.
by Tim David Harvey
When franchise players can’t get it done this is when valuable bench players get the chance to earn their bread and butter. Every championship team needs a Robert Horry or a Toni Kukoc. As a season wears on successful teams need to be running on all cylinders and sixth men become important. Over the last decade there haven’t been many sixth men better than Bobby Jackson. Now retired from the game BJax won’t have much time for fishing as he undertakes new roles with the Sacramento Kings. Taking a break from his busy schedule Bobby talked with SLAMonline.
BJax was selected with the 23rd pick of the ’97 Draft. This was after playing for the Western Nebraska Community College and the University of Minnesota. Bobby took a long route in getting to the NBA but his hard work and upbringing helped shape the player he’d become.
SLAM: You are not the type of guy who forgets where he comes from. How did your experiences of playing in your hometown Salisbury, NC and then at college in Nebraska and Minnesota help shape your NBA career?
Bobby Jackson: It humbled me a lot. Coming from high school and having so much hype and then not being able to go to a Division I school right away. Having to go the hard route and not the easy route, it really focused me on becoming the person that I am today.
Jax may have been handed a Sonics cap on draft day but he never donned Seattle’s jersey. Bobby played for the Denver Nuggets in his rookie season, earning some decent burn. It would not be long though before he was traded again. Bobby’s next stop found him playing for the Timberwolves. This would be the second time that he’d play for the city of Minnesota after previously leading the universities team to a Final Four appearance. After a couple of years out in the cold, BJax would take his game to the hotter climates of Sacramento, CA.
These years would be the defining moments of Bobby’s career. The state of California offered Bobby a much bigger stage to display his talent. It was all lights, camera and ‘Action Jackson’. The Sacramento Kings of the early millennium were a Western Conference powerhouse. They may have not had a Tim Duncan or a Shaquille O’Neal but what they did have was one of the best rotations the League had ever seen. Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Hedo Turkoglu, Scot Pollard and the ‘02-03 Sixth Man of The Year Bobby Jackson himself all contributed. This wealth of talent resulted in more wins and more cowbells.
This Sacramento team almost became Kings of the NBA forcing the Lakers on the ropes in the 2002 Western Conference Finals (were Jax averaged 12 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 1.6 apg in 22.1 mpg). The series had its controversies and many felt the victors of this seven game thriller would be the eventual NBA Champions. The Kings may not have tasted champagne but the team of the early 2000′s was one of the best in franchise history and Bobby Jackson played a crucial role coming off the pine.
SLAM: The Sacramento team of earlier in this decade that you were on was so deep and strong, how close was this unit?
BJ: It was close. We respected and supported each other on and off the court. You rarely find that, especially outside of basketball. If a guy had something going on we were definitely there for him. I think that we had a type of brotherhood.
SLAM: How important was this team’s rotation in beating other teams down the stretch?
BJ: I think it was understanding our roles. We had to know that the starters would rely on us and we knew that we had to come in and put energy into the game. I think that we just all continued to vibe off each other.
SLAM: Why do you think a title eluded you guys?
BJ: A lot of people had a lot of mixed emotions on that. I think that if you were to go back and look at the film you can see it was like eight guys against five. When the refs continue to give certain teams certain calls then is nothing you can do about it. I felt like at the end of the day we got cheated. There is nothing that we can do about it. If you look at the calls that the Lakers got and we didn’t get, I’m not complaining because they beat us, but you still question yourself on who is on the up and up during that time.
SLAM: Sacramento is proud of players like you. When you see the other guys from that Sacramento team you were on move on and be successful in so many different areas how proud does that make you?
BJ: Great. I think that just by seeing different guys and being a part of this community and being that this is the only franchise here in Sacramento, they will remember what you did and what you bring to the table, how you are as a person and in the community. They respect that in you as a person and they will support you through thick and thin. It is a great feeling to have the city and organization have you back. To have people who have played here in the past and have gone away and come back, they still have the love for them.
After his tenure with the Kings Bobby moved around different cities and teams over the years from Memphis to Houston. In between these stints he also played for the New Orleans Hornets, the team coming back after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Bobby may have changed teams regularly in the tail end of his career but the heart and passion he displayed on and off the court remained constant.
SLAM: What was it like playing in the great city of New Orleans?
BJ: I liked it, especially going there after Hurricane Katrina happened. In seeing the devastation and seeing how the fans supported us when we came back, it was tremendous. We definitely wanted to give back to the community. New Orleans is a beautiful city and they have their own culture and their own origins and food. Everything is all about New Orleans, once you go there you have to experience it. It is a city that never sleeps. The fans and the community there, they are great and they love the Hornets and they love the Saints.
On the court Jackson was tenacious on his way to career averages of 10 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 2.6 apg. He specialized in going hard to the basket no matter who was in his way, cutting through defenders like a knife through butter. At 6-1 and 185 pounds it was a daunting task for BJax to take it in the paint against Western Conference big men year after year. Bobby’s tenacity however made him the type of player that you could bring in during those mid-quarter lulls. BJax gave his teams the same sort of charged-up energy boosts that Vinnie ‘The Microwave’ Johnson bought to his 1980s Detroit Pistons. Jax had the same ability to come in and change the tempo and fortunes of his team very quickly heating up like a pressure cooker.
SLAM: One thing that stood out about your play was your speed. In a big man orientated conference how much of an advantage was that for you?
BJ: Tremendous. I had to guard guys out there a lot bigger than me, at 6-5, 6-6 and I am only 6-feet tall so I believe that played to my advantage because I could get out, I could play in passing lanes and get the fast breaks. It was a disadvantage for them because I was so fast and they had to guard me, just as well as I had to guard them. They probably tried to post me up, which rarely worked because of how I fought them on the post.
SLAM: For a small guard how daunting was the prospect of taking the ball to the basket in the tough West, with the risk it could have on injury?
BJ: Well I had a lot of injuries doing that. It didn’t change the way that I approached the game everyday. The younger I was, I was going to drive and get to the basket as much as possible, but the older I got I tried to settle for jump shots. You learn to pick and choose your spots and as a young player you don’t always know that. You want to go in there every time. Then you start to define your jump shot and I felt like when it was time for me to go to the basket I was going to the basket and there wasn’t anyone who was going to stop me. You have to have that mentality when you are playing with a lot of great players on the court.
SLAM: Players like yourself over the last decade have brought more attention to the value of key reserves. Why do you think this has been the trend over recent years? Are fans recognizing a better team game these days or is it simply because being a star today isn’t just about averaging 20 points?
BJ: I think that it is a compilation of all of that. The fans want excitement and want guys who are going to play hard ever night. Some starters do that every night and some don’t. As reserve guys we know that our team counts on us. We try to go out there and do the best that we can and go out there with as much energy as we have. We try to change the game and change the tempo.
SLAM: I see similarities between you and Vinnie ‘The Microwave’ Johnson. You both were so effective and valuable in crunch time situations. Who did you look up to coming up?
BJ: ‘The Microwave’ is a great name. He was effective when he came off the bench. Like he had a name, I had a name too, mine was ‘Buckets’. It was ‘Buckets’ because when I came into the game I got the buckets. He is a great role model, not just for me, but because of how effective he was when he came into the game and how the game changed, it was tremendous. I definitely wanted to add that to my game. Once people started calling me that I knew that I had to come up with my own name. I had to get my own swagger and how I approach my game.
Off-court Jackson may have had a different intensity but he still had the same heart and passion. B gives his all to his charity and community work, his relationship with his fans and various other ventures. BJax loves the fans and the fans love him. This hasn’t changed over the years from team to team but obviously one team stood out over the years as having a place in Jax’s heart. So as the final curtain of his playing career drew Bobby decided to pull an LL and Biggie as he headed back to Cali’ to rejoin Sacramento. Salisbury, North Carolina may have been where Bobby Jackson was born and raised but the city of Sacramento made sure Bobby felt at home.
Now retired Bobby will work with the Kings in various formats including community efforts and the development of players. This should help young talents like Tyreke Evans. Young players on the up and up who could benefit with the advice of a big-game specialist like Jackson.
Retirement will also offer Bobby more time to work on his many community and charity projects. The most important of course will be his continued work on his ‘Bobby Jackson Foundation’ which serves in the education, research and treatment of breast cancer. A foundation set up in the honor of his mother Sarah who tragically past away after a battle with the disease. Also on his agenda will be the ‘Bobby Jackson Livingstone College Basketball Camp’ which is held each summer in his hometown. Bobby will remain busy in many areas of the community and he will also continue to produce and work on the bizarre horror series ‘Nite Tales’ which Flavour Flav and other scary looking individuals have starred in.
SLAM: Your new role with the Kings means your involved in various areas, how do you feel fan interest can be generated again in this team?
BJ: I think there are different way that you can approach that, with the players, through media and by me going out to do speaking engagements at schools and organizations that you can get to commit to buys tickets. I think it has to be a collective agreement between everyone and everyone has to put their foot forward and try to get this thing back to where it was.
SLAM: Sacramento has a lot of talented players, guys like Martin, Evans and Garcia. Can these different talents mesh into a playoff team?
BJ: I think that anything is possible. I think that they are playing extremely well right now and it is a long season, but the sky is the limit for this young team. They can only get better with the more and more games that they play and they start to realize the mistakes that they shouldn’t make and realize the things that they should do. It is only going to make this team better.
SLAM: Although you will still be a busy man, retirement from playing will offer you more time. How important is that in continuing your great charity work and raising your family?
BJ: That is always important. That is what got me to where I am today is having family and giving back to the community and giving my time to charity. I believe that will always be a part of my life and my career. Now that I am not playing basketball I have other things to do, but I am always going to rely on giving back and doing charity work. Family is always going to be apart of me. They are what made me who I am today.
SLAM: Any more ‘Nite Tales’ in the works? That was one scary clown.
BJ: We are always in the works of doing different things. We have a new movie coming out in March or April of next year. It is called Chain Letter and it’s going to be a world wide movie. As for Nite Tales, it is always growing. We will probably start doing some more shows and I don’t know what the episodes are going to be like yet, but it is always a challenge when you step into something different.
BJax was one of the best reliable backups the League has seen during his playing career. Those days may be behind him now but with his passionate, motivated and positive attitude and his tenacious and generous work ethic he will continue this backing up and this reliability in all rings he throws his hat in. Its plain to see he has a lot to offer and he’s giving it by the bucket load.