Panel of Kings communicate hope.
As we welcome in the month of October, hope springs eternal (at least publicly) for every single NBA team. The Lakers and Heat have precisely the same spotless record as the Timberwolves and Nets. So do the Kings. Last Thursday, the Kings not only shared their hope for the upcoming season, but also had the opportunity to display an insightful panel discussion, concerning their hope for our nation’s future.
Yes, the discussion centered around kids, and, more specifically, how to foster winning as well as healthy competition in society’s youth athletes. In order to make this event a smashing success, the Kings partnered with the Positive Coaching Alliance and Leadership One.
Bobby Jackson was back at ARCO Arena, but not in a comeback attempt. Rather, he returned to take part in the discussion alongside fellow panelists, Kings’ head coach, Paul Westphal, and President of Basketball Operations, Geoff Petrie. Now in his second year as a player scout, Jackson brought a lot to the proverbial table. Westphal and Petrie were interesting too. This isn’t surprising, considering that these three men have spent nearly their whole lives around the game of basketball. What was surprising, at least to me, was how candidly each of the three spoke in front of an audience that could have easily judged them and their stories.
During the panel’s introduction, long-time news anchor, Ron Hyde started the night off with a brief personal anecdote about Bobby Jackson and his mother, Sarah Jackson. Speaking of Jackson’s decision to play the night of his beloved mother’s death, Hyde could not help but respect Jackson even more than he already had.
Jackson’s mother, as Bobby would later explain, was a single mother to his twin sister and him. In fact, “she was my mother and my father” as Bobby told it. Jackson ended up playing that tragic night, because he felt that was what his mom would have wanted. Sarah Jackson’s name would come up once again when Bill Herenda, PCA’s executive director of the Sacramento chapter, asked about “helicopter parents.”
Herenda was alluding to those overzealous parents, who all of us have met (if not intently known or been one, ourselves), that seem to care more about winning than the child does. You know…sports’ equivalent of a stage mother/parent in entertainment. Jackson was honest in his response about the aforementioned “helicopter parents.”
He explained with regard to his mom (but in the present tense, as he was likely visualizing his late mom in the crowd at his youth games): “She can go to the game and be quiet. I can go the game. I can’t be quiet.” I thought it was funny, but also refreshing that Jackson refused to pay lip service to something he’s not able to completely commit to himself. Still, he clearly understands the need to back off when you’re a parent. Bobby’s response to this question ended with some very sound advice to parents.
He advised, “Parents need to take a backseat. Push them but don’t push them too much, where they don’t like the game.” This was one of the crucial lessons that Bobby learned from his mother and has been able to pass down to his kids.
Geoff Petrie was asked about Tyreke Evans. Did you really think you’d get through this article without hearing about the Kings’ pride and joy, Tyreke Evans?
Petrie made a strong point about Tyreke Evans that’s pretty hard to argue with. Petrie, who himself won the NBA’s Co-Rookie of the Year with Dave Cowens in 1970, acknowledged that Tyreke is “obviously a superior talent,” but at the same time, must continue to perfect his craft. In the words of the basketball careerist, “One great season does not make a great player. You need to keep working and improving. Otherwise, the game will catch up to you.”
I know Petrie’s words may sound advice, but it has to be comforting on some level to hear that the Kings will be reminding young Tyreke of the above advice, every step of the way. He’s very good, but I also believe he has not come close to the level of success of which he is capable.
Tyreke is reigning Rookie of the Year, but Bobby Jackson was a rookie once too. In fact, he shared a rarely told story about his rookie year; one that even made Bobby turn bright red. As an NBA rookie with the Nuggets in ‘97-98, Jackson had already started more than 50 games with the team before being sidelined with a broken finger. Now, at the time, Jackson admits, “[I] thought I was hot stuff, couldn’t tell me nothing.”
As he returned from the injury, things didn’t go as Jackson would’ve liked, and he lost his starting spot. Weeks later, there was one particular game that Bobby credits for changing his life and “attitude toward the game of basketball and respecting people.” In a blowout loss, having not played any of the game, he was called to go in by his head coach with 1:30 left in the game.
A heated and immature Jackson would go over to his coach and ask quite rhetorically, “Why don’t you go in the game? And I’m gonna sit back down.” Bobby would soon be traded and would learn the valuable lesson that no one player is above his or her team. He now understands this lesson as paramount when mentoring the next generation of Kings’ basketball players.
When it came down to talk of role models, Coach Westphal offered up a fascinating list of his own. Westphal’s father was the very first role model mentioned by the former Trojan. Now, he was never a coach in his own right, but he did teach his son everything he knew about sports. The younger Westphal had incorrectly assumed that his father was a poor basketball player, when he finally realized at the age of 25 that his dad had been purposely throwing games. In his eyes, his father strived to teach him rather than to beat him. Westphal also credits his high school coach for his encouraging demeanor.
Coach Westphal also named two coaches as role models of his. John Wooden and Red Aurerbach each made the grade. Interestingly enough, Westphal never played directly under either of these two legendary coaches. Wooden had recruited him at UCLA before Westphal elected to play with the Trojans, on the other side of town.
Auerbach was the man who drafted Westphal, but he was no longer the Celtics’ Head Coach at the time. Although these coaches “couldn’t have been more different,” according to Westphal, they each “approached the game in the same way.” Westphal went on to describe that approach: “Their team had to be more conditioned, play harder, and make more mistakes than the other team.”
He explained as those coaches taught him decades earlier that the more aggressive team would make the same mistakes. Of course, a player should learn from his mistakes, but at the same time, he should not be afraid to be creative and make those inevitable mistakes.
PCA encourages young athletes to be “triple-impact competitors.” A “triple-impact competitor” is one who not only improves oneself and ones teammates, but also honors the game. Now Bobby Jackson has obviously played with a number of great players over the course of his 12-year, six-team career. Bobby instantly rattled off famous names such as Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul, all guys who made a significant impact on him.
Another All-Star, Yao Ming, earned Bobby’s biggest (no pun intended) praise. He explained, “As big as Yao is, you would not believe how hard he works. I thought I was a gym rat. He was there before me, putting in work, and this guy is 7-6, 307 pounds putting in work.”
Overall, the panel said some things that needed to be heard. While a lot of the lessons may be appear obvious and even unnecessary to highlight, they could not have been more critical. Regardless of how many times we are taught certain life lessons, the powerful effect of hearing such life lessons applied to one’s successes and failures cannot be underestimated.
On this Thursday night, the Kings did their part in making the next generation of sports’ stars just a little bit more prepared for winning on as well as off the court, at a thing called life.