“I Couldn’t of Told You I Was Gonna Live to See 25″
In a must-read interview, Stephen Jackson talks music, life and basketball.
“This is why I like doing interviews, so people can hear my side.”
When it comes to the NBA, Stephen Jackson is a rare player. Not only has the 34-year-old thrived in the League after being drafted in the second round, he’s cultivated a cult following while doing so. Not only has the 6-8 forward suited up for seven teams, he’s made an impact on all of them. And, as the freethinker made clear to us, he actually likes talking to the press.
Now that’s rare indeed.
Shortly before training camp began, Jackson spoke to SLAM for the upcoming issue of the magazine. In that interview for our Hustle and Flow section, the Port Arthur, TX, native spoke about his life on the basketball court, and about his work, under the alias Stak5, in the recording studio.
With the season just around the bend, and his album, Jack of All Trades, due out before the end of October, here are some highlights—including talk about what really happened at that club in Indiana; having as many fans as Kobe and LeBron; reviving sick girls at nightclubs; and singing in a church choir—of SLAM’s 30-minute long conversation with Jackson.
SLAM: What else are you still trying to accomplish in the League? What motivates you now?
Stephen Jackson: Well, the young guys motivate me now. Every time more young guys come into the League, I got to stay on my game because they’re coming for our spots. I’m always the guy that’s known for putting the young guys in they place (laughs). And these young these days, their talent is unbelievable. So I not only have to be ready to compete, but if I have young guys on my team, I have to be ready to be a mentor to them and show them the ropes just like Steve Smith and guys like that showed me. It’s a cycle: guys raised me in the League, and now it’s come to a point where guys are calling me ‘Uncle Jack’ now.
SLAM: Yeah, you’re kind of an old head in the League now. Could you have ever imagined you’d last more than a decade in the NBA?
SJ: You know what, man, I wouldn’t a said that. I couldn’t of told you I was gonna live to see 25. So to be able to say I’ve been in the NBA for 12 years now, to be able to have a lovely wife, six beautiful kids and it’s looking like a beautiful career in music, it’s been a blessing. I think I’ve been blessed because I’ve always been humble. What you see is what you get from me. I’m not trying to be something I’m not, and I’ve always given everyone the same respect they gave me. I think the game’s taken care of me because I’ve always played every game like it’s my last.
SLAM: Do you ever wonder, like, Why me—why do I have all these talents?
SJ: What?! All the time! When I was in Indiana and the guys was chasing Jamaal Tinsley out the club and I went to help him out and got hit by the car and ended up shooting my gun and stuff, after I bounced back from that…I already have unbelievable faith in God. But for me to get through that situation, with getting fined $3 million after the brawl, getting in the situation where I had to do 10 days in jail, I never thought I’d be able to bounce back from that, considering how people were judging me. But you can’t underestimate God. I wake up a lot of days saying, ‘Why me?’ I’m not no different than anyone else. I wake up, brush my teeth, tie my shoes, use the bathroom just like everyone else. So I’ve always stayed humble because I know it’s a million people that want to be in my shoes, and I know God chose me, and I’ll forever be thankful.
SLAM: Is that feeling of being chosen why you give back? Like, hosting camps and whatnot.
SJ: Yeah, that’s one reason why I do the things I do. A lot of stuff I do, people don’t see—it’s not on camera. And I don’t do it for that. I do it for the people around me who support me, especially in my hometown. Perfect example: Not only the camp that I gave back, but I shot a video in the projects in Port Arthur, and I never lived in the projects. I hung out there a lot, because that’s where my friends grew up, but I never lived in the projects. So we shot a video out there the day before school started. We stayed in there late, we had lights and all kinds of noise, so the fire department came and tried to shut it down. The kids had to go to school the next day so there was only one way that I could thank them—my city—for letting me do what I want in those projects knowing those kids had to go to school the next day. So I went back the next day, before we left, and I passed out a couple hundred dollars to some of the families for the kids to get school clothes, because I know we made a lot of noise and I don’t live out there. I just appreciate my city supporting me, because I wouldn’t be who I am if they wouldn’t of supported me my whole career.
SLAM: You’ve kept it 100 the whole way through you career. You think that’s probably why people some people love you and some people hate you?
SJ: Yeah. A lot of people dislike the fact that I’m not the typical NBA guy: don’t curse, wear tight pants, all that, and become somebody that they want me to be. I’m not gonna be that. God put me on the earth this way, he gave me the gift of basketball, and one thing they can’t take from is I can play the game. I know how to play the game and they can’t take that from me. At the end of the day, the people that matter to me are the ones who saw me at 5 years old trying to play on the basketball court with 17 year olds. Those people matter to me. They’ve seen the progress I’ve made; they’ve seen how I’ve grown. That’s why I give it back to my city, because a lot of those people helped me along the way. When I’m in other states and other cities, when the spirit moves me, I give a homeless person $20.
I got another example: The other day we were at a club, and as soon as we walked into the club a girl passed out. I don’t know the girl from Adam, but I helped her up and helped her get water. Everyone was like, ‘Wow, you’re such a nice guy. Any other NBA guy…’ I’m like, ‘It’s not about that.’ At the end of the day, all of the stuff people expect me to be, I’m not gonna die with any of that, and I’m not gonna be happy with being something that I’m not. Me helping her, I would want someone to help my sister if she passed out, I would want someone to help my daughter if she passed out. I had jewelry and all kinds of nice clothes. If she would’ve messed them up I wouldn’t of been mad, because it wasn’t about that. Who can live with themselves walking in a club and worrying about their jewelry when there’s a girl on the floor about to die? That’s my personality.
SLAM: I remember this past winter the Bucks were playing in Philly and after the game you were chilling with some friends when an older woman called out to you. She yelled that you were her favorite player. You stopped talking to your guys and said thanks to her. She was near-tears over that.
SJ: This is what a lot of people don’t understand, and this is why I like doing interviews, so people can hear my side. A lot of guys in the NBA won’t say this: guys like me, Zach Randolph, and guys that get a bad rap, we have just as many fans as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. We have just as many fans, our fans just can’t afford to go to the game. Our fans are sitting in those houses with 15, 20 channels, watching our games, supporting us. So people don’t understand: we have just as many fans, and our fans matter just as much because they still supporting us. People don’t think like that.
SLAM: What made you decide that last year was the time to bring your music out to the public?
SJ: With the lockout I had a lot of time to just think and write and get in the studio and make a lot of music. That’s why I was able to drop Trill Mixes during the season—because I had so much music done. The music thing has been a passion of mine. Growing up in Texas, listening to DJ Screw, we all freestyled and always rapped, and I’ve been recording for about 13 years.
What’s crazy about it is, people look at my videos, like, There’s cursing! Everybody curses in music, so don’t just judge me. That comes with music. They look at the video, all these guys, tattoos, hats, jewelry. Well, this is how I look at it: I started a record label and I’m putting out an album to open doors for all my friends in the neighborhood that want to rap that would never get the opportunity or get a door open by someone famous. So, not only do I love it but I’m opening a door. So when I see my video, there’s about 20 guys in my video that are either just out of jail, or on probation or are on their way to jail. But for the guys, I’m giving them an opportunity to do something positive, to do something they want to do, because they don’t want to go back to jail. People don’t look at the positives of Jackson having all these guys who’ve been in trouble doing something positive and legal. That’s how I look at it. And I tell everyone: I’m doing one album, and it’s to open the door for everybody.
SLAM: What’s good with that NBA album, that collaborative joint?
SJ: Yeah. A guy who used to work for Bad Boy with Puff Daddy, he had to do with a lot of those records they were doing in the Biggie days, he came up with the idea of doing an album called Full Court Press, where it’s athletes and entertainers doing songs together. It was a great idea. When I went I was excited about it. I didn’t know who I was gonna be with, but it’s only right me and Bun [B] did a song. I went in there and I went so hard on the song with Bun that they asked me to do the intro with Yelawolf. It’s going to be crazy, man. I think LeBron’s on it, Rick Ross, Kevin Durant, Trevor Ariza, Shawn Marion, Josh Smith, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube—it’s supposed to be pretty hot.
SLAM: You consider yourself a legit rapper. Were you nervous about being on there with players who just dabble in music?
SJ: I know they was nervous; I wasn’t. They can’t rap. They all terrible to me. I don’t consider myself in the class with athlete rappers. I consider myself as a rapper, period. I feel you can put me in front of any rapper, and you’ll be amazed by some of the things I say like you would any other rapper. And you know what the difference is? Mine’s not fabricated. Everything I say, I’ve got. Everything I say, I do. I live my rhymes.
SLAM: You told me once that you came up on gospel music. Were you in your church’s choir?
SJ: I was born and raised in Sunday school. I was in church choir, I was at rehearsals. Anything that had to do with my church, I was involved. I was there every Sunday at 9 o’clock. I went to choir rehearsal twice a week—I was in the youth choir and the gospel choir. That’s another reason: I grew up in the church, so I know why I’m highly favored. Being rooted in the church, that’s the right way to start your life. I credit that to my grandmother and grandfather, who were the founders of our church.
SLAM: And aside from gospel, I know you grew up on Screw and UGK, but who else…?
SJ: Geto Boyz, Outkast, 8Ball & MJG…
SLAM: Was there a reason you were attracted to their music? Was it the lyrics, the beat?
SJ: It was because I could relate to it, especially UGK. Everything they talked about, I’d seen with my own eyes. Port Arthur is so small, we all go through the same struggle, the same ups and downs, everybody’s doing the same drugs, everybody’s doing the same thing because our city is so small. Anything that’s going on, you know about it. As far as MJG, it was just a southern thing. Once I heard it, I fell in love with it. Mobb Deep, Das EFX—I can recite some of Das EFX lyrics right now, that’s how much I listened to it.
SLAM: Do you feel like the Spurs or NBA feel any kind of way about your music or you don’t even care?
SJ: I mean, it’s freedom of speech.
SLAM: For sure. But you know not everything’s really free in the workplace.
SJ: Soon as the album (Jack of All Trades) drops there’s going to be all types of criticism. I expect some backlash from it, but I’m ready to defend anything they ask me because I know why I’m doing it, I use my own hard-earned money, so what can they say? At the end of the day, I feel more people gonna love it than dislike it, and I can live with that.