Nowadays, Jerry Stackhouse is an elder statesment in the NBA; this year his main role in Brooklyn, where he recently signed a one-year-contract, will be to dish advice to the younger players and maintain a positive veteran presence in the locker room. But not that long ago, the swingman was a bona fide star, covering magazines and earning All-Star Game invites. Here’s a look at a Stack feature that originally ran in KICKS 3 (summer ’00).—Ed.
by Michael Bradley
So this guy is why everybody was so excited when the Sixers drafted Jerry Stackhouse third overall in ’95. The guy can actually play. He’s not some overrated, one-dimensional failure, another unworthy heir to Michael Jordan’s Carolina-blue throne.
Back then, he was the trendy pick as the nation’s best college player, even though he was just a sophomore, and guys like Joe Smith, Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace were getting more pub. He had the perfect size (6-6) for a wing guard. He could jump to the rafters and dunk with a primal authority. He was bound for greatness. For glory. And then, he blew it.
Well, not quite, but in Philadelphia, they still include him with Fred Boyd and Shaler Halimon and Bud Ogden and—there were so many—among the franchise’s Draft Day Mistakes. He may have averaged 20.7 ppg in ’96-97, but he was just no good. Couldn’t dribble. Couldn’t hit from long range. The next Jordan? More like the next Gerald Wilkins. No wonder the Sixers were thrilled to unload him on Detroit.
Well, now look at Stack. He is an All-Star and one happy fella in Detroit, where he emerged from the ego-deflating experience of playing sixth man to legendary Joe Dumars to become a rising star.
“It’s all about confidence,” Stackhouse said during the season. “I came into the season with a lot of confidence. Knowing that I dealt with a lot of things in the off-season that helped me be better prepared mentally.”
Stackhouse sure was confident during ’99-00, especially when it came to speaking his mind. You had better feel pretty sure of yourself, if you’re going to go ripping the Miami Heat a new one. During the Pistons’ Mini-Me-short season ‘run’ that lasted all of three games (brooms, please), Stackhouse told reporters how he looked forward to meeting Miami in the Playoffs, because he thought the banged-up Heat was vulnerable. He ragged on Alonzo Mourning for his post-dunk celebrations, calling them “fake emotion.” Why not head to Beijing and start picking on the Commies’ human-rights record, too? Or start something with the Russian mafia? Perhaps Stackhouse thought his newly minted diploma from North Carolina (received last December in African-American studies) required that he become a spokesman, though Grant Hill had a different theory. “I think that’s a Carolina thing,” said GH, who played at arch-rival Duke. “I don’t understand it, but I like his confidence, I like his fire.”
Whatever the reason, we saw a new Jerry Stackhouse in ’99-00. Not only did he assume the role of team spokesman, a job Hill was no doubt pleased to cede, (particularly with all the rumors flying around about his future), but Stack also started putting up the kind of rip-roarin’ numbers that were expected from him when he came into the League. He averaged 23.6 ppg, up nearly 10 from his shaky ’99 performance. His rebounding figure (3.8 rpg) was a career high, and he actually passed the ball, something that hadn’t ever been a big part of his repertoire, despite his protests to the contrary. In short, Stackhouse became a full-fledged NBA scoring machine, lethal in the open court, strong in the mid-range and excellent from the foul line. Oh, there is still that minor problem with three-point shooting (28.8 percent?? Blecchh!!!), but we’re not going to talk about that, Jerry. We will, however, mention your 14 games of 30 or more points, including a career-high 40 spot against Denver. And we won’t forget about the 11 points you scored in the All-Star game. Or the 11 assists you handed out against Golden State back in December.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” Detroit coach George Irvine said. “Not just the scoring. Everybody knew that Jerry could score. But he has really taken the challenge of late to become an all-around player. He has made a concerted effort on defense, and is playing better defense than a lot of people thought he could. And he’s also accepting the double-teams now and trying to make the right pass out of it. He’s just a vastly improved player.”
Not that Stackhouse was ever a mutt. It’s just when Allen Iverson showed up in Philadelphia in ’96, Stack’s days were numbered. Things looked fine at first, when Iverson was heralded as one of those “new school” point guards. You know the ones. They want to set up teammates (occasionally) but still “get theirs.” Right. Turns out Iverson wasn’t anything of the sort. He was a two-guard and a spectacular one at that. Who cared if he was only (maybe) 6 feet tall? He was going to be the Sixers’ main scorer, and that was that. And Stack? Well let’s just say Iverson’s arrival made his expendable. Trying to reconcile the two on the court was like trying get George W. Bush to hang out with Dr. Dre. Guess which one was shipped?
Stack’s break from Philly came in the form of a ticket to Detroit. At first, Stackhouse may have been tempted to shout, “I’m Free!!” from atop the Uniroyal Tire in Motown, that is until he realized he would be spending the pre-game introductions applauding legend-in-residence Joe Dumars, rather than trotting out to the foul line amidst swirling spotlights and mucho applause of his own. Stackhouse would have to sit quietly, and that wasn’t exactly easy for a guy who had been the star forever and ever.
“I waited my turn,” Stackhouse said. “It was tough and a little humbling to see the guys I came out of the Draft with take off and emerge, while I was kind of playing second fiddle. But I did it for a legendary player and a legendary person. I think I am kind of reaping the benefits of being humble.
Shhh, Jerry. You don’t want to keep talking like that, not in this NBA, where someone might interpret your dues paying as a sigh of weakness. Instead of thumping your chest and demanding the starter’s role, you waited. Patiently. You can almost hear the chorus from the playas: “CHUMP!”
This February, they were all watching Stack score 11 points in the All-Star Game. Funny how being a big boy can pay off in the end. Finally clear of Dumar’s substantial shadow and back in his familiar role as starter, Stackhouse went nuts in the ’99-00 season. One late-January three-game tear was particularly eruptive. Even though the Pistons dropped all three, including one to Cleveland, Stack averaged 36 points. Six days later he burned Sacramento for 35. What in the hell was going on here? Could this possibly be the same guy whom the Sixers couldn’t wait to let go, after just over two years of finding holes in his game? It sure was. The Pistons were a much better fit for Stackhouse, who had Hill and point man Lindsay Hunter to feed him. He wasn’t sparring with the team’s other big name; rather they were complimenting each other. Content to be an all-around force. Hill was doing something of everything, and Stackhouse was clearly following his lead.
“Jerry needs to be an offensive factor, needs to be with someone who can get him the ball where he can post up or score on the break,” Philly coach Larry Brown said. “He [was] in a perfect situation with Grant Hill, which allows him to accentuate the things he does well.”
Brown may not be kicking himself for getting rid of Stackhouse, particularly since the Jerry/Allen pairing never would have worked. But he can’t help but be impressed by what Stackhouse has done—and still might do, particularly if the Pistons have to rely even more heavily on Stackhouse with Hill off to Orlando. Should he ever get his long-range jumper on target and get a rock-steady handle, he could become a truly elite player, capable of scoring at will. The ’99-00 season was a great step toward that distinction. And a great way to make all those critics shut their mouths.
“I have always tried to ignore what people say about me,” Stackhouse said. “You know, when people said that I didn’t have the best shot selection or I relied too much on my jumper—that never bothered me. I am a scorer. But the one thing that really bothered me was when people said I was a selfish player.
“I never understood that. I have always been a guy that, if somebody was open, I always tried to move the ball and get it to him. I think people are starting to see that now.”
If they aren’t, they must be blind.