In the long, futile quest to find the “Next Jordan,” Jerry Stackhouse had the most similar DNA. Both played for UNC, were drafted with the third pick, were the same height and played the same position. The similarities were so uncanny, Stackhouse was put on the cover of SLAM 11, and prompted Scoop to write, “Jus’ can’t stop Jerry Stackhouse from being the next Michael Jordan. It’s reality, and you can’t stop reality from being real. He’s the future.” It was a great guess, but there will forever be only one Michael. Stackhouse resembled Jordan the most in 2000-01, where he put up 29.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, while getting to the stripe 10 times per, but unlike Mike, his Pistons missed the Playoffs. Since then, his numbers fell off, while the injuries piled up. Recently, the Bucks have taken a chance on him, signing him for the rest of the season, to fill in for an injured Michael Redd. Stackhouse never lived up to the “Next Jordan” status, but as he portrayed to Scoop in ’96, he never tried to.—Matt Lawyue
by Scoop Jackson
TWO FOR 13. JERRY STACKHOUSE JUST LOST HIS BID FOR MVP. No disrespect to Jordan, Pippen, Kemp or Hardaway, but Stackhouse had things on lockdown until this game. Until he met me.
“You know you jinxed me?” Stackhouse looks deep into my eyes as I give him a pound after his player-of-the-year losing performance. “How you figure?” I respond. “You know how most people get that Sports Illustrated jinx after they’ve been on the cover? Yeah, well you jinxed me before the issue even came out!” Damn. Another brotha’s career on my dome. First Latrell and Timmy fall off, Robert Horry ain’t the same, Kenny Anderson gets traded and now Stack. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Jealous ones envy. In a world where basketball means everything to everybody, Jerry Stackhouse is the future. When Magic can’t come back (again) at 38, and the league can’t afford Jordan at 35, Jerry Stackhouse will be there in Philly, trying to resurrect what Dr. J, Moses and Barkley left behind. Alone to win dunk contests against Grant Hill and lead the league in scoring. Alone to keep that filthy-rich UNC legacy alive. Alone to keep the future of hoopology at a higher cradle-rockin’, under-the-back-board-glidin’, cuff-reverse, non-Spike-Lee-pluggin’ level. You’ll find Stackhouse. Alone. In the future.
DirecTV. Stackhouse has a direct link to the future. “I love it,” he says as he regretfully (and all too often) pays more attention to ball on the tube than his girl. “That’s all I do. Everybody else hangs and does this and that, but I’m on the couch watchin’ some game.”
I nod only because I know how it is to be so in love with the game of basketball that sometimes you can’t-just can’t-get away from it. The b-ball game resembles the crack game, sometimes. No junkies, just millions hooked. “It doesn’t matter who’s playing, it’s just me and that remote…you know what I’m say’n’? So many games, so little time.”
The love for this game, his game, runs deep. A rookie in a league notorious for implementing apathy in young minds that somehow forget that passion has as much to do with getting them into the league as skills, Jerry Stackhouse remains the variance. His NC-19 upbringing made it virtually impossible for him to be anything less than the man everybody felt (and still feel in some parts) was in position to replace Michael Jordan as the spiritual center of Dean Smith basketball and beyond.
When asked how it feels, now that he’s a pro, to see a little kid walking around with his jersey on, Stack reminds me that he experienced that moment in high school. Excuse me?!? Carolina, always on some other shit.
“I downplay everything when it comes to the Michael Jordan comparisons,” Stackhouse says as we watch people walk by us, stop, glance and not say anything, because they know but they really don’t know, you know? “I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t help, because it does. It helps my confidence. I mean, being mentioned in the same breath as Jordan is a compliment.” He laughs, then rolls. “But it doesn’t help when I have to play against him, though. With both of us being from the eastern part of the state and both of us being almost the same size, doing the same things-well sort of [laugh]-with the basketball, being creative, and both going to North Carolina, the comparisons are automatically going to be there. It’s just coincidence. But just like I said, I kinda downplay it, because every year there’s a Micheal Jordan coming into the league. It just so happens that I was the lucky one this year.”
His humbleness is eerie. He’s been lucky like this all his life. For a young man to go through life in the shadow of God and come up Jesus is unyielding. No other new jack in the game had to carry the weight Stack Fila’d into the league with. Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed and Damon never had the life-long legacy of #23 on their backs. None grew up in Jordan’s omnipresent shadow, in his hometown, waiting for the day to finally prove their worth as men, as ball players. It all has meaning. Every now and then a star has to go through this path. The eerie feeling of being a mirror image, a clone, of someone larger, greater than you. From hometown to college to the NBA.
Destiny? Never. Just the bad luck timing of growing up in the same hood as another brotha who left his mark on the world. Alonzo Mourning has carried the weight of Patrick Ewing from Virginia to G’Town to Pat Riley. Catch the pattern, the similarities. Stephon Marbury’s got the same drama clonin’ Kenny Anderson from Nueve York to G’Tech to leaving school early and turning down $40 million contracts. It’s the routine.
Now while Ewing and Chibbs are no joke, honestly…they ain’t Jordan. Nobody is. Not even Stackhouse. In reality, it’s unfair to place this burden of deliverance on a 20-year-old. So what you win the McDonald’s H.S. All-American Game MVP, jus’ like Mike. So what you get drafted No. 3, jus’ like Mike. So what you’re stuck on a team that needs you almost as much as they need a new mayor, jus’ like Mike. So what you’ll be Rookie of the Year, jus’ like Mike. So what you’re going to win a few championships rings, retire, come back and win another before it’s all over, jus’ like Mike. So what you got Vernon Maxwell on your squad and Mike had Quinten Dailey… you have to believe that history simply repeats itself, that Carolina blue means something more, that Jordan doesn’t score 48 points on you the first time you meet.
Twenty-nine points, 8 assists, 5 steals. Jerry Stackhouse just played himself into Grant Hill’s zone. Days after Philly owner Harold Katz loosened the radio-talk-show-driven noose from around 76ers coach John Lucas’ neck, Stack plays like the man everyone expects him to be-every night. No jinx. The Sixers are having one of “those” seasons, and Jerry Stackhouse is the only bright spot in a tunnel so dark Eric Lindros could suit up. He shoots, he scores. But “the House” continues to grow and the house continues to get built. At the All-Star break, the Sixers were strugglin’ to get 10 wins and waiting for Derrick Coleman to exhale. Stack can’t get with this losing thing, but he understands the nature. It’s naughty. Poverty has no paradise.
“I still haven’t adapted to losing,” Stackhouse says in all sincerity, without feeling totally responsible but knowing that he could be the difference in a couple of W’s. “This is tough for me. But I know the things I have to do. I know that I have to stay focused on the long range goals of this team. You know? After each game I ask myself, ‘What did I learn? Did I get better from last game to this game? How can I get better from this game to the next game?’ Don’t get me wrong, I hate losing, but it does give you time to concentrate on getting your game together so that when things do start to come together-I’ll be ready. Because I do know this: Losing makes winning that much more gratifying.”
Thirty-two and oh. In University Park, Illinois youngster Dudy Smith dusts me one-on-one. After every basket he drops the word “STACKHOUSE!” At 18 years old, he can do this to me because, hell, I ain’t 18 anymore. On the sidelines his boys give him dap, whispering, “Stack ‘em up. Stack ‘em up.”
“Why Stack?” I ask.
“Because in a few years he’s going to be the best ball player in the game,” he snaps. Smoove.
“Then why me?” I ask ignorantly. “Why the shut-out?”
He looks down at my shoes and says, “‘Cause you ain’t wearing Filas.”
Before I put the hex on Stack, I asked him about being the best. I told him about young Dudy and how he represents those who know #42 is going to run the NBA one day. In his eyes I could see his reaction was going to be different than his words. Diplomacy. Although he knows he has the package, the total package, he downplays, realizing, too, that I am not wearing Filas.
“I think right now my game is locked. I mean, it’s either go to the basket or shoot a three. I have to develop that in-between game and not always challenge the defense. But I don’t want to do that at the expense of the team. I have to work on that in practice, in the off-season. I just want to work. Get my game to the point where my shot is so repetitious that it feels good every time. I know nobody’s really at that point, but there are guys who are a lot closer to that point than me and I think that’s somewhere I need to be.”
Stack slows, reconstructs, then continues. “Grant [Hill] and I talk about that all the time. How we are able to do some of the things now that we did when we were in college, but at the same time how we still have things to work on to improve our games. Like Clyde Drexler. He’s the best player I’ve played against so far. I mean not only just talent-wise, but he still does a lot for the little things. And man, he has those legs! I hope when I’m at that point in my career I have those legs. Plus he has the overall attitude and the way he’s always with his teammates…that’s special. Things like that make you a better ball player.” Filas or not.
At 6-6, 218, Stackhouse has the luxury of playing anywhere from the two to the four on a nightly basis. His game is a classic combination of Elgin Baylor grace, Roger Brown tenacity and Sam Cassell fearlessness. The difference between his sophomore year at UNC and his rookie year in Philly are small. The numbers (20 points, 6 boards, 4 assists and one or two steals) are the same, and he still brings the spectacular for the highlight reel on the regular. Outside of playing in Jordan’s shadow, he’s also playing for the same organization Julius Erving made famous.
“I think about that sometimes,” Stack says. “Even though I’m only going to play in the Spectrum one year [the Sixers are moving to a new joint next season], I tell myself sometimes, ‘Man, Doc played here.’”
More legacy to carry, more weight for a brotha. Stack handles it. If you chronicle his life, his career, it seems like he was meant to be here. Meant to follow this pattern, these legends. The poise in the way he carries himself makes it seem as if he’s more of a man, more of an adult, than many veterans in the league, let alone a supposed-to-be college junior. His ties with the Tar Heels and Coach Smith run deep. Everybody’s does. At lunch, while reading an old issue of SLAM, the first thing he noticed was that UNC wasn’t ranked as one of our top-20 teams.
“What’s up with that?” he asks. I shrug…then hit him with the quick response, “Maybe ’cause you ain’t there bra’h.”
He gives me that “yeah, right” look. “I’m going to always have ties with the university. My house is in Chapel Hill, so I’ll be there this summer. Plus Rasheed [Wallace of the Washington Bullets] and I have to catch up, and Rick Fox [another UNC alum, check the Boston Celtics] started this organization called Carolina Pros that I’m going to help and be a part of.”
The question of his place in Carolina history comes up. He can’t downplay this. I ask him would he start if UNC alumni played UCLA alumni in an all-everybody, all-out All-Star game. He thought for a minute: Jordan, Walter Davis, James Worthy, Bobby Jones, Billy Cunningham, Sam Perkins, Phil Ford, J.R. Reid, Hubert Davis, Al Wood, Wallace and Fox, and even Donald Williams. That minute turns into two, three, then he comes with it.
“Yeah, if I wasn’t a freshman.” He laughs, knowing that his answer may be questioned. “I would hope so. Numbers-wise I think I’d be considered top five, but you never know. That’s one of the reasons I came out early, because there are no guarantees, even at Carolina.”
Hoop dreams. Jerry Stackhouse walks around with a 8mm camcorder. He watches basketball games on it-his basketball games. Never wanting Bobby Phills to have another career game against him, he watches film every day to see where he can do better. Never wanting to make the same mistake thrice. and even if it wasn’t him on the film, he’d watch. Only MJ 32 has more love, is more addicted. As Stack stands outside the team bus, talking to whomever on the cellular, he tells the person on the other line to hold on. Then he yells, “Yo Kevin, get away from him! He’s bad luck!” Kevin Garnett looks at me, looks at Jerry, looks back at me and then screams back, “You mean him?!?”
“Yeah, look what he did for me tonight!”
Kevin pauses. As he leans down to give me a hug, it hits him. “Oh, hell naw! Yo, get the hell away from me! I can’t afford to go out like that!” Damn.
I haven’t seen Stack since then, and he hasn’t had a bad game since then, either. I guess you can’t stop the future from scoring 30, grabbing 11 boards and doing a 360 dunk in traffic. Jus’ can’t stop Jerry Stackhouse from being the next Michael Jordan. It’s reality, and you can’t stop reality from being real. He’s the future. The future of why the NBA’s “I Love This Game” marketing scheme will still mean something in the year 2000. The authorized Air apparent. And if you don’t believe me, go ask young Dudy.