Mark Jackson is Back (PHOTOS)

by February 26, 2013

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

Someone who would like to be referred to only as a “friend of the family” sent me the incredible photos in the gallery below several years ago. I loved them at the time, and I’ve used one of them as my Twitter header since that feature was introduced. I always knew I needed to share them with the larger SLAMonline audience, but I didn’t know the right time. Well, that time has come.

Tomorrow night, Mark Jackson will take to the floor at Madison Square Garden, the place in which he, a native of Brooklyn, became the NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA All-Star and one of the most entertaining, over-achieving players in NBA history. As I’ve stated infinity times, he is my favorite player of all time, so obviously I’m biased, but if you didn’t find his no-look passes fun to watch or consider that the fourth-ranked point guard in New York City as a high school senior retired from the NBA second all-time in assists to be extremely impressive, well, that’s on you.

After retiring from the game, Mark quickly became the lead announcer for the NBA’s lead broadcasting partner—ESPN/ABC, who cover the Finals. I’m not saying he was the best analyst ever, but he was informative and solid and reached the top of that profession about as fast as possible.

His goal all along was bigger than the broadcasting game anyway—Mark was grooming himself to be an NBA head coach. As a player, Mark played for radically different but successful coaches such as Rick Pitino, Larry Brown, Pat Riley and Larry Bird, and he picked up pieces from each of them. Some observers felt like Mark should be an assistant before he became a head coach. I, for one, disagreed. Mark was basically an assistant coach/coach on the floor for all of the more than 1,400 NBA games he suited up for. He was blessed with some superhuman court vision, but other than that his success as a player came from smarts and hard work—the exact traits that are required as a head coach.

The obvious place for him to start his coaching career was New York. When the Knicks needed a coach in ’08, they were a team in transition, desperate to unload contracts and start landing some legit superstars. For once, the franchise was not in win-now mode. It was the perfect time to give a young head coach a chance to gain some experience without worrying too much about Playoff expectations. Instead, in a moronic decision I hated at the time both subjectively (because I wanted Mark to get the job) and objectively (because I knew the guy they did hire’s “skills” as a coach didn’t fit what the Knicks were doing), the team chose Mike D’Antoni. Mark stayed on his broadcasting grind, D’Antoni failed miserably, and, after his name was linked a few places every offseason, Jackson got the Warriors head coaching job in the summer of 2011.

The lockout kept he and the Warriors away from New York last year, but maybe that was for the best. He was getting his feet wet, the roster was in flux and injury-prone, and the Dubs had an all-around disappointing ’11-12 season. This year, however, they are one of the nicest surprises in the NBA. With relatively low expectations and a barely available Andrew Bogut, Golden State is nonetheless rocking a 33-23 record, good for sixth place in the grueling Western Conference. If they keep this up, Mark will be a strong contender—if not straight-up favorite—for Coach of the Year honors.

As for the pics, they’re related to charity work Mark did for the United Negro College Fund. The bulk of them are from a celebrity game held at St. John’s Alumni Hall on April 2, 1989. That date fell on an off-day late in what was probably Mark’s best season as a pro. In just his second year, he averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He made the All-Star team and helped the Knicks win the Atlantic Division and sweep the Sixers in the first round of the Playoffs. Pretty awesome that in the midst of all that he was able to be cool with so many of his era’s music and television stars (PLEASE use your friend Google if my captions—which run from left to right on all pics—aren’t enough to tell you who some of these people are) and take the time to host a charity event. But that’s Mark.

I’m going to be at MSG with a press credential tomorrow night, but pardon me if I hide it and sneak into the regular seats during introductions. This man deserves a rousing ovation when he takes the floor in his “home” arena, and I’m going to help give it to him.