Mark Jackson’s knowledge of both the city where the 65th annual NBA All-Star Game is taking place (the NYC-bred point guard played for the Raptors during the ’00-01 season) and the League in general make him the perfect man to talk to about this February’s north-of-the-border celebration in Toronto. With voting for the Game now officially open (learn how you can vote at the bottom of this post), we caught up with M-Jax to talk about who should get their first All-Star nod, Kobe Bryant and the T-Dot.
SLAM: Who’s somebody that the public isn’t giving enough recognition to?
Mark Jackson: When you look at the job that Draymond Green has done for the Warriors, an undefeated team as we sit here today, certainly, in my opinion, deserves to be on the team. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to vote him as a starter, but I believe that when you look at his story, when you look at Kawhi Leonard’s story, when you look at the Spurs and the season they’re having once again, I don’t know if people are aware that he’s been their best player. To me, he deserves to be, again, I’m not going say a starter, but an All-Star. And then the best story for me has been Paul George. I’ll say he should be a starter. When we witnessed watching him represent the country, take what looked like a career-ending injury, we thought it was over for him. And to see him playing his best basketball in his life right now is great. It’s great for the game. It says a lot about him. And I’m happy to see it. But he’s a guy I certainly believe should start for the Eastern Conference.
SLAM: Are you surprised that Paul George is playing at an even higher level so quickly?
MJ: I think everybody is surprised. But I will say pleasantly surprised. He’s an L.A. guy, so I watched him in the summer. I watch how hard he works. He worked out with my son, and I was amazed every single day by the time he put in. Those are the guys that you bet on. I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s back. I’m thrilled that he’s playing the best basketball of his life especially when we watched it—we watched when it happened. It looked like it was over.
SLAM: Last year, Russell Westbrook won All-Star Game MVP. If you were a betting man, who do you think takes it this year?
MJ: I don’t know. It’s tough to pick who will be that guy. I will say that I’m pulling for Kobe Bryant to be at the All-Star Game and I’m pulling for him to go out with a bang. I can remember watching how awesome it was Magic Johnson playing in his last All-Star Game. It was a fitting way for, not just the fans, but the players that he impacted, it was a fitting way for us to say thank you for what you’ve meant to the game and how you’ve impacted the game of basketball. And the players, individually and collectively. Selfishly, I’m pulling for Kobe Bryant and his swan song in Toronto. I think Toronto is a fitting place because he’s had some great moments there.
SLAM: You played a year in Toronto. What can the NBA world expect from Toronto for All-Star Weekend?
MJ: It’s a great place. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I bought a house there, my family was living there. The kids were in school there. We had a blast. The fans were incredible, the organization was great. For me, being from New York City, it reminded me so much of New York City. I think that the basketball world’s going to be very, very happy when they get to Toronto. I think that the League did an outstanding job of selecting this to be the first place outside of the United States that holds an All-Star Game because it’s gonna be a home run.
SLAM: Are there any older guys that get a spot this year? Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are playing so well.
MJ: I believe they should, when you look at the season that they’re having. When you look at the Spurs, to be second in the Western Conference, and Dallas, I don’t know if many people believed that they’d be where they are today. It’s great to see the older guys still playing at a high level and still impacting. When you look at Tim, his numbers aren’t the same, but his impaczt—I think that’s what you have to look at when you’re voting and selecting these guys. The impact that they’re having on winning basketball teams.
SLAM: Is there anything else from the early part of the season that has caught your eye?
MJ: The gap has closed, where if you are a good team in the past, you can say, “We’re going to win three games against this team, we’re going to sweep this team during the course of the year, that’s going to count as wins.” The gap has closed with the teams that used to be bad. They can win these games and I think that has made it a lot of fun watching every single game.
Participating in NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is simple: it can be done on NBA.com/vote, through the NBA app, through Twitter, by tweeting, retweet or replying with the player’s first and last name, along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE, on Facebook by using the player’s first and last name along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE in a post on your personal Facebook account, on Instagram by posting an original photo, with the hashtag #NBAVOTE and the player’s first and last name in the photo caption, by texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2. To vote on Google, search “NBA Vote All-Star” or “NBA Vote Team Name” (ex: NBA Vote Celtics), and use respective team cards to select players.