In Praise of Cap'n Jack
It was during Charlotte's crafty ambush of the Magic on Sunday—the second quarter, maybe the third quarter—that Stephen Jackson had A Moment. He made a shot and thought he was fouled on the elbow. He backpedaled, jutting his elbow away from him and patting it with his left hand. The camera followed him. His expression did not change. "Jackson wanted the call," droned Mike Breen, or whoever. Stephen Jackson continued patting himself on the elbow. The announcers fell into an inky pool of silence. The producer did not, could not cut away. No one seemed capable of saying or doing anything. Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat. Seconds of time peeled away from our lives, and each one seemed eternal.
People don't understand Stephen Jackson. It's become axiomatic. He's an awesome teammate and human; he also fires guns outside of strip clubs. He's an alpha dog who's played on winning teams, and he's never been an All-Star and referees treat him like a five-year-old who won't stop pooping on the floor. Even the elbow-patting had a whiff of the insane, and maybe critically, it wasn't the what, but the how. Indicating a part of your body that got fouled: fine. Everyone does that. But the sheer duration—the commitment to patting his elbow and staring—was bonkers. I've been trying to find it on YouTube and can't, and now I feel like a Sasquatch theorist or something. Honestly, it happened. I saw it! You can't tell me I didn't see it!! I have a bunch of scrawled-on newspaper lining the walls of my shed.
The takeaway: What the incident bespoke was absolute faith. That is Stephen Jackson's gift. An unwavering, towering faith in one's own rightness. A kind of faith you rarely see outside churches or vegan restaurants. No other player has it, at least to the extent that he has it. Arenas may be close. LeBron is not. Kobe had it, then realized that it was ruining his life. Tim Duncan has memorized too much Kierkegaard to have it. Shaq had a monster supply of it, then two summers ago he ate the whole thing. The notion of Dwight Howard having it is hilarious. Steve Nash has seen too much of the cruel, chaotic world to have it; Kevin Durant, not enough. Chauncey and Carmelo would each have it if the other didn't. Grant Hill read about it in a book once.
* * * * *
Tonight against the Thunder, Charlotte makes a bid for history: with a win it can tie the young franchise's record for wins (35), with 16 games left to play. The team's first playoff berth is assured, barring a colossal meltdown; the postseason revisits North Carolina for the first time since 2002.
Larry Brown, Gerald Wallace, even the round-bodied inscrutable Boris Diaw—obviously there's plenty of credit to go around. But make no mistake: more than anything else, this is a Stephen Jackson Team. This is a club with an almost absurd self-confidence, which makes big shots and topples good teams. It's an entire team that has taken on Jackson's psychological makeup, and it's not the first team to do so. Remember Warriors over Mavs? That was Cap'n Jack. Absolute faith. Even as he got ejected from Games 2 and 5: Absolute faith.
So now Charlotte is on a collision course with Orlando or Atlanta. Can the Dwight Howards and the Joe Johnsons of the world withstand a Stephen Jackson Team? Time will tell. Pat, pat, pat.
image credit: djwalkingstick
cover panel image: rightreading