Retired NBA star Stephen Jackson has some strong opinions about “these kids today” and their lack of passion for the game.
And if there’s a guy in the NBA who understands passion for the game, it’s someone who played a major role in the most infamous brawl in league history, the Ron Artest “Malice at the Palace” melee in Detroit.
The incident and its aftermath ruined the best chance the Indiana Pacers had at a championship run. A team that had won 61 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals the year before was broken up, never to win 60 again and not to reach the conference Finals again until Paul George and company came within a LeBron James of the NBA Finals in 2013 and ’14.
It’s still a sore spot for Pacers fans, that lost decade of what might have been with Artest, Jackson and coach Rick Carlisle — who later won a title as coach of the Dallas Mavericks — anchoring one of the best teams in the sport.
Jackson already had a ring when he got to Indiana — he was on the 2003 San Antonio Spurs, who ended the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-year run as champions, so he gets to call himself a champion.
Today, however, Jackson is roasting the younger players for not caring about basketball as much as he did (and apparently still does).
“I love the fact that players have control of where they want to play,” Jackson said before Thursday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, according to ESPN. “But at the same time, guys got to be professional, too. I would be the first to say these guys these days, they’re spoiled. A lot of them are spoiled.
“And I was talking to a Hall of Fame football coach, and he said one thing he sees about basketball from the outside looking in, more players today are interested in what the game can do for them. They don’t actually love the game like we did. I’m 41 years old and I still play the game every day. And I can see that the love for the game is not there.”
He said he was “happy that we had a hand in for these kids to be able to get the money that they’re making, and the way the game is going, I’m happy (about) that. But at the same time, they got to be professional and continue to show fans that they love the game too, because it can get away from that.”
As a fellow 41-year-old man who loves basketball, I’m going to have to disagree with Jackson.
His comments were in response to a question about players like Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving seemingly engineering their way off their current teams while they’ve still got years left on their current contracts.
But especially in Davis’ case, can you blame him? The Pelicans are a dumpster fire. They’ve won one playoff series and have been to the playoffs only twice in the Brow’s seven seasons in the league (assuming, as seems all but certain, that the Pelicans miss the playoffs this year).
Davis wants to play for a winning team, whether it’s with his buddy LeBron James in Los Angeles or, if he’s really serious about winning and not just a pawn of his (and LeBron’s) agent Rich Paul, to any of the NBA’s 15 teams that at this writing have a better record than the Lakers do.
Irving is on an underachieving Boston Celtics team that has developed a bad habit of losing too many close games when they break down at the end of the game; they lost to Milwaukee by one point Thursday and to the Pacers earlier in the season when Victor Oladipo dropped a game-winning 3-pointer right in their faces.
To suggest that either guy “lacks passion” when his motivation is to find a situation where he can win games is disingenuous at best.
Irving has been connected to rumors involving the New York Knicks, which — while seemingly absurd, considering just how bad the Knicks are — might be exactly the point. Irving and Kevin Durant were seen palling around at the All-Star Game, and the Knicks have plenty of cap room.
Does it sound like a guy doesn’t care about basketball when he wants to build a superteam out of the clear blue sky with Durant and either someone like Zion Williamson (if the Knicks draft him) or possibly Davis?
Players today are business-savvy, sure. But if all they cared about was the business side, everyone would play in New York or Los Angeles.
Jackson’s coach in Oakland, Don Nelson, had his own thoughts about today’s player-movement options compared with his own playing days in the 1960s and ’70s, when a player was, unless traded, pretty well tied to the team that drafted him for his entire career, free agency having not yet become a thing in the NBA.
“You couldn’t leave a team,” Nelson said. “You were there for life. As long as they wanted to put you on the roster, you had nothing to do with a lot of things that are important to players today, which is movement, money, salaries. So it’s way better now than it used to be, because I was in those locker rooms in the old days, when you couldn’t — once you were with a team, you couldn’t leave.”
Fans might not like it — nothing makes fans happier than when a great player, on the level of Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant or Reggie Miller, plays his entire Hall of Fame career in the same place he was drafted, choosing to re-sign every time he comes up for a new contract — but Nelson is talking about the freedom of movement that finally made basketball players able to get paid commensurate with their value to their teams.
Saying that players today “don’t love the game” demeans their accomplishments even as the quality of play in professional basketball is the best it’s ever been, shooters making shots and players like James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook flat-out breaking traditional statistical superlatives.
Players today care so much about the game that they’ve taken the act of winning and creating their legacy completely into their own hands. They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t care.
And besides, Jackson played in an era where a team scored 66 points in a playoff game and won (Game 3, Boston vs. Detroit, in 2002). If that’s what love of the game buys, give me 10 guys on the floor who don’t care but score 300 between the two teams.
Respect the game, Stephen Jackson. And in the words of Pink Floyd, “Teacher, leave them kids alone.”
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