Gallagher column: As Jackson’s career winds down, he remembers his draft
Bobby Jackson’s mind is obviously on his current summer league going on in Salisbury, but he’ll take a break tonight to tune in to the NBA draft.
Jackson wishes he could talk to all of the future NBA players. His message would be simple:
Keep your head on straight.
“When I first came into the league, I wasn’t that way,” Jackson said from the Livingstone College gymnasium. “I was kinda hard-headed.”
Jackson admits he was full of himself in 1997. He was the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. He had led the Minnesota Gophers to the Final Four.
That year’s draft was held in Charlotte. Jackson was only 30 minutes away in his hometown of Salisbury, but he was not invited to join the big stars down on the floor. He sat in the stands with friends and family.
Jackson was drafted by Seattle and immediately traded to Denver. It lasted only a couple of years. Despite making the Rookie Challenge and playing quite well, he was soon sent packing.
“I was cursing the coaches, trying to do things my way,” Jackson said.
Just when it appeared Jackson might talk his way right out of the league, he remembered his mother. He remembered growing up in a struggling environment. He had to do some soul searching. Basically, he told himself, “Don’t blow it.
“I had to learn,” he said with a shrug. “I had to remember that my mom raised me better.”
From that point on, Bobby Jackson became one of the NBA’s favorite players ó in several cities.
Denver shipped Jackson to Minnesota, but he didn’t play as much as he wanted. Sitting behind Duke’s William Avery was difficult.
When the Timberwolves let him go, he signed with Sacramento and his entire life changed. The fans embraced him for 51/2 years.
One year in Memphis. A little over a year in New Orleans. And now, he is a Houston Rocket.
So in 12 years, Jackson has worn the logo of seven teams. That’s another message he can give the young players in the current draft.
Regardless of how you’re treated by fans or how well you play, you could be gone tomorrow in this business.
“At the end of the day, trades are going to be made,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to deal with them.”
Leaving New Orleans for Houston in the middle of last season hurt, he said.
“I wasn’t happy because we were the No. 1 team in the West at the time,” he said. “Houston was in the eighth spot.”
Jackson had just produced one of those “wow” games on national TV where he went 9-for-9 from the field, including seven 3-pointers, in a Hornets’ win.
“We had good team chemistry and I didn’t think we needed to make a trade,” he said. “But they wanted a big guard in Bonzi Wells and that’s why the trade went down.”
But Houston turned out to be the perfect fit. Rick Adelman, who coached Jackson in Sacramento, wanted him.
“He knows what I bring to the table,” Jackson said. “I know his offense so well. And he wanted veteran leadership in the backcourt.”
Jackson was part of something special. A 22-game winning streak had the Rockets moving up in the West. They were ousted quickly in the playoffs, but he was glad to have the chance to play alongside Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
“Tracy is one of the top five guys in the league,” Jackson said. “And Yao is an icon. He’s a true professional.”
Jackson is 35 years old and in the last year of his contract. Will this be his final season in the NBA?
“It depends on how my body feels,” he said. “I feel good. I’m working out. I didn’t have a lot of injuries this year and I stayed healthy. Hopefully I can sign up with Houston and teach the younger guys about the game.”
Coaching is definitely a possibility. “I’d love to do that,” he said.
The thing he could teach tonight’s draft picks is to think before you do something rash. Think about where you’ll be 12 years down the road.
“Back then, I thought, “If I could work hard, I’ll be in the league as long as I want to be,’ ” Jackson said. “I’m not saying I planned it. It was a goal.”
A goal that was met with plenty of success. And a pattern that the guys we’ll see on TV tonight should follow.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.