With the NBA All-Star Game set to take place in Toronto in February, former Golden State Warriors coach and 17-year veteran Mark Jackson spoke to SI.com on behalf of the NBA about his All-Star memories, his time with the Warriors and much more.
Jackson himself was an All-Star in 1989 as a member of the New York Knicks. The 2016 All-Star Game will be the first in NBA history to be held outside of the United States. Fans can vote via social media (including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), NBA.com, the NBA App, texting and—for the first time ever—Google Search. For more on the NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon, click here.
Rohan Nadkarni: What's your favorite All-Star memory?
Mark Jackson: To me, my favorite memory was sitting in a locker room with [Larry] Bird, Magic [Johnson] and Michael [Jordan]. All the greats. The same guys that were blowing up and months earlier I'm dreaming about and impersonating on the court. Sharing the court with those guys is something I'll never forget.
RN: Who are some guys surprising you this year? Any one you have your eye on as an under-the-radar guy who could be an All-Star?
MJ: There's no one in particular right now. There's still a month to figure that out. As far as an exciting story to me, when you look at Paul George, we all watched as he had a career threatening injury. To see the way he's responded has been one of the best stories of the league thus far. I'm really happy and excited for him. We've seen the work he's put in. For him to bounce back, it's an incredible story.
RN: Speaking of Paul George, one of the stories going into the season was the Pacers moving George to power forward and he wasn't extremely happy about it. How would you navigate or handle that situation as a coach?
MJ: It's pretty much like anything else, dealing with your kids or your office and you’re the boss, they gotta trust you. They have to trust you have their best interests. I'm not going to put in you in a position that will make you look bad. I'm not going to put you in a position where I don't think you’ll flourish. At the same time, that doesn’t always mean I’m going to be right. But you got to trust me. Ultimately, Paul questioned the decision, but give him credit because he's a pro. He went out and did his job and is flourishing. You have to give the entire organization a lot of credit for the way they handled it.
RN: What is your favorite part of calling games on ESPN?
MJ: I love being at the games. I love calling the games. This was a dream of mine as a kid. I would be on the court pretending to be Earl Monroe, Magic Johnson, and at the same time pretending to be Marv Albert calling my moves, and at the same time pretending to call timeout and draw up plays for myself. It was a dream of mine. It's an incredible feeling for me to be living it out. I’ve known Jeff [Van Gundy] and Mike [Breen] over 25 years, they’re my family for my life. There’s no agenda. When you watch us, what the people hear and see is what people would hear and see if they went out to dinner with us the night before. We aren‘t putting on an act. We genuinely love each other, and love calling games together. And that’s the entire crew. We have a great time.
RN: Does one game stand out as more memorable than others?
MJ: I’m never that good at doing that. The same way someone asks what my favorite memory is as a player. I’m amazed when Jeff says, “Do you remember third quarter in Game 3 when we were playing you guys in Indiana?” And I’m like, “I have no clue.” There’s nothing specific that stands out. We’ve had tremendous games. The opportunity to call the NBA Finals, the trophy presentation, the opportunity to watch all-time greats battle, there’s been too many for me to pick one specific one. It’s just a privilege and an honor for me to have the platform. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.
RN: Gregg Popovich said he hates the three-pointer, but obviously his teams are very good at it. When you were coaching, the game changed so much from your prime to now, was it ever difficult for you to coach a different style than what you were accustomed to playing?
MJ: The shift in style fit my personnel. When the shift says more three-point shooting and I’m sitting there with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, then I’m fine with it. I totally understand what coach Popovich is saying. I think the foolish thing is to have coach Popovich’s team and they’re just trying to jack up threes. The way that they are successful is staying true to their identity. Too many teams are trying to copy the trend, but ultimately it’s going to put them in a position to fail. Let them do what they do and do what you do best. I totally think you can’t have one way of going and that’s the way to win. The Warriors have won because their style matches their personnel.
RN: When you were coaching Steph Curry, did you ever see him becoming what he is now? Did you think he could become the most feared player in the NBA?
MJ: I saw him being a superstar, I saw him being a great basketball player. He had a passion for the game and a tremendous work ethic. He needed someone to put the ball in his hands and believe in him, and most importantly, be healthy. He has all those things, and he has skyrocketed. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He’s a great ambassador for the game. This is all Steph Curry, he deserves this.
RN: If you were coaching right now, how would you try to slow those guys down?
MJ: It depends on what team I’m coaching. If I’m coaching a team that has the ability to post up, I’m going to take advantage of the size in the post. We’re going to force them to defend on the block and we’re going to force them to play big if I have a big man that can post up. Defensively, you have to pay attention to detail. The way they hurt you is Steph Curry open shots, Klay Thompson open shots, missed assignments in transition, missed assignments in halfcourt defense. You have to stick to principles and understand the gameplan and have gameplan discipline. Their spurts kill you. Three threes and that’s nine points on the board. Those guys have proven they will make these shots. So you have to be disciplined enough to put together 48 minutes of basketball. Make them defend and then try to disrupt them at times. But they’re a great basketball team. You can do all those things and still lose to them.
RN: How big is the itch for you to get back into coaching?
MJ: To me, I’ve always been consistent. I’m a guy with tremendous faith. I had a dream to become a professional player, a dream to become an announcer and a dream to coach. I totally trust God. I believe if I was to die 100 years from now and never had the opportunity to coach again, I’m at peace. I’m not going to lose my mind. I’m thrilled for the next opportunity. But it’s not going to make or break my life. I’m at peace and I’m still going to enjoy the game. I’m honored to be a part of it.