Mark Jackson was hired as the Warriors' coach on Monday, thereby ending his commentating career that was always long on catchphrases and short on self-fulfillment.
He was born a basketball player long before he was bred as a hoops analyst, and now Jackson finally has his chance to prove that he's worth the risk that teams have been weighing for years.
Until now, the résumé hadn't been enough. The 17 years as an elite point guard, his playing career ranging from Rookie of the Year honors at the start to slices of history at the end. Jackson was one of only four players to tally 10,000-plus assists. He was also a one-time All-Star and the inspiration for the unofficially named "Mark Jackson rule," which dictates that players can't back down their defender for more than five seconds on the perimeter.
But Jackson took the opposite approach to his coaching career, refusing to back down from his stance that he didn't need experience as an assistant to merit a head-coaching gig. He leaned on the captain of the player-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach club, Boston's Doc Rivers, holding his professional ground after interviewing to no avail for head jobs with the Knicks, Bulls, Timberwolves, Suns, Hawks and Clippers even before this latest go-round.
He found the right team at the right time. New Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are determined to show that the Bay Area market and their organization are nothing short of a sleeping giant in this present-day NBA. This was their second bold stroke in less than two weeks, although clearly it's of a different variety. They added Jerry West as a consultant in late May, with the surprise surrounding that move having more to do with the fact that such an overwhelmingly experienced legend would join the rookie ownership group.
According to a source close to the situation, Jackson agreed to a three-year deal worth a little more than $2 million annually with a team option for the fourth season. The timing of his hire was surprising because it was believed Dallas assistant Dwane Casey would be interviewed for a second time after the NBA Finals. Jackson was selected over the likes of Casey, Lawrence Frank, Mike Malone, Chuck Person, Brian Shaw and Mike Budenholzer.
Sources said West was instrumental in the hiring, as he had made it clear he wasn't looking for a "retread" coach and that he preferred candidates who played the game professionally. That background and his national television spot clearly give Jackson credibility among the game's modern-day players and could perhaps come in handy during free agency.
Not long after his hiring was announced, players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant offered congratulations via Twitter. Jackson's point guard knowledge will certainly help when it comes to the young Stephen Curry, who is entering his third season and was mentioned frequently by West as a promising part of the Warriors' future during his recent introductory news conference.
Donnie Walsh was one of many executives who had passed up the chance to hire Jackson as a head coach, having selected Mike D'Antoni over him for the Knicks' position in 2008. Still, few men know Jackson and his makeup better after their six seasons spent together in Indiana.
During his 17-year stay as a Pacers executive, Walsh acquired Jackson from the Clippers in 1994, dealt him to Denver during the 1996 offseason and then traded back for him at that season's deadline when he realized what his team was missing. Jackson made his one and only trip to the Finals with the Pacers in 2000, but lost to the Lakers in six games. Walsh, who resigned from his post this week and will be a Knicks consultant starting next month, said he expects Jackson to do very well in his new job..
"I have no doubt he will [do well]," Walsh said by phone. "None. I know Mark very well. ... He's extremely bright. I don't mean just bright, but extremely bright. He knows the game inside and out. As a point guard, he was coaching on the floor most of the time.
"He's extremely confident. He also knows what he doesn't know. He will bring with him two of the best assistant coaches he can get."
While Jackson has long compared himself to Rivers in terms of his background and chosen path, Walsh called on the name of former Pacers coach Larry Bird. He had never been an assistant before his three-season stint began in 1997, yet went 147-67 overall and 32-20 in the playoffs with Jackson as his point guard.
"These guys know basketball, but they don't know the logistics of coaching and need guys to help through that," Walsh said. "They'll learn that in no time. When Larry came in as coach, he had two of the best, Dick Harter and [Dallas head coach Rick] Carlisle. He knew what he didn't know."
New Orleans assistant Mike Malone will fill one of those spots after he agreed on Tuesday to become Jackson's lead assistant. Malone appeared to be on his way to the Lakers as a lead aid for new coach Mike Brown, but was convinced that he should join an organization that might be on the rise.
"I think they've got new ownership that brings new life into a franchise, then they bring in Jerry, who's the best GM since I've been in the league, and then go out and get an exciting young coach like this?" Walsh said. "I think they're going to change things around."