(1986, St. John's wins Big East Tournament)
Leaders Are Born
Napoleon Bonaparte was a leader before he tasted victory in the Siege of Tulon. Julius Ceasar was designed for generalship before he led the Romans to Gaul, and expanded what is referenced even centuries later as the greatest empire in world history. Whatever divine or cosmic force that is responsible for the greatness of these men, it surely knew of their quality before the rest of us caught on.
Mark Jackson was a leader before he was a professional basketball player. The kid who electrified bystanders under the Brooklyn street lamps back in the projects, and the young St. John's marvel who's string music inspired the maestro to start up that Old Johnny fight song in front of thousands in attendance, could convince even the most casual spectator that he was indeed, special.
You see, it's only after the moment; after the Goliath has fallen slain and the champagne bottles have been emptied, that people are willing to recognize greatness. However, a leader's affirmation is his confidence, and you can not manifest something within, until it's been practiced with a demonstrative conviction.
In Jackson's case, and perhaps more appropriately the Warriors', there needs to be such an overwhelming demonstration of success for fans to even begin to stick their heads up and search the crowd for the glowing approval of fellow observers who've just lost their virginity to the almighty wow factor. Only then, by popular demand, does it seem acceptable to put your faith in someone and believe in them.
There must be something said for that.
A Worthy Introduction
A vote of confidence from an accomplished player, is a breeding ground for the growth of young talent. While still at St. John's, Jackson recalls the moment he met Isaiah Thomas. At the time, Thomas was one of the NBA's most preeminent playmakers.
''He just came up to me,'' Jackson said. ''He said, 'I really like your game, you're gonna be all right.' I don't know how much he realized it, but that meant a lot to me to have somebody like Isiah say that. I thought about it a great deal. So when I step on the court, I can push everything else aside, because I know I've already got the respect of someone who's at the top of his class. That's when I knew I was headed in the right direction.''
Zeke wasn't the only one impressed. The coach of St. John's Basketball, along with many others gleamed about Jackson's early leadership.
''He made me a very proud man. I took every shot he took, and with every pass he made, I screamed, 'Great.' We've had some great passers at St. John's - Mark ranks with them.
- Lou Carnesecca
Jackson kept his coach proud and screaming when he plunged head first in the fiery lake of competition that is the NBA. In his first game, at the Garden, he went up against one of the best.
''I like the way the kid played,'' said Dennis Johnson, the Celtics' all-star guard who was matched against Jackson for 35 minutes. ''He's a New York kid and there had to be a lot of pressure on him making his first start before a capacity crowd. He handled himself well. He reminded me some of Walt Frazier in the way he played.''
It seems Jackson has a knack for first impressions. Joe Lacob was certainly convinced enough to provide him a dotted line over a list of tenured suitors. Deseree Coleman would become Deseree Jackson not long after dinner, one night in a New York restaurant. Some of the toughest fans in America embraced Mark and stood behind him to witness maybe the greatest introduction in point guard history. Will Jackson continue his midas trend of creating believers on the Warriors fan base? ...his proximity dynamic suggests so.
Jackson's confidence would set the table for his rookie season as a catalyst for the Knicks. He would average nearly 11 assists per game (10.6) - Something no rookie in the NBA had ever done, and would also shatter a record with 868 assists that season. The belief of his coach, Rick Pitino, would only add fuel to the fire.
''I could have called a timeout, and the worst that could have happened was that the game would have gone into overtime. But I have so much confidence in Mark doing the right thing to help us win that I let him go. He's done so much for this team. He's definitely not only the rookie of the year, but perhaps the sixth or seventh best player in the league this year.''
- Rick Pitino
His quest as an NBA player began in 1986. His quest as an NBA coach, begins tonight...
"...an extension of the coach."
A Player, Coaching in a Player's League
From the time Mark Jackson first picked up a ball, until his recent installment as the Warriors' new head coach...How many days in his life do you think his mind has been away from the game of basketball?
Whenever I imagine the epitome of great leadership, I reminisce on a picture from Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus". It depicts a general walking through his camp, inspecting his soldiers before the night of a great battle. Though the air is cold and the ground rocky and cruel, the men calmly sit by their fires, nodding approvingly and admiringly as the seasoned general passes by. They believe in him.
Jackson's natural talent as a communicator trumps his 17 years of experience as a player. Yes, his reputation as a player earns the initial respect, but it's his gift of watching people, recognizing their humanity, and then treating them thusly as individuals, that will be the glue that keeps the fabric of the tribe together.
The psychological art of push and pull is mastered through the role of a mediator. If confidence is all that matters in pro sports, then every player is literally his own greatest opponent. A great leader must stand between a player vs. himself in order to ensure that this confidence is sustained, or even rebuilt.
After all, a pastor should know better than anybody else that faith is the most delicate enterprise known to man.
I have faith in Mark Jackson.