Stephen Jackson and the Great Wall of Static

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
4:01
PM ET

Stephen Jackson is on a bus, somewhere in China, on his way to see the Great Wall for the first time in his life.

At the moment, however, he is not sightseeing. He is talking on a special global cell phone, borrowed from a team P.R. rep. Thanks to a vast international network of towers, airwaves, and digital bits, his voice is transmitted from that bus outside Beijing to my dining room table, where I have a phone pressed to my ear, and a pen in hand.

He has lots of time, and I have lots of questions. It's time to get to know Stephen Jackson.

My first question is the same question I'd ask my mom in this situation. How's China?

John Paxson
Great Wall of China. Small Wall of Stephen Jackson Fans.
(Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

"Jack" hears me. This is a world of small miracles.

Being in China, he says, is great. It's a lot of travel, but he's happy to do his part to globalize and strengthen the NBA.

I point out that he is no stranger to international travel -- having played professionally, in his pre-NBA days, in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Australia. He points out that this time around, he's staying in the Ritz Carlton, and it's a lot better.

Then he says a bunch of other stuff about international travel, only that vast global network of towers, airwaves, and digital bits is now on strike, or in stroke, or worse.

Briefly he sounds like metal in the microwave. Then that fades, there are clicks, and finally, magically, " ... in the Dominican Republic, I mean ..." then more clicks, and dead air. 

He's talking D.R. The P.R. man is calling me back. We'll try again.

Jackson: "Can you hear me?"

Me: "Loud and clear now."

Jackson: "Good."

Moving right along. If losing parts of the conversation here and there is bad, losing the same conversation again and again is surely worse.

Me: "OK, let me ask you about mopeds. After what happened to Monta Ellis, is it taboo to joke about mopeds on that team?"

Jackson: "One thing about this team. There is nothing that's off limits in the locker room. Bad shoes, bad haircut, anybody can get it at any time, for anything. Plus, I'll tell you what. Monta's in Oakland right now, riding the bike, ahead of schedule. He's going to be back. And everybody makes mistakes. I'm a living testament to that. What matters is not the mistake, but what you do after that, and he's going to do great."

Me: "A moped, though ..."

Then Jackson starts talking, and I know it's going to be interesting. He's no chicken. He talks honestly. 

Only ... now he's C3PO again, speaking a rare form of droid dialect.

Angry digital bits, cranky digital journalist.

This is more or less what happened for the next half-hour. I asked questions on provocative topics.  Jackson tackled them earnestly and with flair. And here and there, between dropped calls, sad silences, and robot grunts, I managed to hear some parts of some answers. 

Some highlights:

  • Jackson says that negotiations on a contract extension with the Warriors are going very well: "I'm comfortable it'll be done in the next few weeks." He says he has a great relationship with "Bobby" (which can only be team President Robert Rowell) and owner Chris Cohan. Jackson says he doesn't believe in so-called contract years, "because I won a title in 2003 [with San Antonio] and still didn't get a deal."
  • He is resolute that the Warriors will be good. In no particular order, he says the eight playoff teams in the West will be the Warriors, Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Jazz, Blazers, Rockets, and Suns. 
  • There have been stretches, in the past, when Stephen Jackson has been among the very best defenders in the entire NBA. There have also been times when he has been his team's first-line playmaker (for instance in the absence of an injured Baron Davis). And there have certainly been many times he has been a leading scorer. Without Baron Davis, Matt Barnes, and Monta Ellis in the early part of this season, the Warriors will no doubt be counting on Jackson to be all that and a bag of chips. If he does all that, and the Warriors win like he says they will, I point out, he'll be in the MVP conversation. "I'm proud to do everything I can to help my team," he says. "I don't care about the awards. But this will sure be my best opportunity."
  • Laugh all you want at Jackson's close friend Stephon Marbury. Jackson realizes a lot of people think Marbury's crazy. But, he points out, almost nobody at Marbury's position has made that much money or put up those kinds of numbers. How crazy is that production? "And if the Knicks let him go, and somehow make the playoffs, I guarantee they'll be wishing they had that experience. ... And if he's not a Knick, I guarantee that we'll try to get him."
  • Jackson was sorry that he hadn't been able to watch the final presidential debate because it conflicted with a game.
  • Should Warrior fans feel betrayed by Baron Davis? "I look at it two ways," Jackson explains. "The first way is that it's a business. He got to go home, and he got the contract he wanted. Meanwhile the team opened things up for Monta, so it worked out beautifully for both parties. The second way ..." The straight story of Boom Dizzle, and the phone line straight boom fizzles. He's speaking in droid tongues. Connection severed.
We'll leave it there. It's too much. Impossible to talk. And the Warriors are arriving at the Great Wall anyway. That wonder of the world has been sealing out foreigners for ages. As far as I can tell, it's still working.

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