Commentary

Be like Mike? Stack has been there

Nets vet has been in Jordan's shadow, emerged from it -- and been MJ's teammate

Updated: February 17, 2013, 5:21 PM ET
By Mike Mazzeo | ESPNNewYork.com

No one has scored more points in one game at Chicago's United Center than Jerry Stackhouse.

Not even the guy with the statue outside the place, one of Stackhouse's idols growing up in North Carolina, Michael Jordan.

On April 3, 2001, Stackhouse, then a Detroit Piston, had the best game of his NBA career, erupting for 57 points -- the most he has ever scored in his life -- in his team's 110-83 victory over the Bulls.

"You come out and kind of test your 3 out early in the game, and it was going. So I made a couple 3s, and then I really got into my trick bag and it just seemed like every move I made, every shot I took early on, went for me," the Brooklyn Nets swingman said Wednesday, reflecting on his memorable performance nearly 12 years after it occurred.

[+] EnlargeJerry Stackhouse and Michael Jordan
Sam Forencich/Getty ImagesJerry Stackhouse and Michael Jordan were Wizards teammates duirng the 2002-03 season.

Jordan held the previous record, scoring 53 points at the United Center in March 1996.

"It's one of the best feelings," Stackhouse said. "I go back and look at the highlights sometimes and there was some pretty good defense being played, but it's just the fact that I was on top of my offensive game. Good offense beats good defense any day."

If there's anyone who understands that, it's Jordan. During his 15-year career, Jordan, who will turn 50 on Sunday, scored 50 or more points in a game a staggering 39 times -- including six times in the playoffs.

"I definitely don't have fond memories playing against him," said Stackhouse, who was 3-11 versus Jordan during his playing career. The two later became teammates in 2002-03 with the Washington Wizards.

"He was just a natural scorer," Stackhouse said. "It's almost like you were surprised when he missed, and I think the great players, the great scorers like that, you almost feel like they're going to make every shot. And that's what I remember about him, was seeing all those great games, and at the end of the game, no matter if the game was hanging in the balance, just knowing he was gonna make the play."

Asked what separates Jordan, arguably the best NBA player of all time, from the rest of the pack, Stackhouse pointed to MJ's six championships.

"He's been a guy that has won consistently," Stackhouse said. "Obviously, he played at a high level, but he's backed it up by winning, and that's where at the end of the day, Kobe [Bryant], when he's done, he'll be able to have some of those arguments of being one of the greatest players too, because he not only will amass some incredible numbers when it's all said and done, but he's gonna have the championships to back it up, too.

"LeBron James, he's won a championship, and he's gonna be right there, you'd think, as far as the numbers go. So you can say maybe he's one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all-time players, but the only way that he can really back that up is to be able to be at the same level Michael Jordan's at in terms of winning championships."

Stackhouse, now 38, grew up in Kinston, N.C., where he watched Jordan win a national title with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 1982. Thirteen years later, Stackhouse guided UNC to the Final Four as a sophomore and took home Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year honors prior to being selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft.

Stackhouse is among the players who, over the years, has been tagged as "The Next Jordan." In 1995, Stackhouse was, like Jordan, a 6-foot-6 swingman from North Carolina, drafted third overall, with the ability to dominate games. But Stackhouse, who never lived up to that label -- only Bryant has come close -- said it was an unreasonable one in the first place.

"I never really looked at it [that way] because we didn't play the same position," Stackhouse said. "My whole time at North Carolina I played the 4. So it was like I didn't even look at that coming into the pros. I thought of myself as a small forward.

"I guess before the comparison, everybody else wanted to make me into a shooting guard -- and I was drafted as a shooting guard. But I never played guard before at all. I could handle the ball pretty decently, get on the break and do things, but I was used to playing with my back to the basket, so I had to learn how to become a shooting guard at the pro level, and was able to make myself into an All-Star doing that.

"To put any pressure on myself to say that I was going to be the next something when I hadn't played the position before until I was a pro -- I rolled with it because that's going to help me secure some endorsements and things like that. Yeah, I rolled with it. But as far as putting any added pressure on myself, I didn't do that. And the fact that I'm still here, I feel like my success is what it is.

"I never really tried to compare to Michael Jordan. Nobody should, because they wouldn't do themselves justice. It would definitely be a letdown to try to compare yourself to probably the greatest player to ever play, so I didn't allow other people to do that for me."

[+] EnlargeMichael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse
Vincent Laforet/Getty ImagesMichael Jordan was victorious in 11 of his 14 meetings with Jerry Stackhouse.

Stackhouse carved out a solid career for himself. In his 17 years in the NBA, he has averaged 17.0 points per game and made two All-Star teams. He was the sixth man on the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks squad that lost to Miami in the NBA Finals.

Before the 2002-03 season, the Pistons traded Stackhouse to the Wizards, where he teamed up with Jordan. The duo averaged 41.5 points per game -- 21.5 ppg for Stackhouse, 20 for Jordan -- but Washington went just 37-45 and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Jordan, then 40, retired for the third and final time after the season.

"It was tough because it wasn't the Michael Jordan that I had been used to seeing. He was still good, but he wasn't the great player I competed against up until a few years earlier than that, the guy that I saw win back-to-back-to-back championships," Stackhouse said. "But his approach to the game and his work ethic was just like anything.

"It was good to have the experience of playing alongside one of your idols, to be able to get the camaraderie. Nobody has more fun away from the game than Michael Jordan. He has fun. Whether it's on the plane playing cards or going out to dinner or having fun. I don't think people realize that about him because they see all the seriousness on the court, but he's as funny and fun-loving guy as you're going to see away from the game."

Could Jordan average double figures in scoring in the NBA at age 50, as Antawn Jamison recently said?

"I mean he has enough, just understanding, and he's gonna take enough shots to where he could average 10 and probably whoever's coaching him is gonna have to play him enough to be able to do that," Stackhouse said. "But I just think consistently, I don't think he could play heavy minutes. The body ain't made to do that without breaking down.

"You could let Michael Jordan get in shape and play 10 games, and not have to play any more, [and] he could probably average 15 and have a 20-point game in there somewhere, too. But for an 82-game season, I think it'd be a stretch to still say that he could average double figures."

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