The key to life is being a palm tree instead of an oak.
It’s an idea based on flexibility. Palm trees never fight the wind when storms arise, they bend and flow with it to survive. Oaks, on the other hand, stand tall and firm. You’re bound to eventually break that way.
Mark Jackson is an oak tree in an era in which NBA franchises prefer their head coaches to be as flexible as palm trees. Jackson’s name seems to come up every offseason or whenever a head coaching job opens up.
The question that’s often asked about why Jackson hasn’t been hired is a valid one, given that Jackson is a really good coach in a time in which diversity amongst head coaches in sports is a hot topic. But what people don’t seem to understand is that Jackson’s inability to land a job on the sidelines is less about his skill and talent, and more about who he may be behind closed doors.
Let me explain.
In Marcus Thompson’s 2017 book, “Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry,” there’s a cringeworthy and hilarious moment in which Jackson, who is also a pastor, invited Curry to his church. Mind you, this is back when Curry was dealing with those ankle injuries that hobbled him early in his career. According to Thompson, Jackson’s ex-wife gave the sermon that day and prayed over Curry’s ankle. And after she was done, they told him to run around the church proving that he had been healed.
Now, I’m not one to ever doubt God or miracles, as I’ve seen a few in my day. But, having your franchise player run around the sanctuary while you’re his head coach doesn’t seem like the best idea. But, for what it’s worth, Curry hasn’t had any major ankle problems in years.
Back in 2013, we found out that cursing wasn’t allowed in Jackson’s locker room, or it was at least frowned upon.
“Now, the last three minutes, I don’t know where all that sh*t came from. Stuff, stuff, stuff. Sorry, I forgot about this locker room.”
That’s what Reggie Miller said when he spoke to Jackson’s Warriors team after they knocked the Denver Nuggets out of the playoffs in the first round back in 2013. Miller came in to congratulate his former teammate’s squad, as TNT aired the interaction. It’s hard to imagine a locker room in 2013 full of grown men not being allowed to cuss. But, could you imagine that happening today in any sport on the college or pro level?
There’s no way Jimmy Butler or Patrick Beverly would ever go for that.
And then there’s this, from one of Jackson’s former players.
“We were huge fans of Mark, he was the ultimate players’ coach and was one of my favorite coaches of all time... But once they want you out, they’re gonna find something,” said former Warrior Andre Iguodala last year.
“One particular issue from what I heard was his views on gender, marriage, or what the Bible said on your sexuality. Our head of our business, Rick Welts... He was a genius in business and celebrated as one of the top execs in sports on the business side. He’s gay, so there were conflicts with that that were widespread.”
That line of thinking, if true, will keep you from a head coaching job in almost every sport.
Jackson has repeatedly denied the allegations.
However, the biggest knock on Jackson does have something to do with coaching basketball. Jackson had no head coaching experience before he took over the Warriors in 2011. And ironically enough, his successor, Steve Kerr, was another former player that had no coaching experience before being hired by the Warriors in 2014.
In Jackson’s last season his core group of players included Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, and Curry. That team went 51-31, was 12th in offensive rating, and fourth in defensive rating, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Clippers.
The very next season, Kerr had the same core group of players. His team went 67-15, was second in offensive rating, first in defensive rating, and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals.
What was the difference?
Jackson wanted to play a traditional style of basketball with Bogut at center, while Kerr created the “death lineup” of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala, and Green. With Green at center, it started the era of the “small-ball five” that was a nightmare for teams to match up with.
We also found out that Jackson had a very icy relationship with his bosses and refused to spend money on hiring better offensive assistant coaches, which is something that Kerr didn’t have issues with.
“I think [Kerr] will be great,” said Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob in 2014 about why he fired Jackson and hired Kerr. “And he did the one big thing that I wanted more than anything else from Mark Jackson he just wouldn’t do, in all honesty, which is hire the very best.
“Carte blanche. Take my wallet. Do whatever it is to get the best assistants there are in the world. Period. End of story. Don’t want to hear it. And (Jackson’s) answer ... was, ‘Well, I have the best staff.’ No you don’t. And so with Steve, very, very different.”
Not being able to “play the game” with his bosses, having an outdated offensive strategy, and sticking to a bunch of old school philosophies seem to be the formula that got Jackson fired, not his race. That concoction is also probably why he hasn’t been hired since.
I say probably because while Jackson serves as an NBA commentator for ESPN/ABC, he’s never really addressed the issue or used his platform to appeal to owners about why he would be the best man for an open job.
Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands, which is what we saw from Carmelo Anthony last summer when he called Stephen A. Smith up to do a one-on-one live interview to address the false narratives he felt were out there preventing him from being signed by a team. Three months later, Anthony signed with the Portland Trail Blazers and is a starter for one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
False narratives can be proven untrue if you force them to.
“He set the table for a lot of what’s happening now. He deserves a lot of credit,” said Kerr about Jackson in 2015.
“I didn’t; Mark Jackson did. Honestly. When I was in TV, I was doing Warriors games for years; every year they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Mark came in and made a focus of being a tough defensive-minded team,” is what Kerr said about Jackson two years later.
In every imaginable way, it’s been proven that Mark Jackson is good at coaching basketball. He should have had a job a long time ago and deserves to be up for consideration right now as multiple teams are looking to fill vacancies.
But in the end, Jackson’s return to the sidelines will ultimately be determined by him.
He’s going to have to bend a little.