Stephen Jackson, who announced his retirement from basketball one year ago and last played an NBA game in January 2014, is attempting a comeback at age 38. He talked with HoopsHype about getting ready and other topics like Kevin Durant‘s move to the Bay Area, LeBron James‘ legacy and more.
Last year you announced your retirement and you were having success as an NBA analyst. So why do you want to play again?
Stephen Jackson: I’ve been blessed to be healthy, I’ve been blessed to have a 14-year career and never have [serious] injuries, no surgeries. So at the end of the day, God is still telling me I still have basketball left. I definitely enjoy doing the ESPN stuff, but I have two more years of basketball and I love the game. Obviously I’m not chasing the ring because I already have a championship so I just want to get back and take advantage of the game I have left. I know I have two good years left.
How has the process been?
SJ: The process has been really easy for me because I really never worked out this hard. I gave myself seven months to work out, to make sure I wouldn’t have any setbacks, to make sure that I wouldn’t have any injuries. My body feels great. As I started working out, I realized that I still have basketball left and why not go back to the NBA where I belong. I wasn’t going overseas, I wasn’t doing nothing that I felt was a setback. Then people started seeing me working out, and teams started calling me. I never really stopped playing, I just stopped playing in the NBA.
I read you told Jimmy Butler that if any team signs Ray Allen before you they’re losing their mind…
SJ: Well, actually not a lot of people know that Jimmy has been calling me. We’ve been talking for like three months now. Even [Rajon] Rondo has been calling me, they really want me on the Bulls team. I’ve been talking to a lot of guys, because guys know what I bring. There’s not many guys like me. There’s probably one or two guys in the NBA like me that can play both ways and don’t mind really shutting the guy down. I’m a winner, I’ve been in the playoffs many years. Guys know I’m a great teammate, Tim Duncan called me the ultimate teammate. I know how to play good for the guy next to me. I’m getting calls and I will be ready and that’s the biggest part.
Have you spoken to someone from the Warriors organization about your comeback?
SJ: Well, I spoke to Steve Kerr, who is a great friend of mine. We won a championship together in 2003 and he’s seen videos of me working out, he’s seen videos of me playing. He knows how I approach the game, that I play with great passion. So he knows I can still play. I haven’t agreed to do anything with Golden State. My thing is that I’m not really trying out for anybody. I know how to play the game, I know what I bring. I’m just waiting for the right situation where somebody knows that I’ve played for a long time, that I am a champion. I want to compete, I want to have fun with the game. I want to play against the best team, that has always been my attitude.
You’ve said you would be a perfect fit with the Knicks. Why?
SJ: The Knicks are a great team too. Anytime you can play with a great player like Carmelo Anthony and a young, up-and-coming star like Kristaps Porzingis… Also they have Joakim Noah. They are going in the right direction. I want to be part of a team that wants to win. Guys that are trusting each other, guys that don’t mind playing hard. There’s a lot of guys in the NBA right now that are making money but they really don’t care if they win or lose as long as they are getting the paycheck and I’ve never been like that. That’s the sad part of the NBA right now, that there are some players that are making a lot of money but they don’t really care about winning games and bringing the championship or a winning season to the organization, and that’s what the fans are complaining about. And that’s why a lot of fans want me back in the game. Because they know I appreciate the game, I’m not just there to get a paycheck.
Do you have a deadline set on the calendar for making a decision about your future?
SJ: I know that I have to make a decision by mid-September. Now it’s August, coaches and GMs are getting back from vacation. So right now, me I’m just doing what I’ve been doing. I’m playing in a great League, the AEBL here in Atlanta, getting in great shape.
Baron Davis is trying to return to the NBA too and Derek Fisher is open to the idea. Have you been in contact with them or any other player who is looking for an NBA comeback?
SJ: First, I don’t talk to Derek Fisher. He’s not my type of guy. Matt Barnes is my buddy. I really don’t believe in playing with a guy… You know two or three years on a team and then dating his wife. That’s just something NBA players don’t do. I never believed in that. He went against the code 100 percent. On the other hand, Baron is my brother, we talk every day. We’ve been close friends since we were 16 years old. I really think Baron Davis could come back to the NBA. Baron was dominant for a long time in the league. I watch him play now, even with two knee injuries, and he’s still moving well.
Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. Do you understand his decision?
SJ: Well, it’s all about winning. You can’t be really mad at Durant, he wants to win. He had the chance to win last year with the Thunder against Golden State but he didn’t. Me personally, I would have stayed, give it a shot and stay loyal to the organization. There’s no other guy in the NBA like Russell Westbrook, he’s a triple-double assassin every year. But you have to respect this man’s decision.
Are the Warriors unbeatable now?
SJ: Just because they have a great team doesn’t mean they are going to win, they still have to go out there and get the job done. But they are still the best team in the league, even with San Antonio getting Pau Gasol. Cleveland? They didn’t get any better. Mike Dunleavy? That’s not getting better. Meanwhile, the Warriors got better: KD, David West, Zaza Pachulia… And they’ve got a great coach in Steve Kerr.
What was the key in the last NBA Finals and what does this title mean for LeBron James’ career?
SJ: He is definitely in my mind one of the Top 5 players to ever play the game, if not Top 3 behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. The way they came back to win the championship, winning in seven games… It was epic. He has now a coach that has played the game and knows what it takes to win. Coach Tyronn Lue had a great shooter like JR Smith, and a guy like Richard Jefferson, who is not the most talented guy in the world, but he plays hard. And coach Lue made these guys to be hard-nosed defenders. I don’t think Golden State was ready for that physical type of basketball. Obviously when Draymond Green got suspended, which I think was a sucker move by the NBA, that really affected the series. But when you have LeBron and a guy like Kyrie Irving on your team, and you also have the other guys playing hard, you have a good chance. Kyrie and Lue were really instrumental for the Cavs.
Who are the best five players in the NBA nowadays?
SJ: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.