If you're a friend of Pacers' Jackson, he's got your back
In the concrete world of Port Arthur, Texas, where Stephen Jackson grew up, family and friends stuck together. Thick or thin, right or wrong, bonds were absolute, and when conflict arose, the plan was simple and direct: Act now and deal with the consequences later.
There was the time, for example, when he and a high school teammate, Isaac Washington, walked five miles across town to an unfamiliar park to play basketball. When their claim for the next game wasn't honored, an argument ensued. Washington was jumped by several of the locals, Jackson quickly joined the fray and a brawl erupted.
In the end, Jackson and Washington walked home together, their bodies bruised but their pride intact.
There also was the time someone fired a shot at his Uncle Samuel as he was leaving his house, hitting him twice in the arm. Jackson's aunts, church-going ladies all, hopped in a van and went looking for the man. With a rifle in tow.
And, there was the time . . . well, there were plenty of times in Port Arthur that called for unity in the face of trouble.
"That was my mentality growing up," said Jackson, the Indiana Pacers guard/forward. "It's the same with my friends today. If we go together, we leave together. There's no way I can be a man and call myself someone's friend if they're in a situation where something could happen to them and I don't go into battle with them."
All of which explains why, when Ron Artest rushed into the stands to confront a fan at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.) last season, Jackson was fast on his heels. Deaf to the shrieked pleas from his mother, Judyette, who was watching on television back in Port Arthur, and blind to the rules of decorum laid out by the NBA, Jackson's plan was to assist an outnumbered teammate. But amid the chaos of a blooming riot, with tossed beverages spraying his face and fans rushing toward Artest, Jackson was soon throwing punches.
It was an impulse that cost him a 30-game suspension and brought widespread criticism. Some commentators slapped the "thug" label on him, an accusation he has not forgotten or forgiven.
Isaac Washington, Ron Artest.
A city park, the Palace of Auburn Hills.
It's all the same to Jackson, whose childhood experiences aren't the kind to be rinsed off by the shower of an NBA contract.
"If you go, we all go. That's just how I was raised. I take care of my family."
That unseemly moment provided a tidy summary of the contradictions of Stephen Jackson. He's emotional and argumentative, certainly, but also loyal, fearless and honest.
Fans see the dichotomy played out in nearly every game he plays for the Pacers, including Friday's victory over Golden State. Jackson scored 30 points in an efficient, energetic performance, but he also hounded referees over calls that didn't go his way, walked around the court shaking his head when the game's proceedings didn't meet his approval, and spit out a bitter complaint toward coach Rick Carlisle when he was pulled from the game in the final minutes.
What they didn't see was his unbridled joy after the game in the locker room, where he joked with teammates and reporters. As exasperating as he can be to coaches and management at times, Jackson is a lubricant who bridges gaps and inspires smiles.
"He gets along with everyone, there's no question about that," Pacers center Scot Pollard said. "I don't think you could find a player on this team who says they don't like Jack. He's had words with guys at different times, but even those guys would say the same thing. He's an emotional guy and he rubs people the wrong way occasionally, but I don't have a problem with that. It goes back to, 'Does he care?' Yeah, he does. I'll live with it."
Jackson's family knows, too, after some hard-won experiences.
He was raised by his mother, Judyette, along with a younger brother, Donnie, and an older sister, Bianca. Mom had to go it alone most of the time, working the graveyard shift at an oil refinery among other jobs to support her children.
Jackson's relationship with his biological father was spotty at best, and he lost contact with him over the years. His stepfather, who helped raise him from the age of 3, was jailed for robbery and drug-related charges when Jackson was 13 and remained in prison for 13 years.
Jackson wrote letters to the parole board to assist his release, then welcomed him back into the family. But he has since relapsed into drug abuse and Jackson isn't sure of his whereabouts.
Jackson had a strong core of uncles who provided male influence and Judyette was twice as strong as most mothers need to be. Still, he was a handful. He admits to drinking, smoking and skipping class, and was jailed briefly a couple of times for fighting.
Along with the negative influences in Port Arthur, Jackson fought some imaginary demons. He had a recurring dream that the devil was under his bed, trying to pull him into hell. He'd wake up screaming and crying but eventually found a message in it.
"That was a way of God talking to me," he said. "It was a way of saying, 'Straighten your life out because this is where you're headed.' The Bible says, 'Respect your mother and father and your days will be long.' Once I did that, I started living better and I stopped having those dreams."
The family plan
Jackson credits his experiences and his faith for becoming a unifying force in his family. He has bought a handsome home in Port Arthur for his mother. Bianca lives in the house they occupied while Jackson was in high school. He bought it for sentimental reasons, to keep it in the family, and has the street address -- 3200 -- tattooed on his arm. He also bought a home for his grandmother.
During a crisis, however, they all stay with him. When Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast in September, Jackson chartered two airplanes at a cost of $50,000 and flew his relatives -- about 30 -- to Indianapolis. They piled into his six-bedroom home for nearly two weeks, filling every room.
For Jackson, it was an opportunity to pay back the people who helped raise him, to show them the fruits of his basketball labor and for everyone to show gratitude.
Church had been a requirement for the Jackson family while he was growing up in Port Arthur, and attendance remained mandatory at his house. They conducted a service in his basement, with his aunt preaching, his nieces and nephews forming a choir and everyone reading a scripture. Jackson put on a suit to make it seem more realistic.
"It was great," he said. "It was something I needed."
Sometimes, Jackson's tribal instincts have to be curbed. As recently as last year, he had as many as nine friends and a cousin living with him. At his mother's urging, he's moved everyone out but his cousin, Marlon.
"He always wanted to have his friends with him," Judyette said. "But people have to go on with their lives and sometimes you have to tell them that."
Besides, Jackson no longer has room for live-in friends. He has six children by three mothers, along with a stepson. Three live in Texas, two are with his fiancé in Atlanta along with the stepson, and one lives in London. The latest addition, Stephen Jr., was born last month.
Jackson says that will be his last child, but he has no regrets. He's grateful to have had them while he's young and to be able to support them all financially.
"When I retire, I'll have a lot to do," he said, smiling.
He and his fiancee, Melissa, were scheduled to marry last summer in Houston, but with a large cast of relatives and friends on hand they called off the ceremony at the last moment because of a dispute over a prenuptial agreement.
"I couldn't eat for four or five days," he said. "I was hurt and she was hurt. We should have been more professional about it. We should have had more trust in each other."
They plan to marry this summer, this time with only a few friends and relatives on hand.
Big or small, the post-wedding plans will be the same: Stay together.
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