Mark Jackson, Stephen Curry and The Golden Gate Bridge
Two years ago, Mark Jackson was calling NBA games for ESPN alongside Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen. It was apparent from his announcing that he had a very old fashioned, hard-nosed sense of the game.
When Golden State named him as coach in June of 2011, they were taking a pretty large leap of faith. Although Jackson had been played in the league for 17 seasons, he had absolutely no coaching experience.
He did have a bit of pedigree due to his experience in the playoffs and with a great shooter, when he played with Reggie Miller and the Pacers. And I absolutely believe that experience has helped him and Steph Curry succeed, but there is no way of knowing how that would translate during the hiring process when he was without experience.
Golden State was a franchise that had been a perennial lottery team for the last decade. Calling the hiring of a coach with no actual coaching experience 'a leap of faith' is being exceptionally kind.
The Warriors had a frustrated fan base, no defense, and two nearly identical players in Stephen Curry and Monte Ellis. And now you're going to tell me they hired a guy who has never coached a game in his life to bring this team together?
Well, two years later, that's exactly what happened. They traded Ellis for Andrew Bogut, and then traded for Jarrett Jack. They drafted 3-point bomber Klay Thompson and two great role players in Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. They signed Carl Landry from free agency. And Stephen Curry broke out to emerge as an absolute star. If Brandon Rush had stayed healthy, their bench would have been loaded.
Two years ago, how many Dubs fans would have guessed that their team would be in the second round of the NBA playoffs and that Stephen Curry would be one of the best players in the playoffs, trailing only Lebron James and Kevin Durant? And all of this despite losing their second-best player in David Lee.
A quick Steph Curry tangent about his unbelievable play thus far: in a sensational Game 4, Curry not only scored 22 points in the third quarter, he scored 22 points in just over six minutes. I'm no math professor, but I'm pretty sure that's just over 3.5 points per minute. Watch the video, I promise it's worth a view, and keep in mind that it all happened in six minutes. Just six minutes! Incredible.
I believe that good NBA coaches imprint their personality onto the DNA of their teams. The Golden State Warriors definitely play like Mark Jackson. They have improved significantly on defense, mostly due to toughness, yet they exude confidence and flair in the offensive end. They take the mentality, “We might not be better than you, but that doesn't mean we can't kick your ass.”
Good coaches instill a personality and sense of identity to a team. Great coaches do whatever they need to do for their team to win. That's exactly what Mark Jackson did last week when he started complaining about the physical play, particularly on Steph Curry, after Game 5. Jackson was lambasted by most media outlets, who seemed to be oblivious of what the Dubs coach was actually doing.
Mark Jackson knew that his team had actually been the more physical one in the series. He knew that Denver would most likely ratchet up the pressure on Curry in an attempt to knock him down and throw him off of his game. In a March interview with Warriors great Chris Mullen, Jackson even said it's what he'd do to Curry if he were the opposing coach.
But Mark Jackson channeled his inner Phil Jackson, and decided to play some mind games with the officials, George Karl, and the media.
As an official, you know that due to those comments, every physical play in which Curry is involved will be scrutinized more. The announcers are going to mention it, the media is going to write about it, and maybe most importantly, any perceived lack of fouls called casts a poor image on the NBA. Officials can claim impartiality all they want, but it is difficult to deny the human impulse involved here.
And there is a second part to what Mark Jackson accomplished with his comments about rough play. He is defending his players. If Stephen Curry complains to the media after the game about being roughed up, he is labeled a soft sore-loser, and ultimately no one takes him seriously. If Mark Jackson takes that heat instead, Curry is now free to claim the pressure didn't bother him and that they'll have to play harder in Game 6. Which is exactly what he said.
Great coaches take the heat for their players. Great coaches understand that mind games can be effective. And great coaches bring out the best in great players. That's exactly what's happening with Mark Jackson and Stephen Curry.
And for Golden State fans, as Bill Simmons wrote last week, I'm not sure there could be a better match of a fan base and a player. Dubs fans love basketball and they love scoring, but most of all they love winning. With the guidance of Mark Jackson, Stephen Curry can provide all of that.