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Spurs 50 for 50, Number 32: Stephen Jackson

A journeyman becomes an integral part of the Spurs second title hunt

Stephen Jackson shoots over Jefferson

This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and their consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made the franchise one of the most successful of all time. As we look back on the Silver & Black, we recognize the top 50 players in Spurs history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.

32 - Stephen Jackson

Among other things, this series is a fun exercise in how you choose to weigh the tenures and profiles of dozens of different former players. Some hung around longer and were unflinching stewards of the quote-unquote Spurs’ way. Others, like Jackson, are less straightforward to unpack — unapologetically fiery figures whose names elicit a wider range of emotions — but that’s part of what makes them memorable.

Cap’n Jack had 2 contrasting tenures in San Antonio, serving as near-bookends for his well-traveled NBA career. The latter straddled the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and ended with the 35-year-old being unceremoniously waived by the team after falling out of the rotation and amid concerns he’d become a locker room issue. (If nothing else, the unhappy reunion helped grease the gears on Kawhi Leonard’s ascension as his arrival came on the deal that sent incumbent starter Richard Jefferson to Golden State.) To date, I believe he is the only Spur to have been fined for a threatening tweet.

In his first stint, however, a much younger Jackson emerged as a key piece in a championship squad, helping turn 2 close-out games on their heads with his brand of fearlessness and outside shooting. A 2nd round pick in 1997, Jackson’s path to the NBA required stops in Australia, the Dominican Republic and the CBA before joining the New Jersey Nets in 2000-2001. Not retained the following summer, he signed with San Antonio and overcame an injury-plagued first season to become a starter, respected teammate and much-needed safety valve as defenses honed in on Tim Duncan in the postseason.

Against Dallas in Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals, Jackson was crucial in thwarting a zone that had all but succeeded in pushing the series to 7. Down 63-48 in Dallas with a few minutes left in the 3rd, Jackson lit the fuse on the Spurs’ 42-15 scoring run and ended the night with a game-high 24 points and 5 threes. Game 6 of the NBA Finals followed a similar script, albeit on the Spurs’ home turf, as Jackson’s outside shooting provided some of the biggest haymakers in a 19-0, series-clinching run after the Spurs fell behind 72-63 in the 4th.

You’ll struggle to find many career arcs as compelling, even Forrest Gumpian, as Jackson’s, who saw a decent amount of the world before even donning an NBA jersey, outshined Kobe Bryant in the 1996 McDonald’s All-America Game, helped win a title in his early 20s (against the team that had just let him go, no less), was a prominent figure in the Malice at the Palace, a key piece of the We Believe Warriors, and one of the only bright spots in the history of the Charlotte Bobcats. That he became perhaps more synonymous with things other than the Spurs speaks to the shape his career took. For those reasons and more, he’s a tricky Spur to reconcile on a list. Probably not the last, either.

Next up: Even your favorite player is expendable over time

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