Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors traded former Spur Stephen Jackson and Aggies alum Acie Law to the Charlotte Bobcats for guard Raja Bell and forward Vladimir Rodmanovic. In San Antonio, Jackson is recalled as a good teammate and the player who delivered clutch shots and silver swagger to the Spurs 2003 Championship season campaign, which, thanks to Tim Duncan, kicked off a dynasty. In cities like Detroit, Indianapolis, and now Oakland, Jackson is remembered by incidents that transpired off court, in the stands, and in a strip-club parking lot in the wee hours of the morning.
Jackson’s exodus from the Bay Area came months after he signed a new deal with the Warriors that reportedly pushed his salary to $40 million over five years. While the ink was still drying on his contract, Jackson expressed his desire to be traded, was fined $25,000 by the NBA for doing so, and demoted from his team-captain position. Baggage aside, Captain Jack is still loved in the Alamo City because for two seasons he gave us hints of a young Sean Elliot and, aside from a healthy Manu Ginobili, was the most athletic wing we had seen in a while.
Enter Richard Jefferson, a promising forward who, along with Tony Parker, will be the lynchpin for Spurs teams in years to come. The son of nondenominational Christian missionaries, he arrived in San Antonio with an NBA Finals pedigree and career averages of 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. Like Elliot before him, Jefferson came to the Spurs through Arizona, and displays a similarly healthy sense of humor.
Following a shorthanded November victory over the hated Mavericks, Jefferson smirked as he talked to reporters. “I’m extremely confident almost to the point of arrogance, so I feel like whenever we step on the court we have an opportunity to win,” Jefferson said.
The same day Captain Jack was traded to the Bobcats, Jefferson joked with media before practice when questioned about his own experiences on the NBA trading block. “The paycheck doesn’t change,” RJ chuckled. “I was happy to come to this situation. It didn’t matter if I got traded for a bag of chips or future considerations or anything. I’m glad to be here in this situation with a quality team.”
In addition to his humor, one of Jefferson’s more surprising and most welcome qualities is his passion for the game. On opening night RJ stood up to the New Orleans Hornets’ diminutive Chris Paul, something many NBA players aren’t willing to do, and his
fiery dunks have added some sizzle to San Antonio’s young season. After the win over the Hornets, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich talked about RJ in typical Pop fashion.
“I thought he was good,” said Coach Pop. “He’s supposed to be good. So, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like it’s a surprise. If he wasn’t good we’ll have big problems.”
Three nights later, Popovich offered a prospective timeline for Jefferson to fully adjust to the Spurs system. “After 15 or 20 games he’ll feel more comfortable than how he feels now,” Coach Pop told reporters after a blowout over the Kings. “He’ll know what people do and they’ll know what his skills are on the court. I’ll know how they fit also. I thought that tonight he was much more aggressive and more decisive about the things he did on the offensive end, and defensively he has taken pride in it. He’s trying to improve his game in that area and he’s trying to get it back to where it used to be, where he’s a heck of a defender, and he’ll do that again.”
Jackson returns to the Alamo City this month, when the Bobcats visit the Spurs for game 20 on the silver-and-black schedule. With nine contests under his belt, Jefferson has already distinguished himself from Spurs wings of the past but has much more to prove in order to eclipse them. As the two players take the court on December 11, Spurs fans may ponder what could have been if Captain Jack had remained aboard — perhaps that elusive back-to-back championship — but they should be more than happy with the current course. •