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Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Jesse gave us closure, finally

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Last Wednesday he was on CNN answering the questions about his relevance and how it felt to be 65.

Last Thursday he was in Pontiac, Mich., campaigning for attorney general Amos Williams and to help prevent Proposal 2 from going into effect.

Ben Wallace and Jesse Jackson
With the help of Jesse Jackson, Ben Wallace and Ron Artest closed the door on The Brawl last Friday.
Last Friday he was inside the Sacramento Kings' locker room.

Praying.

But this time there were no cameras, no invited media pundits, no staged junket -- nothing to serve his personal purpose, like so many of the "events" he shows up at where he's accused of being there for himself and not for the people in the middle of the storm.

This time Jesse Jackson was legit. Sincere. He knew this had nothing to do with him.

He first went to the Bulls' locker room and asked Ben Wallace to come with him. Unable to say no, Wallace followed him down the corridor into the locker room of the team that had just beaten the Bulls by one, after the Bulls had a four-point lead with 17 seconds left.

Back in the mirrored area, where the media is not allowed, Ron Artest was finishing getting dressed.

Ron, meet Ben. Ben, meet Ron. Let us pray.

It was the first time since they initiated the brawl in Detroit almost two years ago that Wallace and Artest had been face-to-face in the same room. It was a moment the Reverend had to be a part of, if not cause.

Amens said, hugs given, within minutes it was done. Over. Wallace left the locker room, Artest finished getting dressed.

Afterward, both talked.

One saying he held "no grudge" towards the other; the other saying he was "kinda over it."

"But," Artest added before leaving the locker room, "it was always in the back of my mind. It was good to get a chance to talk to [Ben]. I always wanted to talk to him. To take a hit like that, not playing in the NBA a whole year, I was frustrated. It was good that I had a chance to talk to him and finally say, 'Wassup.' "

Wallace went one step further. "It was a nice gesture [of Jackson]. We had already talked on the floor. There's no hard feelings. It is what it is. All that stuff is in the past."

But the reality is, that "stuff" is not in the past. We are still dealing with it. And the culture of sports in this country will be dealing with it every day until every amendment in David Stern's four-month-old mission statement is in the DNA of every player in the League -- or something worse happens.

The socioeconomic, sociological, sociobehavioral, socioethical, psychological and racial aftereffects of that Wallace-Artest-initiated incident are still haunting everyone connected to sports. And even though those two seemed to have moved past it, it was something that remained unsettled, still lingering in our lives.

Which is something Rev. Jackson knew, even though Artest and Wallace may not have been aware of it. He knew that "acknowledging" each other before the game was not enough. Which is why he brought them together, even after they had settled things on their own. He knew this one needed closure.

And even though they didn't call him, he was called to do this. To go beyond a peace treaty or international negotiation or serving as a family spokesperson; to step up and do something that no one else thought was necessary, to think about healing souls instead of healing wounds; to be inside a bathroom with two NBA superstars, holding hands, heads bowed.

Praying.

And the fact that no one was summoned there to document the moment spits volumes. The fact that Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune and Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee were the only writers to highlight the moment is so opposite what Jesse Jackson has been criticized for being 'bout: Jesse Jackson.

That's all.

For so long he's been accused of being a lot of things -- grandstander, opportunist, philanderer, agitator, instigator are just a few words that often accompany his name -- but being a bird of prey in this was not one of them.

In the name of sports -- of which he is a huge fan -- Jesse Jackson came genuine. No hidden agenda, no self-indulgent prophecy, no political posturing, no grandstanding. No selfishness.

Just selflessness.

Ben Wallace and Ron Artest
This just looks good, doesn't it?
He came because deep down he knew how much Ben Wallace and Ron Artest needed to find peace in their lives in front of each other, and how much the game of basketball needed this to cleanse itself of that demon that has been following it ever since that Nov. 19 day.

He came because deep down he knew how, spiritually, David Stern and the NBA needed this. There's only so much a mission statement, zero-tolerant refs, an enforced dress code and a new ball can heal.

He came with the audacity to hope. To hope that a difference could be made through him, not because of him.

"They had prayer and [will] move on to the next level," Jackson said to Smith, who wrote about the issue in his column on Sunday. "It was important for them and for the sport and for children who watch the game. These scars must not be terminal scars."

Up until Friday night, it seemed as if the scars might be not only terminal, but permanent. Everlasting. But thanks to what the critics would no doubt call "an uncharacteristic, atypical gesture" by one of society's greatest civil and human rights leaders, the final sentence to the worst chapter in American sports history is officially complete.

Now we can all move on.

Now, I'm not going to go so far as to say the NBA needs Jesse Jackson instead of Stu Jackson. But, for one night in the first week of the season, a very sincere exception to the rule was made.


Last Saturday I was at my youngest son's Biddy League game.

With 38 seconds left, with one team about to win by 10, one player ran up to another player during an out-of-bounds play and bumped him. Hard.

A punch was thrown. It connected. Benches emptied. Coaches, refs, parents and supervisors grabbed kids and separated everyone. Order restored, the game resumed.

The seconds ticked off the clock. All the players from each team shook hands after the game. All except two.

They were placed in separate rooms. Neither one of them was mine, but after Friday night, the responsibility of being selfless was.

As I was leaving the gym, one of the directors, the league commissioner, who was in a room with one of the kids involved in the incident, called my name.

"Mr. Jackson," he said to me, "can you come here for a moment and talk to the players?"

Now I know how Jesse felt.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He appears regularly on "Quite Frankly" and other ESPN shows. He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.