New-look Jackson, Warriors aim to build on late playoff success
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Jackson reported to the Golden State Warriors' training camp Monday with a new tattoo covering much of his chest. With a church window as the background, two praying hands are inked on his sternum -- and they're holding a gun.
Yes, this is the same Stephen Jackson who will miss the Warriors' first seven games under NBA suspension for pleading guilty to a felony charge of criminal recklessness after firing an awfully similar gun into the air at an Indianapolis strip club.
"I pray I never have to use it again," Jackson said in explanation.
Jackson's incredible audacity under the tattoo needle is stunning even to his teammates, who seem to be in a frantic competition to cover their entire bodies in ink.
"I can't believe that one," said Al Harrington, who redecorated his arms and back. "I thought I was crazy."
But Jackson's fearlessness is exactly why the Warriors love him -- and basketball's favorite playoff underdogs need a big season from the swingman now that Jason Richardson has departed along with the Warriors' element of surprise.
"We're going to have a full season together, and all the nonsense is behind me," said Jackson, perhaps also referring to his unfinished full back tattoo of the jack of diamonds -- with himself as the jack. "All my probation stuff is behind me. I don't have to worry about flying back and forth to court this year, so it's all positive. I'm ready to roll."
Jackson and Harrington transformed the Warriors in January after arriving in an eight-player trade with Indiana. With a fantastic late-season flourish, Golden State surged over .500 and made the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons -- and then knocked off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in arguably the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.
Jackson's 3-point shooting and veteran poise kept the Warriors in many close games, but he'll be asked to do even more this season after Jason Richardson was traded to Charlotte in a draft-day deal for No. 8 overall pick Brandan Wright. The deal disrupted the Warriors' core, and most of Richardson's former teammates didn't like it.
"J-Rich is one of the best, so when they traded him, I was hurt," Jackson said. "We made history in a couple of months. Just imagine what we could have done in a whole season. But at the same time, I put my trust in Chris Mullin and Nellie to make the right decisions."
The Warriors posed for team pictures at their training complex Monday in downtown Oakland before hopping a flight to Hawaii, where they'll open workouts and play two exhibitions against the Los Angeles Lakers.
With coach Don Nelson's protracted contract renegotiations finally wrapped up, everything seems harmonious for a franchise that actually believes it should get a playoff berth for the first time in a decade.
Baron Davis, the star of the Warriors' dramatic run to the postseason, said he won't opt out of his contract next summer if he doesn't get an extension this month, contrary to prior reports. Davis reported to camp lighter and quicker after offseason consultations with Jerry West and Steve Nash.
Harrington also lost 20 pounds during the summer to make good on a vow to improve his rebounding with better athleticism. Jackson dropped 17 pounds even though he says he "wasn't trying to. I'm a sexy guy, you know? It happens."
Though he won't turn 30 until next April, Jackson projects a steady veteran calm that belies his mercurial reputation. Aside from the strip-club gun incident, he's best known for his No. 2 role in the infamous brawl in the Detroit stands alongside then-teammate Ron Artest.
"There's a lot of stuff in Jack's past, but that's true of almost anybody if you stay in this game long enough," Nelson said. "We have great confidence in him as a player and a leader, and I think you'd hear that from most people who have spent time to really get to know Jack."
Nelson chose Jackson as a team captain this season along with Davis and Matt Barnes. Jackson, who won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs, welcomes the responsibility -- and he has accepted his seven-game ban for breaking up a fight in Indianapolis with a few gunshots into the air.
In fact, Jackson plans to serve his suspension in a way that only he could imagine. He says he'll get Warriors game jerseys from seven of his newest teammates, and he'll wear one in front of the television for each game.
"No, 15 [games] would have been harsh," Jackson said. "It could have been a lot worse. Seven games, I can't complain about it, because I put myself in that position to be suspended. I'm going to stay positive with it, work out and be ready when it's time to come back."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press