The Brooklyn native and former New York Knicks point guard said the Warriors will make the area “New York City West” in NBA circles, attracting the coveted free agents the franchise has always struggled to sign. He even predicted championship banners would follow.
“When you look at the success of the teams in this area, the A’s have had theirs. The Niners have had theirs. The Giants have had theirs. The Raiders have had theirs. And now we’re looking forward to ours,” Jackson said. “So, therefore, it’s about time. Sorry it took so long, but now we’re at the party.”
Well, not quite.
The Warriors have made the playoffs just once since 1994 and haven’t won an NBA title since 1975. About the only success the franchise has enjoyed is that fans in the basketball-crazy Bay Area regularly sell out Oracle Arena and can be as vocal as any in a market saturated with sports teams.
Jackson agreed to a $6 million, three-year deal to take over a team that went 36-46 last season. That was a 10-game improvement from the previous season but not enough to save Keith Smart’s job.
“We’re not going to accept mediocrity,” Jackson said, slipping into his Brooklyn accent and friendly slang that made him a broadcasting favorite. “You might as well hitch onto the bandwagon because things gone be a changing.”
Jackson was adamant that the team’s backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can be as successful defensively as it has been offensively. He said he looks forward to coaching Ellis – always the subject of trade talk – and wouldn’t move the team’s star guard for anything less than one of the league’s top players.
There’s still no telling what Jackson values most on the floor or what his coaching style will be. For all of Jackson’s accolades, he has never been a coach.
Not in college. Not in high school. Not even as an assistant or an understudy anywhere. He admits there are day-to-day things about being a coach that he’ll have to learn on the job, and that’s why his first order of business was to lure top assistant and friend Mike Malone to his staff.
The closest experience Jackson has to coaching is being a point guard for 17 seasons in the NBA and the on-court leader for five Hall of Famers – Lou Carnesecca, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley and Larry Brown – among others.
That still makes him a risky hire and a complete unknown.
Yet that’s just what new Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber relish about Jackson and the kind of chances they predicted when they bought the franchise last fall for a record $450 million. They have also hired Jerry West as a consultant and sports agent Bob Myers as assistant general manager and future GM.
All of them were part of Jackson’s interviews.
“He’s the most experienced guy, frankly, we met in the entire process,” Lacob said. “I know that’s a funny line to say given some of the comments out there. He hasn’t been in the seat and been a head coach in the NBA. But if you look at experience, it’s the whole thing that counts. Can he be a leader? Will the players respect him? Can he handle the media in a big market like the Bay Area? I can go through any number of things.
“And Mark, to me, was the most experienced guy on that list of people we met. And it wasn’t even close.”
Becoming an NBA head coach was years in the making.
Jackson spent the past few seasons as the lead analyst for ESPN and ABC, and he will cross the country back to Miami to finish his duties at the NBA finals. He spent that time picking the brains of coaches around the league during exclusive meetings the network has before games.
Jackson interviewed for so many coaching vacancies he can’t even recall the exact number but said he was a finalist in Atlanta, New York and Minnesota. He emerged from a field of about a dozen candidates, Lacob said, and the years of frustration of being turned down were visible.
Jackson, who is also an ordained pastor in the Los Angeles area, started to tear up when speaking about the opportunity to be a first-time coach and completing his lifelong basketball dream. He used to listen to Knicks games on the radio as a kid, envisioning himself as the star player, broadcaster and coach.
“I became that player. I became that broadcaster,” he said. “And the last thing in line for me was coach.”