The following is the next in a series of “Lob City Memories” that will highlight some of the standout people, moments and games from the six-plus years of Lob City in Los Angeles. Over the next couple of months, we will look back at things a little more obscure than a Spurs series victory, Chris Paul buzzer beater over Tony Allen, Blake Griffin alley-oop off Jamal Crawford’s between-the-legs pass, or DeAndre Jordan humiliation of Brandon Knight. Part 4 of Lob City Memories looks back at the near month in 2013-14 when Stephen Jackson was a member of the Clippers.
While reciting last week’s memories of Doc Rivers’ return to Boston, I intentionally left out a small, bizarre tidbit. The night before Rivers coached from the visitor’s bench of his former haunt, mercurial forward Stephen Jackson arrived at the team hotel and would go on to play 12 minutes against the Celtics.
In one of the more bizarre signings of the season, for any team, Jackson’s 26-day, 9-game tenure with the Clippers will soon vanish from a vast majority of memories, if it hasn’t already. However, I’ll remember it always for two disparate reasons.
First, Jackson was one of my oddball favorite players. The 2006-07 Warriors were straight-up awesome for many of the wrong reasons. But for someone who had a penchant for liking athletic wing players and guards with a potential streak of crazy, that team was an all-timer. They certainly caused most of my excitement for the Clippers signing Baron Davis a few years later, and as much as I liked Davis, Captain Jack was a scene stealer. His toughness and glare, his rawness and well-roundedness and fearlessness made it hard to look away. So, when it was nearing 10 p.m. in Boston on December 10, 2013 and Jackson walked through the hotel lobby with a Clippers staffer, it was oddly surreal.
Keep in mind, I went through the Chris Paul trade and press conference, the Doc Rivers acquisition, and multiple playoff rounds with the team. Blake Griffin, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, China, All-Star weekends, etc. None of those things made me as nervous as interviewing Elton Brand when he was on his way out of the league with the Hawks and Jackson walking through those doors.
Jackson greeted myself and a third staff member with a half-hug handshake, and agreed to allow us to film an exclusive interview for Clippers.com and write an accompanying story. He brought us to his hotel room, signed his contract in front of us, and immediately yanked a pair of red, white, and blue Jordans from his duffle bag (even though he had worked out with the team a couple of days earlier). He talked with the brash confidence you’d expect, his Port Arthur drawl ever-present. Jackson lived up to the legend of Stak5. He just couldn’t play up to it any longer.
Second, the Jackson signing was part of a bizarre trend of decisions from Rivers’ four years as President of Basketball Operations. He had an affinity for former players or players who succeeded against him in the playoffs. And if all else failed, Rivers would chase veterans he “trusted.”
Here’s a look at some of the guys Rivers acquired as free agents (either in-season or over the summer) during that stretch:
Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, Alan Anderson, Mo Speights
Lance Stephenson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich, Jeff Green (trade)
Jordan Farmar, Spencer Hawes, Ekpe Udoh, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jared Cunningham, Nate Robinson, Dahntay Jones, Austin Rivers (trade)
Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Sasha Vujacic, Darius Morris, Darren Collison, JJ Redick, Jared Dudley (trade)
I mean, there are A LOT of Stephen Jacksons in there, and that’s not including some of the players passed over in favor of others on the above list, whether it was JaMychal Green or Joe Ingles. Jackson’s signing for me was probably the most ludicrous, although Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic are close. Jackson hadn’t scored 10 points per game since 2010. He shot 28-30 percent from 3-point range in his previous three seasons. He didn’t even pass the eyeball test, arriving at least 10 pounds heavier than he played the year before in San Antonio.
The Jackson signing was ominous for what was to come for the Clippers and an indictment overall for the coach-GM dual role. In what is likely no coincidence, former Rivers assistant Tom Thibodeau is falling into the same trap in Minnesota, currently trying to recreate the 2010-11 Bulls. The 2013-14 Clippers were in many ways a recreation of the 2010 Eastern Conference All-Star ballot, with Granger, Jamison, and Jackson all making a case. It’s just that Rivers seemed to constantly forget he wasn’t living out a Netflix reboot of Back to the Future.