San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich made Stephen Jackson pick between drugs or title

Stephen Jackson had to make a decision early in his career between drugs or a championship, and he clearly made the right one.

Stephen Jackson holds quite an interesting place in NBA history. He was part of the infamous “Malice at the Palace” incident, but he is widely regarded as a great teammate by most players. The man known as “Captain Jack” told an interesting story on Wednesday to ESPN’s Ryen and Russillo show, and it was even more extreme than what we’ve become accustomed to. Jackson was approached by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich with a choice during Summer League in 2001.

 “I remember playing great,” Stephen said. “And after the last game, we’re just sitting there, and Pop was like, ‘I need to talk to you.’ He was like, ‘Jack, you had a great summer league, you’re playing well, I really want you on my team, but there’s only one way you’re going to make my team: During the season, you can’t smoke weed, Jack. You just can’t do it. I need you focused. I need you on your game, because you know we have a chance to win a championship, and I need you focused.’ And once he told me that, I shut it down. I shut it down. The NBA was way more important than weed. Trust me.”

Jackson started 58 games for the 2003 NBA champion Spurs, and then he left in free agency. “Captain Jack” probably wishes in hindsight that he had stayed in San Antonio, but he certainly was able to have more freedom after leaving town. He has admitted to smoking before games with the Golden State Warriors, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he indulged while with other teams as well. Former head coach Don Nelson even supported the habit according to Jackson.

Popovich’s legacy as a leader is unparalleled, and this latest story only proves that even more. Jackson wouldn’t have a title without Pop’s advice. That is for sure.

“I played two years there and won a championship,” Stephen said. “Everything he said was going to happen if I did my part — if I played defense, stopped smoking weed, I would win a championship, and I would be a starter on a championship team — and it all came true.”

Jackson is no stranger to being controversial. He also said recently that the best five players in the “Big3” league could beat a couple of current NBA teams. That is debatable, especially if “Captain Jack” is up to his old tricks. But maybe they’d have a shot if Popovich came in as the coach to put Jackson back on the straight and narrow.



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