Please know that ESPN has problems much bigger than Mark Jackson. The media colossus has been mismanaged and placed too many bazillions into sports rights fees, meaning it has climbed into bed with the leagues it covers, sold its journalistic soul and, simultaneously, lost more than three million subscribers this year. Analysts are urging clients to sell stock of the parent company, Disney, which once seemed as likely as Mickey Mouse needing Xanax.
The chief executive, Bob Iger, is more interested in helping the Raiders and San Diego Chargers secure a Los Angeles stadium deal and landing himself a future ownership stake in one of those franchises than bailing out his company. Jackson? ESPN doesn’t care what he says, as long as he’s not being critical of a league commissioner, a team owner or a network executive — you know, the money people.
But if anyone inside the building still is concerned about credibility, the network immediately will yank Jackson from all future Warriors telecasts on ESPN/ABC. As exhibited on Christmas Day, he has lost all ability to detach his personal feelings from what clearly remains a sore spot in his life: his dismissal as Warriors head coach two summers ago, which directly led to Steve Kerr’s hiring, the team’s rapid ascent to an NBA championship, Steph Curry’s rise to the Most Valuable Player award and a historic 28-1 start this season. Last spring, red flags went up when Jackson said Curry wasn’t his MVP choice, but it wasn’t a muzzle-able offense because some respected basketball people shared it and, you know, maybe Jackson truly believed it. But anyone in my profession who utters the following phrase about Curry in December 2015 regardless of what he’s trying to articulate — “he’s hurt the game” — simply shouldn’t be behind a mike calling games involving Curry and the Warriors.
That’s what Jackson said Friday while attempting to make a point, oddly enough, about why Curry’s outerworldly shooting spectacular is having a negative effect on high-school players now consumed with firing up long-range jumpers. Certainly, there was a way of saying that without making it seem like a criticism of Curry, who, once upon a time, was a slight teenager who had to change flawed shooting mechanics yet worked hard enough on his craft to become the greatest of shooters. Actually, if he’d thought entirely about his message, Jackson could have flipped his point into sound advice for young players:
Kids, emulate Steph’s work ethic and develop a clinical shooting touch and deep range, but as Curry himself will tell you, all the legends have complete portfolios on a court.
That’s it. And agreement would have been consensus. Because just as Michael Jordan and those dunking loons spawned a generation of kids who wanted to skywalk and didn’t bother learning how to shoot, a reverse effect could take place thanks to Curry. Explain it that way, Mark Jackson, and it’s a public service.
But to even utter those four words — “he’s hurt the game” — no, Steph Curry has not hurt the game in any plausuble or remote way. If Jackson’s mind wanders in such an irresponsible direction, no serious network executive can keep him on Warriors games. With Curry established as the biggest spectacle in sports and the Warriors front and center as a major sensation, ESPN/ABC will be broadcasting numerous games, many in the postseason. It’s unfair to any viewer, be it a Warriors fan or a hoops aficiando or just a casual watcher, to hear such drivel. If I wrote or said that Curry has “hurt the game,” my publisher either would suspend me or enroll me in rehab. It’s so preposterous, I can’t even imagine the biggest Warrior-basher of all, Charles Barkley, saying it.
Jackson said it.
“Steph Curry’s great. Steph Curry’s the MVP. He’s a champion. Understand what I’m saying when I say this. To a degree, he’s hurt the game,” he said. “And what I mean by that is I go into these high school gyms, I watch these kids, and the first thing they do is run to the 3-point line. You are not Steph Curry. Work on the other aspects of your game. People think that he’s just a knock-down shooter. That’s not why he’s the MVP. He’s a complete basketball player.
“People are not looking at that. That didn’t filter down when we had Michael Jordan. It didn’t filter down when you saw Kobe Bryant’s incredible all-time great footwork. We don’t fall in love with the things that make ‘em great. We fall in the love with things that they do great.”
Which would have been fine had he not said, “he’s hurt the game.” The young people who launch those shots, and the coaches who don’t corral them, may be hurting the game. But Curry isn’t hurting the game. In fact, he’s the best thing to happen to the game — and sports — in a long time.
At first, after the Warriors survived a slogfest with a Cavaliers team that went on to get skunked in Portland the next night, Curry was baffled when informed of Jackson’s comments, telling Yahoo Sports, “I don’t know what he means by that. If you can shoot, shoot. If you can’t, stop.” By Saturday, when reached by Bay Area News Group, he was a bit more understanding but still demanded this of Jackson: Find a better way to express your view, Mr. Professional Analyst.
“After I heard all of what he was talking about, I understand where he’s coming from – that being for the youth of today and how they watch us play or watch me in particular, and they want to go out and try to do the same thing,” Curry said. “It’s all about practice and routine and repetition that can help you get to that point, so you can’t skip that part of the process.
“I wish he would have phrased it just a little bit differently. I think I’m trying to inspire people to see the game differently in a positive way. … I get what he was saying. There was a compliment in there. Knowing him personally, I think that’s what he meant.”
Curry shouldn’t have to guess. But the tension surrounding Jackson’s firing is unfairly spilling in his direction. Warriors owner Joe Lacob didn’t like Jackson, thought a coaching change was necessary and, in retrospect, made a brilliant decision. And when Lacob trashed Jackson at a luncheon of venture capitalists last season — “Part of it was that he couldn’t get along with anybody else in the organization … you can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you,” he said — well, ESPN should have been watching closely to see if Jackson used network airwaves to strike back.
Twice now, he has taken contrarian stances on Curry that appear to be more than coincidental. It’s a deep, unsettling bitterness.
On Christmas Day, Jackson should have been celebrating a gift from the gods in every imaginable way. Curry is genuine, humble, real. He’s a loving family man who, as interim coach Luke Walton pointed out, is packing his own boxes for the family move from Orinda to Walnut Creek. After all the steroids, all the NFL thuggery, Curry’s life likely never will be more “scandalous” than an In-N-Out Burger stop in Alameda with his wife and Drake. He is relatable to all of us, slight of body, yet he has conquered of the world. It is the ultimate underdog triumph.
And his former coach, who could be regaling us with so many cool tales and anecdotes, tells us “he’s hurt the game.” The Warriors-Cavs telecast was watched by 11 million viewers, the most-watched Christmas game in four years, and those 11 million don’t need to hear his leaky vitriol.
“Read the Quote!!! Stop Searching!!” Jackson tweeted after learning of the whipping he was taking on social media.
I heard the comment. I read the quote. I replayed the sequence.
I’m not searching.
Recently, on ESPN, Jackson denied having ill will toward the Warriors. “To live my life, to have played 17 years in the NBA, to have coached for three years for a team, and to have the privilege to call NBA games and announce the NBA Finals, I am absolutely winning,” he said. “There is no reason at all for me to be upset, discouraged or depressed. It is a blessing to be in my position, and I’m having the time of my life covering the best game in the world.”
We’re not feeling his joy in the Bay.
The day after Christmas, Curry and his family were at Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, distributing food boxes and essentials to needy families. He has a special way of melding humanity off the court with self-assurance on it. He was asked if he thinks he’s the best player on the planet, as he has mentioned in recent interviews.
“Yes, in my mind, I do, because that’s the confidence I need to have when I step on the floor every single night,” Curry said. “I need that level of expectation to try to get better, to be as consistent as I can and to have that killer instinct that I can do pretty much anything I want on the court. I need to have that mentality. When I’m out there taking shots and making plays, in my mind, I have the utmost confidence in myself. I think anybody should have that.
“I don’t ever rank anybody. There are so many great players in this league, and if you ask any of them, if their answer is any different, I would be surprised. If you don’t have that mentality, you’re going to get exposed.”
Allow me to speak for millions. We’d love to hear Mark Jackson, a coach who helped immensely in his development, offer insight into how Curry’s confidence mushroomed.
Nah. He’s prefer to dwell on how “he’s hurt the game.” Somewhere, there must be another NBA game for him to analyze.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.