There are a billion analogies, metaphors and whathaveyous for basketball players. They’re all lame, pointless and nonsensical. That’s why they’re a perfect way to describe Stephen Jackson.
Jackson is a samurai. His status as a samurai is simply part of a larger plane of my imagination where I consider basketball and feudal Japan as the same thing. For example:
- Dirk’s great Finals victory is basically Commodore Perry parking his four warships in Edo Bay. It was a great show of force and ushered forth an era of foreign influence (five of the first seven picks in this year’s draft were foreign players).
- The current CBA negotiations and financial struggles of the NBA mirror laws passed near the end of the Tokugawa period. They tried to maintain status quo to not only keep the samurai class at the top of the social order, but at the top of the financial order. This created an unstable economic model that left many Japanese citizens out of work.
- In the movie, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Forest Whitaker plays a Mafia hitman that follows the bushido code. He often talks to a Haitian ice cream salesman. They don’t speak the same language, yet they understand each perfectly. That’s a good quality for today’s NBA.
- Neither samurai nor basketball has anything to do with Tom Cruise.
I could go on all day. History was one of my favorite subjects, but I hadn’t actually thought about Japanese history since I last took the class. Then the Bucks traded for Jackson. My mind fried. When the next great American poet writes Leaves of Grass for the NBA, the Bucks will rarely be mentioned. They’re not a franchise that easily inspires allegories. The Bucks early rise to the title will get a page. Maybe the noble struggles of the 80s Bucks will get a passage. Surely the Bucks will get a line in the poem on Ray Allen’s precision and perfection. With the acquisition of Jackson, the Bucks have earned a verse in another man’s poem.
Most athletes inspire irrational thoughts of heroism and verse through their athletic conquests. Jackson is one of the few that do it through sheer force of personality. So without further ado, here are irrational thoughts on Stephen Jackson as a samurai.
Invasion of the West
Basketball is facing a situation similar to late Tokugawa Japan. Instead of industrialization from the West, basketball strives for statistical efficiency popularized by baseball. Cold efficiency aims its cannons at Captain Jack: Win Shares, PER, TS% etc. volley forth claims that he is just an average player. He just laughs as the old world explodes around him because he knows he is impenetrable. His armor is forged from his above-average accomplishments. His sword is sharpened by the praise from teammates, coaches and executives. Few things that statistics say apply to Jackson.
The stats say that the hot hand doesn’t exist. Jackson surrounds his 5-for-21 nights with 40 point explosions.
The stats say that macho decision making is awful for crunch time situations. So obviously, when a close game winds toward its conclusion, Jackson turns into a blaxploitation character. They better install soft lighting in the Bradley Center because he’s going to make sweet, sweet love to pressure.
Jackson is a movie cliché. He watched his brother die when he was young. He’s the grizzled vet that’s done things no one can believe. He rose from an undrafted free agent to a champion. Then he led a bunch of riffraff to a remarkable upsets. He showed his tricks were far from over when he led a fledgling group to its first taste of the playoffs.
It’s crazy just thinking about all the major narratives Jackson has influenced. It’s almost as many movies that Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has influenced (if you’ve seen a movie where a bunch of guys with big guns get together, then you’ve felt Kurosawa’s influence).
Seven Samurai is about heroes and their relationship with the public. The moral: winning doesn’t halt criticism or hatred. By any measure, Jackson is a winner. He’s also sacrificed and is a great teammate. That’s the trifecta of things people love. Yet, even the most benign interpretations leave Jackson as the butt of jokes. Conceal and carry was passed into Wisconsin law a few days before Jackson became a Buck. On twitter, I saw someone joke that these coincidences were divine fate. As Brandon Jennings would tweet, “Smhhhhhh . . . in my drake voice.”
The masterless samurai were a disgraced bunch. If a samurai’s daimyo dies, dismisses the samurai or the samurai quits on his master, then tradition demands the samurai commit seppuku or ritual suicide. It’s very similar to how athletes who leave their original teams are treated. There must be something wrong with the guy that’s been on eight teams, a la Drew Gooden. If a player leaves his team willingly, he has no honor or loyalty, a la Lebron James.
In the public eye, Jackson is as disgraced as they come. Everyone knows why. It’s one of the five biggest events in NBA history: the Malice in the Palace. Let’s also add the shooting incident outside the strip club along with some misdemeanors, a battery and a disorderly conduct.
Those previously mentioned praises from players, coaches and executives about Jackson: none of them are about his play. All of them about are about how wonderful he is as a teammate and human being. The San Antonio Spurs, that righteous city upon a hill, they love Jackson. Donnie Walsh didn’t want to trade Jackson, but his hand was forced. He was the emotional core of an exciting Golden State team. He goes to church. He takes young players under his wing. He’s a community leader (San Francisco named April 12, 2008 Stephen Jackson Day and not because of his defense). His personality is absolutely magnetic. Your mother would love him. On a team without leaders, Jackson will naturally fall into that role.
Finally, the best and most appropriate comparison is that both Jackson and samurai are naturally awesome. Samurai armor is magnificent. Kitanas are cooler than broad swords. Stephen Jackson may just be another athletic swingman on paper, but he has a swagger and fierceness that are all his own.
Jackson isn’t the answer to the Bucks offensive woes. He’s a decent passer, but if he has to carry the offensive load like he did in Charlotte, then Jackson forces shots and halts ball movement. However, what Jackson can do for the team could be worth so much than a few extra points a game.
Ian Segovia is a writer for Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook.