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As Coach, Jackson's View Different Now

OAKLAND, Calif. - This was classic NBA, the near catchup, which keeps some fans in the arena and, more importantly, keeps others from turning off the TV.

A year ago, Mark Jackson, ESPN announcer, would have been thrilled as a lead of 19 points was reduced to five. "I would have embraced it and had about 10 catchphrases locked and loaded,'' Jackson said.

Now, Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors coach, was properly concerned.

"As a coach,'' he said, reviewing the final minutes of what finished as a 99-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, "I was just over there trying to get a stop and get us the basketball."

He asked for this, didn't he, giving up the hyperbole that made him an icon for better and a despised pain-in-the-cliché for worse, creating a following divided over his descriptions and exclamations.

All he had needed to do was call on his background as a longtime NBA guard, toss in viewpoints as he once had baskets or toss out zingers as he once had assists.

"Mama, there goes the man!'' "Hands down, man down.'' "Excuse me, I have a meeting with the rim."

Jacksonisms, endearing to many, aggravating to many. But still, life without the 24-second clock of expectations.

Coaches become announcers who become coaches. For instance, Doug Collins. But nobody had taken over an NBA franchise without a scintilla of experience until last June, when Jackson, 46, gave up the microphone for the chalkboard. Crazy but fascinating.

A Warriors team that had missed the playoffs 16 of the 17 previous seasons, and Jackson was saying, "We're looking to turn the Bay Area upside down.'' Maybe he hadn't given up the hyperbole.

Golden State was part of that Christmas opening day-night TV marathon, in part because it was scheduled against the new darlings of Hollywood, the Clippers of Blake Griffin and the just-acquired Chris Paul, and surely in part because Jackson's former employer, ESPN, couldn't wait to take advantage of his tale.

The Clippers ruined Jackson's debut, and when the coach was asked what his memories would be of his first game, there were no flip comments, only, "We lost."

But one night later in this contracted NBA season, which is turning out to be the ultimate makeup call, teams playing three games in four days or four in six days, the Warriors got the new man his maiden victory.

"Swell,'' was initial Jackson's offering to courtside TV. "But it's not about me. It's about my guys."

Jackson earlier had shown interest in coaching his hometown Knicks, who made him the 18th pick in the 1987 draft. But that didn't materialize. So he lived in Southern California, an ordained minister, co-pastor with wife Desiree of the True Love Worship Center in Van Nuys, and did the TV commentary.

Why Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who bought the team in late 2010, went after a novice - if one who hardly lacked ideas about how to construct a winner - is a legitimate question.

TV is an influence, and listening to Jackson analyze others gave Lacob and Guber a reason to want to analyze Jackson. They were persuaded.

"He epitomized leadership as a player in this league ... and we think that characteristic, and many other positive traits, will translate very well into his coaching duties with our young team," Lacob said when hiring Jackson.

"We're convinced that he is the right person to guide this team into the future and help us achieve the success that we are striving for as an organization."

At the least, it took Jackson only two games to affirm Lacob's belief. With Golden State beginning against the Clippers, the Bulls of MVP Derrick Rose and then Wednesday the New York Knicks, the possibility of an 0-3 start was very real.

Whoosh. Gone. "I think it was a great statement,'' Jackson said of the win over Chicago, "to show we can play with championship-caliber teams."

Jackson is a presence, certainly, and with the young men who came of age hearing his voice on TV before they ever heard it in the gym, that's not insignificant. The word respect is overused, yet that's what a coach needs as much as an understanding of trap defenses.

He's even notable for inspiring a change in NBA rules. During his 17-year career, Jackson would back down opposing point guards near the basket for 10 to 15 seconds, waiting to make a move. The league put in what has been called the "Mark Jackson Rule,'' prohibiting an offensive player from dribbling with his back to the basket for more than five consecutive seconds when below the free throw line.

That was then. These days, the concentration is on the other team's dribbler. Or shooter. Jackson is determined to improve a defense that was among the poorest in the NBA and looked bad the against the Clippers, who shot 59 percent in the second half.

"You know,'' he confessed, "it's much easier critiquing coaches and strategies on how to defend these guys than sitting over there in a suit and tie and having to make the adjustments."

The adjustments were made. The win was in the books.

"I dreamed of this one,'' said Jackson. "I just didn't see the (particular) guys in uniform. But I thank God it's them."

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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