Friday Deep- Chris Jackson

Posted on January 9, 2010

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I can’t remember the first time Sports Illustrated came to our house. I know it was a big deal. I had begged for it for years; mostly, I think, for the free sweatshirt and cheap team watch they gave in those days as gifts for subscribing. Before the Internet, before ESPN.com, SI WAS the Internet, was the only consistent source of quality sports-writing. I can remember the first cover though. It featured Emmitt Smith breaking a couple of 49er tackles, galloping towards the camera, and for years afterwards, like marking an anniversary, I would sometimes look up from the current SI and ask myself, What was the first cover? Emmitt. Yes. For a kid just coming into a deep love of sports, SI it was like having pure heroin delivered to the door once a week.

In 1993 Chris Jackson was a 2nd year point guard from LSU on the Denver Nuggets. He was one of the most prolific college scorers of his era, playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal during his amateur career. He was an improving NBA player, the 3rd pick in the draft. He also suffered from Tourette’s syndrome. This article by Rick Reilly details the full extent of Jackson’s disease and his struggle to come to terms with it. The Tourette’s made Jackson touch hot stove tops until they felt ‘right’, compulsively tie and re-tie shoelaces to perfection, and shoot jumpers in the gym until 10 in a row swished the correct way.

I read this article as a basketball-crazy 11 year old, and I immediately missed the point. I started going to the backyard, or the gym, and mimicked the scene I had just read. 10 in a row. Must swish perfectly. It made Chris Jackson good. In my mind’s eye I could see it happening just the way I read it. Every swish had to be perfect, and led to hours alone outside, shooting just like Chris Jackson. Even today when I play basketball, I sometimes feel a little tug to try the ritual again. C’mon Andrew, 10 in a row again, perfect swish. Try it.

No other article I’ve ever read in Sports Illustrated has stuck with me like this one has. Perhaps it’s because I lived a little of it, but that image of a perfect snapping swish, over and over, has stayed with me through the years, as have the memories of this article. Chris Jackson has long since left the NBA.  I have grown up too- 16 years have passed, and I have read enough sports books to fill Jay Leno’s antique car garage. But I have never been able to shake the vision I had of Chris Jackson on the hardwood, keeping his compulsions at bay with a jump shot.

After a few seasons in the NBA Chris Jackson converted to Islam, and now isn’t Chris Jackson at all, but Mahmoud Abdul Rauf.    Sometimes I wonder if he prayed during those endless practice sessions.  As he leaped and cocked his elbow , knowing that his brain will force him to shoot another, and another, and then another, I wonder if he cried out for God to heal him.  I imagine he did.  I wonder if each rebound he chased felt like an unanswered prayer.  I imagine it did.

** Just to refresh your memory- before there was Stephen Curry, there was Chris Jackson.  Remember, everything new is actually old. **

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