You might argue that Mark Jackson, an ordained minister, was running a religious cult of sorts. So much of his leadership platform with the Golden State Warriors was rooted in religion, never more obvious than on an off day during their now-historic playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s when eight players boarded a bus at their Beverly Hills hotel — most coaches can’t gather eight players to dine at a five-star restaurant together, comped — and traveled with Jackson on a lengthy ride to his non-denominational church in the San Fernando Valley.
He was a preacher man by day, a coach by night. And what you cannot argue is that he was successful, taking over one of the NBA’s dismal franchises and turning it into an exciting, winning operation. Even without his injured big man, Andrew Bogut, Jackson and his team extended Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers to the final seconds of Game 7 before losing last weekend. As Jackson said before the game, “Now against a three‑seed with two of the top 10 players in the world and a future Hall of Fame coach (Doc Rivers), we are going to Game 7 in spite of all the sideline music. And I like my chances, because I’ve got a group of guys that want to do whatever it takes to win.”
Today, Jackson is a former coach. And we could see it coming for months thanks to the aforementioned “sideline music.’’ Warriors management, from owner Joe Lacob to venerable consultant Jerry West to general manager Bob Myers, wasn’t comfortable with the way the team was being coached. Does this not strike you as peculiar, in that the Warriors were 51-31 this season and 47-35 last season? Yes, Jackson was headstrong and fiercely independent and, thus, tried to wrap a cocoon around his players and keep everyone else out, including management. But within many franchises, management sees that as a welcome sign of unity and obliges. In this case, Lacob threw down the hammer.
Why? Because Jackson was running what was viewed as a religious cult? And if so, with the Donald Sterling scandal still too fresh, was dismissing Jackson a form of cultural exclusion that also makes the NBA look — shall we say — less than tolerant? Adding to the creepy nature of this story were the recent dismissals of two assistant coaches, Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman. Scalabrine, let go after a verbal altercation with Jackson confidante and assistant Pete Myers, was Bob Myers’ client for 10 years when he was a player agent. Erman, who worked for the Celtics when Lacob was a minority owner in Boston, was fired reportedly for secretly recording conversations between fellow assistant coaches. In California, as Sterling ex-girlfriend V. Stiviano probably didn’t know, it’s illegal to tape a conversation without two-way prior knowledge and consent.
So, see what went down here? Lacob was going to dismiss Jackson once the Warriors were eliminated. Jackson’s cause wasn’t helped by an extortion episode, involving an extramarital affair he had in 2006, that surfaced in the Bay Area media two years ago. Still, successful sports coaches and athletes — see Ray Rice, see Aldon Smith, see numerous people at the hypocritical house that is ESPN — get breaks all the time. Lacob wanted Jackson out, and after Game 7, Jackson knew he was gone. Even the support and pleas of his players, most of whom loved him, fell on deaf ears. “I love Coach more than anybody, and I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair,” Warriors star Steph Curry said. “And it would definitely be a shock to me if anything like (firing him) were to happen.”
Be shocked, kid. It happened. And on Wednesday, Jackson ripped Lacob and his former bosses on any radio show that would hand him a microphone.
“I wake up absolutely relieved. Because there’s no more unnamed sources that can affect me,’’ he told 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area. “I don’t have to answer the question that others won’t answer. I can speak clearly about who I am and how I conduct myself. It’s unfortunate, because everything that the unnamed sources said – that I was done if I did not get out of the first round, that there was friction, that there was this and there was that – and there was claimed to be no unnamed sources. Well, it’s come out true. The unfortunate thing is I go in an office with an owner and a general manager, just us three, and while in our office it’s tweeted out that I’m in a meeting and I’m about to be fired. That’s not how you conduct business. And if that’s how business relationships are supposed to be done, well then they’re 100 percent right, I did not conduct business the right way if that’s the right way. And that’s unfortunate.”
In the same interview, he ripped Lacob and the front office for hypocrisy — not approving of his public religious stance after encouraging him early in his three-year tenure to discuss his faith in the media. “I think it’s unfortunate because if it was true, you don’t encourage media to come do a piece on my church, on my ministry, the work on my faith,” Jackson said. “Don’t do it when it’s convenient and you’re searching for something. I never went around beating people in the head with a Bible.”
And if Lacob wasn’t happy that he kept his primary home in southern California, near the church, why wasn’t it an issue until this year? “When they hired me they knew I wasn’t living here,” he said. “It wasn’t part of the job description. It wasn’t a demand, and Joe Lacob said even yesterday, if he had to go back he probably would say that or he definitely would say that. That’s fine. We can’t go back to three years ago. And maybe I don’t take the job if that’s part of the description. But Doc Rivers coached in Boston living in Orlando. The coaches that I played for lived other places.
“I’m one of the first ones in the office, and I’m one of the last ones to leave, if not the last. So don’t look for excuses. Just say it didn’t work. Just say it didn’t work and let’s move on like grown folks. Because there’s nothing that you said to do from day one that I did not do. And if you want me to live here, well, buy my house in L.A. and buy me a house here. Doesn’t that make sense?”
After Game 7, Jackson told the media, “I work every single day with a passion and a commitment like it’s my last. I’m trying to be a blessing to people. I’m trying to impact people, and that’s the way I live my life. That’s the way I coach. I don’t get caught up in it. I’m totally confident and have total faith that no matter what, I’m going to be fine, and that’s even if I’m a full-time pastor. It’s going to work out.”
Will it? If he is painted in a gossipy league as a crackpot, he’ll never get another coaching job. I suppose he could return to ESPN, where he can replace Jeff Van Gundy if his former broadcast partner returns to coaching. But it should be mentioned that the NBA coaching fraternity is becoming a bland place for colorful lifers. Have you seen some of these recent hires? They’re either Gregg Popovich system disciples, college yes-men such as Brad Stevens or inexperienced former players such as Jason Kidd and, any day now, Steve Kerr. I thought it was a baseball problem, the systematic purging of managerial characters who would kick dirt on umpires (Lou Piniella) or sneak a smoke in the dugout (Jim Leyland), replaced by either a former big-league catcher or a no-name who can be controlled by management. It’s an NBA problem, as well.
Is George Karl done in the coaching biz? Is Lacob really going to appoint Stan Van Gundy, who would be great for the Warriors, after his controversial bouts with Dwight Howard in Orlando? Kerr’s situation is interesting, given his comfortable relationship with the Lacob family and the fact Kerr’s family home in San Diego is much closer to Oakland than New York. Still, would Kerr want anything to do with a Warriors team wounded by the dismissal of a beloved coach? Doc Rivers, who survived the trial of a lifetime last week with the Sterling scandal, wasn’t happy to hear of Jackson’s ouster.
“That means things are crazy,” Rivers said. “George Karl was the coach of the year last year and got fired. Mark Jackson gets a team to multiple playoffs for the first time in a thousand years and gets fired. It’s our job. We have a tough job. Everyone knows it now more than ever. … Something has absolutely changed. I don’t know what it is. Clearly the patience has changed. I don’t know but there’s definitely a change in thinking above us and it’s hurting us.”
It’s one thing if Scott Brooks is fired in Oklahoma City because he can’t figure out how to return to the NBA Finals with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It’s one thing if Frank Vogel is fired in Indiana because his talented team continues to implode.
It’s quite another for Mark Jackson to be fired because he’s an ordained minister. Care to comment on that, Adam Silver?