The Plank

Stu Jackson's Midas Touch


Following up on Chris's obit for the NBA playoffs, let's take a closer look at the man who killed them: Stu Jackson, who makes Isiah Thomas look like an underachiever when it comes to failing upward.

Jackson got his first job in the NBA due to a lucky break: he was working as an assistant coach to Rick Pitino at Providence College when Pitino was hired by the New York Knicks. Pitino brought Jackson with him as an assistant to New York in 1985--and when Pitino stunned the Knicks a couple years later by taking the head-coaching job at the University of Kentucky, the Knicks tapped Jackson as his replacement. Only 33 at the time and with no head coaching experience, Jackson was clearly in over his head--and 15 games into his second season, the Knicks showed him the door.

Jackson took a sinecure in the NBA league office for two years--he was "head of basketball operations"--before he resurfaced in 1992 in the college coaching ranks, taking the head job at the University of Wisconsin, where--despite having a remarkably talented team, including future NBA All-Star Michael Finley--he couldn't even post a winning record in the Big Ten. But he managed to slip out of Madison in 1994 before the firing axe came down by convincing the owners of the new NBA expansion Vancouver Grizzlies that he was just the guy to head up their operation.

His signature moves running the Grizzlies were to use their first first-round draft pick to take Bryant "Big Stiff Country" Reeves and his decision to make himself the team's head coach during the 1997 season, during which he compiled a 6-33 record. As Jackson's official bio on the NBA website describes his time with the Grizzlies, "he had a hand in shaping all aspects of the organization"--which is saying something when you consider that the Grizzlies, in their 12 seasons of existence, have still not won a playoff game.

After washing out with the Grizzlies, Jackson returned to the comfortable confines of the NBA executive suite--where, remarkably, he's still managed to make a hash of things. He chaired the selection committee for the 2004 Olympic basketball team, putting together a roster so ill-conceived--it lacked anyone who could consistently hit 3-pointers--that the team won only a bronze medal. In last season's NBA Finals, Jackson made Mark Cuban's paranoid winging for once seem reasonable when he suspended Mavericks' forward Jerry Stackhouse for one game for a hard but unremarkable foul against Shaquille O'Neal. And, of course, this year he's completely ruined the Suns-Spurs series.

After this litany of failures, it's really hard to imagine where Jackson will go next. But, according to this page, some people actually consider him the likely successor to David Stern as NBA commissioner. Which raises an interesting prospect: In his two years helming the CBA, Isiah Thomas managed to run that league into bankruptcy. Could Jackson do Thomas one better by bankrputing the seemingly un-bankruptable NBA? I wouldn't bet against him.

--Jason Zengerle

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