For Mark Jackson it was once an arena that he knew all to well, from a kid as a fan of the Knicks to his days as a player for the organization, but yesterday the Golden State Warriors coach needed some help finding his way around the newly renovated Madison Square Garden. Due to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Jackson was not able to coach against the Knicks in his hometown, but last night his career finally came full circle when he made his long awaited debut in front of family and friends.
"It [The Garden] got fancy on me," said Jackson on the renovations. "They've done an outstanding job, and I haven't seen all of it, but – and, I don't even know my way back to the locker room – it's certainly first rate."
During his pregame press conference Jackson tried to play down the significance of his return, but the emotion in his voice belied his protestations.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't really think about it until they [Knicks] were the next team on the schedule," said Jackson. "That being said, this is something that I dreamt about, so it's special. I didn't really know how it was going to hit me. This is a special place, it was part of my dreams as a kid and to have an opportunity to fulfill those dreams as a player, announcer, and now as a coach is an incredible blessing."
Jackson, who was born in Brooklyn but raised in Queens, is the definition of local boy makes good. He played college ball at famed St. John's University and was drafted by the Knicks in 1987 so you could forgive Jackson for being slightly emotional, more so considering last night was the first time his wife had joined him on a road trip. He reminisced with security guards and ushers who are still working in the arena years after he last played there.
Certainly Jackson, who spent a number of years working for ESPN, looked back and wondered what might have been had the New York Knicks selected him instead of Mike D'Antoni, in 2008?
“There was never a side of me that was shaking my head because a lot of times God knows what’s better for you than you know,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what would have happened, but I’m truly thankful, an organization and a front office was willing to take a chance on me. I’m grateful to be the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.”
So, after some warm welcomes out on-court with family and friends, Jackson went in to battle against his hometown team. He received a loud ovation as he was introduced, but once the game started, he was just another coach on the opposition's sideline. Unfortunately for Jackson, the Knicks spoiled his homecoming in spite of an amazing performance from Stephen Curry.
Even in defeat the coach said he was proud of his guys.
"I’m extremely proud of my guys,” Jackson said. “We might have been overmatched at times, but guys didn’t quit. We didn’t let go of the rope. We battled. It was a phenomenal performance by Steph.”
Photo credit: Jim McIsaac