Ringleader of the Tormentors

The Warriors announced their captains today, and, as you've probably heard by now, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, and Baron Davis were the choices. As expected, there has been outcry against the Jackson choice, with Epic Carnival, Adonal Obsessed, Three Idiots on Sports, and Mavs Moneyball registering complaints. While my opinion is obviously biased because I'm a big Warriors fan, I think Jackson is a perfectly suitable, if unconvential, selection. Although the man certainly has some issues, Jackson's a phenomenal teammate, a proven player in the clutch, and a symbol of what this Warriors team is all about. He might not be the most upright citizen, but that doesn't mean he's not the best person to lead a team into a tough game in the playoffs.

First off, picking captains is not a public relations move. It's not a contest to see who gives the best press conferences or gets in the least trouble. Captains exist to lead their teammates in everything basketball-related, and that's pretty much it. Yes, to a certain extent, every announcement is PR-related, but at some point basketball function has to outweigh those concerns. I think that's exactly the case here.

Jackson's teammates have always identified him as a phenomenal guy in the locker room and on the court. He's proven beyond the shadow of a doubt (well, too much) that he'll back a teammate up if that person gets into trouble, earning the respect of anyone that wears his same uniform. It's extremely telling that a team as Right Way as the Spurs valued (and continues to value) his contribution to their championship team as much as they did. No less an unimpeachable source than Tim Duncan has claimed that Jackson is the "ultimate teammate", so it's not like this is something specific to the Warriors and Ron Artest. Simply put, Stephen Jackson is somebody that everyone feels perfectly comfortable going to war with.

Last postseason (and many postseasons before that), he also made it clear that he won't back down against a presumably superior opponent. Without Stephen Jackson around to get in the Mavs' faces and convince the younger players that the Warriors could win, there's simply no way that Golden State wins that series, although Baron would have kept it close just by the pure will of his balls. If a guy's an emotional leader and backs up his teammates, why shouldn't he be a captain?

There's also the issue of team identity, a point that Shoals argued in this pro-Jackson Fanhouse piece. The mark of insanity and on-the-edgeness are things that defined this team last year, so it makes sense that the organization would want to buy into those qualities going forward. Granted, those usually aren't traits that hold up particularly well over time, but there's also never really been a situation where those kinds of players defined the team instead of hanging around the margins as effective sideshow attractions.

My one major concern is that this new role could actually rein him in too much. Any attempt to change Jackson's mindset, particularly one focused on setting a Right Way example, will make him something that he's unequivocally not. Jackson -- and, by extension, the rest of the team -- thrives off of insanity. Losing that edge could throw off the Warriors' entire operation.

When you get right down to it, though, I'm not even sure this decision merits the attention it's getting. The NBA is not high school, where players don't have experience leading and thus look to older players for tons of guidance. Most of these guys have been captains or leaders at some level; they really only need someone to show them the ropes and set a general tone. Jackson does all those things and more. Captains certainly matter in the NBA, but they're not essential to the success of a team.


Jason said...

Who else can a guy count on to dust off his shoulders after he brings down the house with the dunk of the year?

Trey Jones said...

It is my belief that Stephen Jackson is the best choice for team captain in the entire league.


Bethlehem Shoals said...

i bet you that anyone against jackson's captainship is also on some level opposed to the warriors.

i've never had a sports desktop until this week, when i put up s-jax there.

Ty Keenan said...

Jason: I so wish I'd thought of that.

Trey: I read that article on Friday and found it somewhat funny that it made most of the points that are in here. It was nice to see that not all mainstream writers jumped on the superficial story.

Shoals: Well, I think most of those people liked the story last spring, although that could have been more from an upset angle than a philosophical one (I'm not even sure how many people approach anything from that angle). For me, it still comes down to a basic conflation of the responsibilities of a captain with the roles of an organizational face. The same player often does both, but it doesn't have to be that way.