OAKLAND – This goes back about 3 ½ months, to when coach Mark Jackson said of his Warriors, “This is a team I believe God has his hands all over.”
And that was before, you know, everything: Stephen Curry going from braces on both ankles and a game-time decision in the first round to a playoff star, the Warriors going from losing All-Star David Lee to winning five of the next seven, Andrew Bogut going from an ankle injury so maddening that he began to consider the possibility of retirement to resuming his starting role, the entire roster going from little postseason experience to beating the favored Nuggets and now in a 1-1 Western Conference semifinals against the favored Spurs heading into Game 3 tonight inside rocking Oracle Arena.
Jackson, naturally, does not alter his statement from late January that the Warriors have higher powers at their back. He is not one in general to back away from bold comments, he believes deeply as a man of faith and a pastor at a Southern California church, and now it is mid May and his team continues to do the improbable. Backing off is the last thing that would happen.
“I’m a man of faith,” Jackson said. “I believe in God. Some folks may say God doesn’t care about basketball. My Bible tells me He cares about everything that has to do with me. This team is tied together. I’ve said it before. Spiritually, this team is absolutely tied together. There’s a call on these guys’ lives. I said from Day 1 in my press conference, if I won games and didn’t change lives I’d be a failure. If I won a championship and guys left here the same I’d be a failure. It’s more important to me to leave here leaving these guys better husbands, better fathers, better teammates, better players, better men. That’s what it’s all about, and we’ve done that. With that, the victories will come.”
He said he believed right away that the belief includes knowing the Warriors would become winners “when I had no business believing it,” which is, which is some long-range vision. He couldn’t have seen this coming. The Warriors did not look anything like the current model when owner Joe Lacob made Jackson the surprising and gutsy hire in June 2011 as a coach without any previous experience on the bench, in the NBA or college, as an assistant or in the No. 1 chair. Seven of the top nine players – everyone except Curry and Lee – weren’t on the roster at the time. Bob Myers hadn’t yet made the quick ascension from front-office newcomer, with any team, to general manager.
“We all make mistakes,” Jackson said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to be led by God and there were jobs I would not have taken if they were offered to me. I believed in my heart that this was the job for me and this was the group of men, the group owners, the group of management people and this was the time. Some people don’t think that’s cool. Some people don’t believe that. I have nothing against them. I’m going to walk this walk and my Bible tells me the steps of a good man are ordered by God. So I believe that my steps are ordered. I’m just following orders.”
We all make mistakes.
Jackson does not hide from his most public of setbacks, an affair of nearly one year that became public when the woman and one of her acquaintances blackmailed Jackson to keep the relationship quiet. The coach and the team contacted the FBI, Jackson cooperated with the investigation, and the matter became open conversation.
Hide from it? Jackson said he brought the incident up to players himself. He turned it into basketball and the Warriors.
“That I’m not going to allow one moment to identify who I am,” he said. “We may lose a game, we may lose a quarter, we may lose a season. But at the end of the day, I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to stop the call on my life and I’m not going to quit doing God’s work. Ultimately it’s get back up on the horse and pick up where you left off and don’t make the mistake again.”
Which, in an outcome that has not been lost on the coach, is exactly what the Warriors have done. This team that he believes God has his hands all over.