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Deeper Dive: Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers Have A Lot in Common

by Photo of Tommy Dee

Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers were once traded for each other in 1992 and are now facing each other in the first round of the playoffs. You can bet neither has forgotten.

Deeper Dive: Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers Have A Lot in Common

It was a normal hot and sticky day in late August of 1992 inside a packed gym in Honesdale, PA when Mark Jackson, then the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, walked in. He was the keynote speaker to a group of campers that included the best players in the country. Felipe Lopez of Harlem's Rice High School was being chased by every college in the nation before his junior season at the CHSAA powerhouse. A tough, rugged guard named Randy Livingston was the nation's top high school player. A tall, gangly 7'0" freak of an athlete from Philadelphia named Rasheed Wallace was tearing down rims during every game so frequently that he had to be asked by Five Star legend Howard Garfinkel to knock it off in immediately drawing comparisons to a young Lew Alcindor. The "no dunk rule" was part of Five Star lore which Wallace was clearly very proud to now be part of. Sheed was as wild at 17 as you'd expect him to be. But his polished array of passing, turn around jumpers and jump hooks were not and it was easy to conclude that his series of tools made him the best player my 16-year-old eyes had ever laid eyes on. I'd seen my fare share of guards having lived in as many gyms as I could travel to in my young age, but I had never seen a high school big, Jamal Mashburn aside, with that much game.     

A baby faced assassin from Coney Island, Brooklyn was being tabbed the "next Kenny Anderson," and when Stephon Marbury stepped on the floor, it was apparent that he was getting to the rim whether you liked it or not. On the other side of the courts a young Tim Thomas was earning the tag "best 8th grader in the nation" slicing through defenses at 6'6 with a grace and flow that was far beyond his years. He was ridiculous and both were the source of perhaps my best basketball highlights to date.

All told, many future NBAers sat around to hear what Jackson had to say. This was before cell phones and Instagram so their minds and focus had to be sharp. Make no mistake Jackson was a star having won the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1987 and he had combined with Patrick Ewing to bring the Knicks to the brink of respectability. If you represented New York City, you paid homage to Action Jackson. Just a few years prior Mark was the quarterback at St. John's and solidified his place in NY basketball history by getting Ewing easy basket after easy basket. 

As Jackson entered the gym his normal joyous energy and smile were gone, however, and you knew right away something wasn't right but you just couldn't place it. His words were strong and his advice was smart, just as you'd expect from someone who possessed so much in terms of success. Here he was a man amongst boys he used to be like. A mentor. A hero. But they lacked the energy and the passion of which they were clearly intended.

What I came to learn later was on that day, Jackson had become aware that the Knicks were in the midst of trading him after his poor playoff performance a few months before. The Knicks had battled Michael Jordan's Bulls to the brink forcing an epic Jordan performance in Game 7 after dismantling what remained of Isiah Thomas' Bad Boy Pistons. The team, under new coach Pat Riley, had won 51 games and were filled with championship aspirations. It had been made clear through several newspaper reports that Riley was not thrilled with Jackson's defensive ability. For all of his finger waving and airplane reactions after great plays on offense, Jackson was an absolute sieve defensively. He couldn't guard 50% of the campers he was talking to. 

Jackson was dreadful offensively in those playoffs as well, shooting 40% from the field and 19% from 3-point range and limiting what the Knicks would do in the half court of big games.

In the weeks that followed the trade would finally be announced and Jackson would head to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a 3-team trade which brought the Knicks back Charles Smith and Doc Rivers. Smith would supplant himself in Knicks history against the Bulls a year later but it was Rivers was in many ways the key to the trade. 

Rivers was a steady, two-way guard by way of Marquette who gave the Knicks stability and playoff toughness. And had it not been for Smith's ineptness under the basket in 1993, the Knicks may have actually beaten the Bulls and faced Barkely's Phoenix Suns, who Rivers made himself quite familiar with earlier in the year.

Rivers' Knicks career would be cut short and had it not been for his injury, the Knicks may have won the championship in 1994. In 111 games with Rivers as their point guard, the Knicks were a total of 92-19 from 1992-94. He was in many ways the missing piece the Knicks were lacking at the point guard position that they still miss some 20-plus years later in almost every way. 

Which is a perfect transition into what has been a fascinating subplot to the aforementioned Clippers first round matchup with Jackson's Golden State Warriors. There are other connections between them besides once being traded for each other. Both have had a multitude of successes as head coaches in the league coming straight from the television booth despite having zero head coaching experience. Both know the point guard position and are responsible for grooming young talented guards into All-Star caliber players: Rivers with Rajon Rondo in Boston and Jackson with Steph Curry in Golden State where he now calls Oracle Arena home. Both have instilled Pat Riley's aggressive, physical approach which made the Knicks the premiere disruptive defensive team of the 1990s.

Game 1 of the series, which saw the Warriors explode with 35 third quarter points, had a little bit of everything and made me wish that this could be a best-of-20 series. It has great guards, physical bigs, shot makers and coaches who can orchestrate. Plus it has copious amounts of yesteryear for Knicks fans who yearn to occasionally turn back the clock. Both Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers are established coaches who have graduated to the craft following two very decorated careers in New York and the NBA. Two men who were leaders on the floor are now leading their respective teams on the sidelines. 

And I can't get enough of it. 

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Comments (1)
  1. Jeffjacobsen 's profile

    Jeffjacobsen

    April 21st, 2014 @17:46

    The Knicks were 72-24 in the regular season from 1992-4 with Rivers. In the playoffs, they went 9-6. I don't know where your writer is pulling his stats from, but "his @ss" seems right. Also, Charles Smith didn't "supplant" himself in Knicks history. That sentence makes no sense. What child wrote this?

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