Ex-NBAer Jackson embracing role as vocal leader

When NBA journeyman Stephen Jackson met George Floyd — a 6-foot-6 former basketball player himself — for the first time, the resemblance between the two was so striking that both figured they might be related.

“The first thing we both say: ‘Man, who’s your dad?'” Jackson told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated on Monday, one week to the day since Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. “And just from that, from looking alike and from that day forward, we just had a bond; we became tight.”

The chance encounter through a mutual friend years ago in Houston led to a new nickname for Floyd — “twin” — and later to a new calling for Jackson as a vocal leader for the black community after speaking at a rally for Floyd in the Twin Cities last week.

“How did I get this role?” Jackson said in an interview with Spears on Instagram Live. “Like, I’m honest with you, I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move. Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”

Jackson, who retired in 2014 after playing 14 seasons in the league and winning a ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, has used his voice to transition to being a co-host of the popular podcast “All the Smoke” with Matt Barnes on Showtime. But now he finds himself using that voice for social change.

“Right now, I’m 10 toes down and my only purpose is getting justice and being with these people and trying to be a good leader,” Jackson said, noting his unexpected visit to Minnesota to support Floyd’s family has stretched to five days.

In taking up the mantle as he’s had, Jackson has advice for those listening who want direction on how to act from here.

First, Jackson said, protesting peacefully is paramount — and that means being cognizant while demonstrating that there may be people out there trying to manipulate those protests to devolve into riots and looting.

“We got to be smarter and don’t fall for the trick bag,” Jackson said. “Right now — a perfect example: In Atlanta, there’s no construction in downtown Atlanta. I live in Atlanta. But at midnight, you see a pallet of bricks — just loose bricks, sitting in the middle of downtown, for people to throw. Why is that there?”

The peaceful protests are meant to highlight the public policy changes that are necessary to cure the systematic society ills that served as the backdrop to a man like Floyd ending up dead after being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, Jackson said.

Secondly, Jackson said, there needs to be changes to those who serve as elected officials.

“We got to vote,” Jackson said. “I’m not just talking about the president. I’m talking about the local city council; I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief. We need to vote for all that type of stuff, because all that stuff’s going matter at the end. And what we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world — we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”

Jackson said he has heard from NBA figures from Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, to commissioner Adam Silver, to Golden State Warriors coaches Steve Kerr and Mike Brown supporting his efforts.

He is urging his followers to reach out to those they know who are being marginalized with similar support.

“I’ve been holding other races accountable,” he said. “Like, you can’t say you love me and not be standing here on the side of me. Them days is over with. You can’t say you love the way I play basketball and make jump shots and win championships, and not stand on the side of me and support me when I need you the most.”

Jackson spoke to The Undefeated shortly after an independent autopsy, performed by medical examiner Michael Baden at the request of Floyd’s family, determined his cause of death was asphyxia compression of the neck and back. Baden’s findings refute a state medical examiner’s opinion included in Chauvin’s criminal complaint that stated Floyd died because of the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in his system and underlying health issues — not strangulation.

Chauvin was arrested last week and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other police officers involved in the arrest — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas K. Lane — were fired but have yet to have any criminal charges levied against them.

“What I already knew — he was murdered,” Jackson said. “Pressure on his neck. We all knew he was murdered. See, the only people that’s protecting (Chauvin) act like they don’t have common sense. … The (independent) autopsy is telling the truth of what we already knew: He was murdered.”

Jackson said he “expected” the other officers to remain free but is hopeful that’s not the case.

“Coming into this, I’ve seen so many situations not pan out right,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen the impossible happen also. And I think this is that situation. I think this (is) going to be the change. My brother’s death is going to be change. I think we’re going to get convictions for all of them. I think they’re drawing it out right now because this is the typical system. That’s why we got to change the rules — they look out for each other. They try their best to look out for each other. So, this is expected by me.

“But we’re going to fight. This is a marathon. And we’re going to continue this fight and we’re going to outfight them. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep this thing going. They’re going to get tired of hearing about George Floyd. They’re going to get tired of hearing his name.”

Jackson said the events of the past week have changed him for good.

“I’m telling you — I came [to Minneapolis] as a different person,” Jackson stated. “I’m going to be here. I’m in for the long haul. … I didn’t ask for this role. I embraced it and people are looking to be to led. So I got to do it.”