He's been durable (missing just one game due to injury in two seasons) and productive (averaging 17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.27 steals) and yet Stephen Jackson has become a target for fan criticism because of his occasional bursts of erratic behavior. Upon his arrival in Indianapolis this week to begin preparations for the 2006-07 season, Jackson – sporting a beard after a summer of soul-searching – pledged to adjust his attitude and win back the fans in an exclusive question-and-answer session with Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com.
Q. What was your approach to the offseason?
A. I had a lot of soul-searching to do this summer. The last two years was probably not the best years but the biggest learning years of my career. Everything we've been through as far as me stepping up and being a leader on a team, me basically taking a lot of heat from the team and me having the most ups and downs I've ever had, I think this year I'm approaching it trying to be more positive in my game, getting back to the San Antonio Steve Jackson. A lot of the stuff the last two years, it was hard for everybody to deal with. All the negative stuff that was going on took a toll on everybody in the organization and it showed in our play – a lot. My biggest thing this summer was being more focused on the positive things, helping other people and helping my game and staying on the court.
Q. With other teams, particularly so in San Antonio, you've been a fan favorite but it hasn't worked out that way here. Do you feel the need to turn that around?
A. I definitely have to turn that around because a lot of that was me and a lot of it was the way we were playing. I can't blame the fans because I catch myself booing guys on TV when I'm watching football or baseball. So I know what the fans feel like. And at times they had the right to do that because I was being immature out there and I wasn't being professional. I wasn't being the guy they brought me here to be. I'm going to get back to doing what I'm supposed to do, handling it the way I'm supposed to handle it and also letting the fans know I'm out here for them, I'm going to give them 110 percent and I'm going to be more positive. This organization has been known as a great group of professionals who go out there and play the game and have fun and win and not be, shall I say, (jerks). I plan on going out there and fixing that – my situation with the referees, the league and the fans. I definitely owe that to them.
Q. What was the genesis of your new outlook?
A. It's just me growing up, me understanding I'm definitely blessed to be here. I have another opportunity to win a championship, an opportunity to play with a great group of guys, and have another opportunity to better myself, my family and this organization. The confidence that Rick (Carlisle) and Larry (Bird) and Donnie (Walsh) have showed in me, and also my teammates, is something no other organization has showed in me since I've been in the league. I have to take advantage of that and show them I appreciate it.
Q. When you left Conseco Fieldhouse after the postseason meetings after the first-round loss to New Jersey, did you suspect you might not be back?
A. I didn't feel like I was but I didn't feel like I wasn't, either. It was a 50-50 situation. I think that was the best thing for me because I approached this summer not worrying about where I'm going to be and not worrying about the last two seasons. My whole summer was focused on me getting better as a person, as a player and as a father. Spending a lot of time with my kids and being focused on how they're doing in their situations has helped me be more positive in my life. It's helping me out.
Q. It sounds like you're glad you are back.
A. I am glad. I don't want to leave. I've got a chance to show people why they (traded for) me. This is my year to show it.
Q. As you look around the locker room, you can't help but notice all the tape with new players' names scribbled in ink over the lockers. In fact, they outnumber the nameplates of those that return from last year. How do you feel about all the changes the team has made?
A. It's good because we needed a change. The last two years were definitely hard. I don't think any team in this league has ever experienced what this organization has been through the last two years. I think it was time for new change – even if it was me, it was time for new change. But I thank God it wasn't. I'm thankful the team still has confidence in me and wants me to be part of this new change. It was definitely needed.
Q. Even with the changes, most of the nucleus of the team has returned intact. As part of that group, do you feel increased responsibility to carry things forward?
A. Definitely. Me, J.T. (Jamaal Tinsley) and J.O. (Jermaine O'Neal) definitely have to step up and be leaders but not only by talking, we've got to lead by example. We've got a lot of young guys and we also have got Al (Harrington) back, so we have everything we need to get the job done. More than us playing hard and being young guys with a lot of energy, we've got to be smart. We've got to make smart decisions on the court and off the court. We've got to be smarter as far as leading the young guys and watching what we do. I can't be out there not letting Rick (Carlisle) get on me, because if I feel like I can curse him out and not let him get on me, then other guys are going to feel like they can do the same thing. A lot of this stuff I owe to me spending time with my kids and focusing on being a father because it's making me grow up.
Q. You brought all six of your children (ages 1 to 9) from their homes in California, Texas and New York to your home in Atlanta this summer. What impact did that time together have on you?
A. To see all my kids playing together in one house and seeing I brought six lives onto this Earth … at times it actually brought tears to my eyes to see all my kids growing up, you know?