Column: Jackson's Return Brings Maroon And Gold Memories Back



Jackson's Return Brings Maroon And Gold Memories Back



The T-shirt has far less fabric than it once did—having lived through the wear and tear of 16 years will have that effect. In high school it lost its sleeves during summer workouts and fall football, and after enough bouts with the washing machine it has enough holes in the back to rival Swiss Cheese.

In short, it has seen better days.

But there’s a reason why I’ve never parted with my 1997 Gophers Final Four shirt that I once wore oversized as a 5th grader in Luverne. That winter and subsequent March Madness run is far too memorable—too sweet in my memory—to let slip away. It’s why nearly 14 years after the NCAA ruled that Final Four run never happened due to academic violations, the shirt is still tucked away in my dresser drawer. Something tells me I’ll never part with it.

It’s generally buried in one of my dresser drawers, and I’ve probably only seen it about five times in the last eight years when I’ve moved from place to place. But I had to take it out earlier this week after the Wolves officially introduced Bobby Jackson as the team’s player development coach.

Now I know a lot has happened since 1997. I know Jackson spent a couple seasons here in Minnesota with the Timberwolves, and I know he put together his best seasons in Sacramento under Rick Adelman. I know he was a Sixth Man of the Year, and I know he’s since retired with hopes of moving upward and onward in the coaching ranks.

But Jackson (and his trademark knee-high socks) forever will be beloved in the Twin Cities area for one reason: He was the catalyst for that Gophers squad that finished with a 35-5 record, a top-5 national ranking and a ticket punched to Indianapolis for the Final Four. He’s the centerpiece that helped deliver wins against Southwest Texas State (78-46), Temple (76-57), Clemson (90-84) and UCLA (80-72) before falling to Kentucky.

I remember watching those games with such intensity. There are few seasons during which Minnesota fans feel their team is destined for that type of heightened success, but in 1997 you knew the Gophers were going to win whenever they took the court. You knew that at the end of the season, they’d be able to raise a Big Ten title banner with hopes that other postseason accolades would follow.

Jackson made it happen. He was the lifeblood of that offense and helped make Sam Jacobson, John Thomas, Eric Harris and Courtney James better. He scored, he involved his teammates and he played defense worthy of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors at the end of the season.

He wrapped up that season scoring 15.3 points per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the field, averaging 6.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per night. Those stats say nothing about the presence he carried in the locker room and on the court. When Jackson was in the game, you watched. You waited for something special to happen.

It all equated to Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and it made a lot of young fans like me excited to get out on the pavement and shoot hoops before and after Gophers games. I remember those cloudy Saturday afternoons in March killing time outside putting up shots waiting for the next contest to begin. And I remember proudly wearing that Final Four T-shirt to school—back when it was a perfect white, when the sleeves were still intact. It was a privilege backing that club because they were good, they had a winner’s swag and they were doing something in maroon and gold I’d never seen before.

Most sports fans growing up have a go-to team or group of teams that are burned in their memories—the teams with details you recall down to the 13th man on the roster or to the final minutes of the most crucial games. Each one of you will have different squads with which you associate. My short list is the 1997 Gopher men’s basketball squad and the 1998 Vikings. Unfortunately for both, those seasons ended in heartbreak.

But for me, personally, the 1997 Gophers were just rejuvenated in the form of their sparkplug guard who showcased energy and intensity on a nightly basis. He never relinquished that fire or passion for the game—even 16 years later, you can still hear it in his voice when he talks about the mentality with which he played and what he hopes to instill in these young Wolves players as he leads their on-court workouts.

Jackson made that 1997 run possible. Around here, as far as I’m concerned, he can add a respectable coaching career to the accolades he’s already earned as an NBA player, but he’ll always be the heart and soul of that Gophers club that made a state fall in love with them all those years ago.

Bobby is back. Let the trip down memory lane begin.

Ski-U-Mah.


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